Leaving Your Dog Home Alone - Separation Anxiety

What Your Dog Needs

All dogs needs vary depending on their age, fitness level, diet, health, coping ability and sociability. There is no one for all solution and it is important that if you are to keep your dog happy, at home alone, that you assess and meet his or her requirements.

Frequently destructive behaviour such as chewing or scratching and barking is mistakenly diagnosed as dominance. The suggestion being made that the dog is given a higher-ranking position and when you, the owner, or subordinate leaves the home, the dog frets. This is incorrect information and should be disregarded if you are to properly deal with the issue.

There are truly very few “hyperactive” dogs. Even though dogs are described as being hyper, truly hyperactive dogs find it difficult to rest at all times and in extreme cases consultation with a vet, referral to a behaviourist and the use of pharmacology, is part of the solution. Most dogs are actually either under or over stimulated, lacking rest or have a diet that is contributing to their problems, when left home alone. It is highly unlikely that you have a hyperactive dog.


Safety

While your dog is alone he should wear a safety collar. A safety collar is one that will snap open should he become stuck on something. When dog’s collars become stuck or jammed in things like decking or door handles they panic and twist. Sadly this is how much strangulation happens. If you have two dogs they should both wear safety collars so as when they play and grab each other collars they will open if jaws get stuck. Safety collars can be worn as normal on walks and won’t open with a lead attached due to a clever design.

Assess the environment as you would for a child. Household items such as cleaners should be locked away. Foods such as chocolate and alcohol should be locked away. Chocolate is the most common poisonous food for dogs, the darker the chocolate the more toxic. Medication should also be locked away safely.


Exercises To Work Your Dog’s Brain

Many dog owners believe that dog walking and off lead play is the key to tiring a dog out. While a dog needs daily exercise they also need mental exercise and it is the mental exercise that will be of use to them while they are alone at home.

There are many self-control based exercises that will work your dog’s mental capacity and tire them out so as they are more likely to rest during the day. These exercises are as follows:

  • Loose Lead Walking Game
  • Leave and Take
  • Wait
  • Check In / Look

15 minutes of these exercises before you leave the home is the equivalent to about an hour walk.

Stop feeding your dog from a bowl, which takes on average 3 minutes to eat. Start to feed from KONGs, Kibble Balls and food based toys. This will spread your dog’s food out during the day, help them to use their brain to feed themselves and help natural tiredness take over so that they rest for an appropriate number of hours.


Your Dog’s Daily Schedule

If you work a specific pattern then try to vary this with your dog. For example if you get up at 7am each morning try not to do exactly the same thing every morning. Dogs do not understand that Saturday and Sunday are different to Monday thru Friday. So vary when you go down to them in the morning. Some morning have a shower and then go down, other mornings go straight down, some mornings come down put on the kettle let them out, have a shower etc. By using food based toys to feed your dog then they wont have a set feeding schedule so won’t get in the habit of asking you for food at a specific time.

If your dog is alone for more than 5 hours and let’s face it that’s life with hectic work schedules, then in order to save your skirting boards and your dog’s sanity you must employ a suitable program for your dog.

Invest in 3 KONG’s per dog in the home and get them a size up from what is recommended for your dogs breed/size. KONG toys are frequently misused and hence can be ineffective. To use a KONG toy correctly you want to feed all of your dog’s daily food requirement from the KONG rather than feeding a bowl of food before you leave and then filling Kongs when your dog is not hungry.


Diet and Nutrition

A well balanced diet is required. If your dog has too much energy and they are at home alone they will resort to chewing, digging, barking or scratching behaviours to expel that energy. If they need to relieve themselves more frequently then you are more likely to come home to toileting accidents in the home.


Toileting Requirements

Puppies have different toileting requirements to adult dogs. While adult dogs can hold it for longer periods you should ensure that your dog is not holding urine for very long hours as urinary tract infections will be more common.

Puppies should have a secure pen for safety with their bed at one end and their pee pads at the other end. Puppies up to 16 weeks can generally only hold it for about 2 hours.


Equipment & How To Use It

KONG Toys - The food is stuffed inside the KONG toy so as it is difficult for the dog to get out. It should take over an hour to remove all the food from a well-packed KONG toy.

Quick Release Safety Collar - This collar looks much the same as a regular collar but the buckle will snap open should the dog become caught in anything. The collar has 2 D rings that connect together and to the lead while on walks so as the collar does not open while on a walk.

Crate - A crate or dog cage is a safe haven or den for your dog. Dogs need to be trained to the crate. Crates should not be used for more than 4 hours at a time. Crates are useful in the car or if your dog is staying with family or friends as they will understand their crate to be their den and place of safety allowing them to settle easier.

Kool Dogz - This toy can be used on hot days. It is simply a giant ice lolly. It can contain food, KONGs etc to keep your dog occupied.


Daycare For Your Dog

Some dogs will find it too hard to be alone during the day. The healthy development of a puppy is dependent on social contact, building coping ability and confidence and socialising them to other puppies, dogs and people.

Adolescent dogs can find it hard to settle and may need extra attention in this area. Particularly hormonal changes or change of home or environment can unsettle a dog.

Daycare can be a solution for such dogs and break up the week for them. At daycare they can interact with other dogs, exercise and learn how to socialise appropriately.

Daycare can also be used post op or for dogs on crate rest or who need regular medication.


An Example Home Alone Program For An Active Dog

  • 11pm night before - make up 3 KONG, 1 with kibble dinner and a larger biscuit to block the hole at the top, 1 with sardine mix with kibble and 1 with laughing cow cheese rubbed on the inside of the KONG. Place 1 in the freezer.
  • 7am - wake up, get up and let the dog out to toilet. Stick on the kettle.
  • After letting the dog back in make sure plenty of fresh water 3 mins of leave and take.
  • Go and shower and dress.
  • Come down and let the dog out again for a second toilet while I get the KONG’s ready inside.
  • Take a small handful of kibble making sure I am within the dogs food allowance and throw them over the floor where dog is staying. Place 1 KONG in dogs bed, 1 KONG under table and 1 KONG somewhere else
  • Leave without making a fuss or saying goodbye
  • Return home
  • Let the dog out
  • Collect the KONGs, wash and prepare for tomorrow
  • Short walk, small meal before 7pm.

Separation Anxiety

This can only be diagnosed following an assessment of the dog’s coping ability, the dog’s daily schedule, assessment of whether the dog’s needs are being met daily, the behaviours he displays while left alone and the extent of these behaviours.

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