We’ve all seen (and usually heard) dogs left outside all day to fend for themselves or chained to a doghouse, presumably while their owners are at work. Less obvious are those dogs that are left at home all day trapped in a crate. Dogs are social animals and when they are left alone for hours every day, behavior problems may occur.
Because I work from home, my situation is ideal for my dogs. I can keep an eye on them and they can keep an eye on me. But even dogs that spend a lot of their time with their owners can end up with behavioral issues when the owner goes out. The self-employed do leave the house once in a while, and many years ago, one of our dogs expressed her displeasure at being left behind by chewing up the house.
Unfortunately, this type of destruction, barking, obsessive-compulsive behaviors and anxiety are all potential results of social deprivation and boredom. Even though almost all dogs were bred to do some type of work, too many of them are forced to spend their days doing nothing at all. As with little kids, if you don’t give a dog something to do, she will find something to do. And it will undoubtedly be something you won’t like.
As with children, someone needs to be in charge. Dogs feel more secure when they have a set routine and a clear leader. That leader should be you. Many dogs that end up with behavioral or anxiety problems are extremely demanding when the owner is home. Whenever the dog demands food or attention, she gets it. So when the owner leaves, it wasn’t the dog’s idea and she becomes upset.
The answer is to provide a stable environment with clear ground rules. If you aren’t the one in charge now, it’s time to start exercising some leadership. For example, never let the dog “rush” the door ahead of you. Leaders always go first. They also decide when the dog can eat. Make the dog sit before she gets any food or attention. These small actions seem trivial, but they change your dog’s relationship with you. Suddenly, the dog isn’t directing the show anymore; you are. Without the stress of feeling like she needs to run the household, your dog can relax and maybe even take a nap.
When you leave the house, never make it a big production. Just go. It’s an ordinary event for you and it should be for the dog. If your comings and goings have turn into a massive emotional situation, you need to tone it down. Make the dog sit before you greet her. If she won’t sit, completely ignore her until she does. Again, you must be in charge.
If you work all day, you also need to be fair to the dog. Dogs that are crate trained can spend time in their crate while you’re gone, but it’s cruel to leave a dog crated for hours on end. You wouldn’t enjoy being trapped for more than four hours without bathroom privileges and neither does your dog.
If you can’t come home for lunch to let out your dog, find a pet sitting service, or ask a neighbor to do it for you. Professional “doggie day care” facilities are another option. If you can’t find one and don’t know anyone in the neighborhood, talk to a vet clinic or animal shelter and ask if they know any animal lovers. Many people who like dogs would welcome the opportunity to play with your dog in exchange for a few bucks. When I was growing up, my parents paid a neighborhood kid to stop by every day after school to let out the dogs. While they were outside, she ate Oreos and watched TV for a while. Everyone was happy.
Owning a dog when you have a job is not impossible. But when you’re home, be sure to give your dog lots of love and exercise. After all, a tired dog is a good dog.