HOME ALONE DOG
Your daily absences are a fact of life. Make them routine - not traumatic.
"Now, Muffy. Mommy has to go out and leave you, but here are your toys and water and cookies. Now, you be a gooood girl and Mommy will see you soon. Here, let Mommy give you a big hug and kiss. Now, please, be a good girl!"
Is Muffy consoled? NO. Does Muffy understand any of what Mommy said? NO. Is Muffy confused? YES. Does Muffy feel anxious? YOU BET!
One of the worst elements of being a 9-to-5 out-of-the-house dog owner is the guilt we heap on ourselves at leaving the little one at home "all by herself." So, we turn ourselves inside out to dote on the dog, even more than we normally would, just prior to our leave taking. Our daily absences are a fact of life. We must make them routine - not turn our leaving into the most traumatic part of our dog's day.
On our return home, our guilt-ridden behaviour intensifies. "Oh, Muffy. Did you have a good day? Did you miss Mommy? I wuv my widdle Muffy. Oh, Mommy's sorry she had to leave her little baby. Want something to eat? Want to go walkies? You Mommy's little love?"
Is Muffy consoled? NO. Does Muffy understand any of what Mommy said? NO. Is Muffy confused? YES. Does Muffy feel anxious? YOU BET! Does Muffy have any idea what is expected of her? I doubt it.
Confronted with these daily displays, Muffy will do one of two things when Mommy leaves: shrug her shoulders and go find a corner, curl up and go to sleep for the next eight hours (highly unlikely), or watch the door close and then, because Mommy has instilled such a sense of anxiety, Muffy will look for an outlet for her frustration, such as chewing furniture, defecating, urinating, shredding curtains or paper, or barking while running helter-skelter throughout the house.
How did Muffy's owner make Muffy anxious? She just told her how much she loved her and how much she would miss her (assuming that Muffy would miss her as much!) and made a big fuss of her when she left. Mommy acted like this was a big problem.
Dogs are wonderful creatures, but they are creatures of habit and routine. Once a routine is established, dogs are quite happy knowing what's what, what is likely to happen next and what is expected of them when it does.
Does Muffy know what's happening? (Mommy's leaving! Aghhh!!) Does Muffy know what's going to happen next? (When Mommy comes home again, she's going to be upset! Aghhh!!) Does Muffy know what's expected of her while Mummy is gone? (Aghhhh! What to do? What to do??)
HOW DO WE AVOID THIS SCENARIO?
First of all, don't feel guilty because you're leaving the house for the day. This is a fact of life and dogs are very clever creatures. They communicate in dogese ... not English. They understand your para-language (whining, cooing, etc) and your body language and they interpret it accordingly.
So, how do we get out of the house? In the words of dog behaviourist, Dr. Ian Dunbar, "Close the door." Too simply stated? Then teach your puppy that you are leaving the house - daily - and that he has to learn to like (or, at least, tolerate) his own company. Puppy (or dog) should be confined to an area (an oversized crate is the best solution), given his supply of water, toys, cookies, King toys ... anything to keep him amused. Tell him, in a normal tone of voice, "Ta,ta. Look after things while I'm gone, Kid. See you later." Then, simply leave.
Is Kid consoled? NO. Does Kid understand any of what was actually said? NO. Is Kid confused? NO. Does Kid feel anxious. NO!
When you return, leave the puppy (or dog) in his confined space but troop through and say, "Hey. How's it goin'? Cool your jets and I'll come and get you in a minute." Then, hang up your coat, put your purse down, go change your clothes, grab a beverage as you pass the fridge and then - and only then - go and let Kid outside for a piddle and a frisbee throw (or whatever Kid considers fun!).
MAINTAIN YOUR ROUTINE
How do you get a Kid and not a Muffy? Ideally, you start from the minute your puppy enters your home. If your regular routine is to be out of the house during regular working hours, that's the routine your puppy is introduced to at the start. It is far easier for an eight-week-old puppy, who has limited life experience, to handle this fact of life. This puppy learns his routine early and becomes accustomed to being alone.
Folks who are fortunate enough to have the summer months free from the workplace often think this is an ideal time to acquire a puppy. NOT SO. This eight-week-old puppy is 'trained' to expect that people, and sometimes kids, are available all day and all night, every day and every night. Then, when he passes his fourth-month birthday, the house empties and he finds himself totally alone. This is a difficult adjustment for a young dog. What happened? Was it something I did? Where did everyone go? Where's my entertainment?
This puppy should be trained, prior to school beginning again, in short spans of time gradually built up, that he will be left alone, confined, with his own company. Ideally, he should be acquired before school closes and becomes accustomed to being left alone. Bonus that all of a sudden there are people everywhere all day during the summer holidays. Yipee!! Once summer is over and he's left alone again, he computes through his memory banks and remembers this is "alone time". He is much better equipped to handle it. No biggie.
Your dog is an adult and you are returning to the workplace? All is not lost. Start teaching your dog that there are times he will be alone. Put your dog in his spot, give him his toys (even adult dogs love stuffed Kongs), and with no fuss or bother, leave the house. When initially teaching your dog this new 'game', just leave him for an hour or so and return. Build up the length of time that he's alone gradually. Again, no fuss or bother. If you don't make a big deal of this, neither will he. He may not even notice you were gone! No big deal on your return, either. Just a, "Hey Kid, whatcha doin'?"
If your lifestyle is such that you must be away from the house working all day and many of your evenings as well, relieving your work-related stress, then you may need to reconsider getting a puppy. They can handle you being away for the day but not half the night as well. Dogs are, after all, companion animals, and they need companionship.
Being a 9-to-5 out-of-the-house dog owner is a '90's way of life for many of us. Teach your puppy or dog to handle this. Spend quality time with the dog during the evening and you'll both be happier for it. And, prepare yourself. If you teach Muffy that your going and coming is nothing to concern herself with, Muffy soon won't give a hoot if you leave her for the day or not. Ever notice how much dogs sleep? That's what she'll do with her day - play a little and sleep a little and sleep a little more. She will however, just like Kid, be happy to herald your return!
(This article was authored by Pat Renshaw and published in the 1997 Dogs In Canada Annual. Copyright is the author's.)