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How to be a good part-time "parent"
By Alice Bixler

Drive down the street in any suburb in the middle of any weekday and chances are, the only one at home is the family dog.

According to the latest information from Statistics, 66.97 per cent of families rely on two incomes. Add to that the number of working single parents and the employed singles and it's easy to see why few people are home during the day. Reliable surveys indicate that one out of three Canadian families owns a dog so it's obvious the dog is often the only one holding down the fort during business hours.

Good or bad ? Dogs are social creatures. Before domestication, they were pack animals. They still are. Only now their ‘pack' is their family. How do they handle this isolation ? Are we being fair to them ? To many people, home is not home without a dog. But what of the dog left alone all day ?

Some people shouldn't own dogs. If they're away all day at work and then spend evenings and weekends in social activities, the dog is an afterthought. He doesn't receive the companionship, the attention, the training and the bonding that he needs. While dogs are extremely adaptable and can handle all sorts of illogical relationships, they, like humans, suffer from anxieties. Anxious people bite nails or break out in a rash. Anxious dogs may chew up a sofa or a rug or gnaw on the dining room chair rungs. If you are considering buying a pup and you're a working person, ask yourself:

–Am I really willing to devote the necessary time to a dog ?
–Do I realize how much work is actually involved in training, grooming and exercising ?
–Have I done my homework, talked to breeders and owners and found out if the breed of my choice will adapt to my lifestyle ?

If you can answer "yes" honestly, then here are several solutions to the problem of part-time parenting.

Some people who are going to be absentee parents buy their pup to coincide with summer vacation so that they can have several weeks to spend at home with him or her during the formative day when pups must be fed several times a day. They use that time to bond with their pup, establish routines, start training and set the ground rules. When fall rolls around, the pup is used to being crated for several hours each day, expects that he will be exercised at certain times, fed at regular times and have the companionship of his owners at regular times. Owners who also spend one or more nights with their dog at training classes benefit enormously. They derive a better understanding of their pet, learn to communicate and end up with a well-mannered companion.

Since young puppies require more frequent care than adults, acquiring an older pup or an adult could alleviate many of the problems associated with early puppy training.

If there's more than one person in the household, shift duties could be the answer. The person who's employed closest to home could return at lunch to feed and exercise the pup while the partner come home immediately after work for the evening detail.

Consider a dog sitter during the pup's formative months. A relative, friendly neighbour, dependable youngster or reliable retiree could be paid to stop by for an hour at midday to walk, feed, play with and exercise the pup (exercise being the polite term for allowing the dog to relieve itself). One of the side effects is additional socialization for your pet.

Some dog boarding facilities offer doggy day care. Obviously you'll want to investigate the kennel first for cleanliness and for a caring staff.

Allow your dog to sleep in the bedroom with you. Though he may not be able to enjoy your company during business hours, being able to spend eight hours uninterrupted hours in your presence will mean a lot to him, even though you're asleep. (It's wise to crate him at night until his housetraining is complete).

Having another pet in the house, such as a cat or bird, or just leaving the music or tv on, can ease the feeling of loneliness.

Keep farewells and homecomings low key. Make them seem like normal comings and goings. Owners who make a big fuss over leaving and plead with the pup to "be good while I'm gone" are adding to the pup's stress. He doesn't understand the words but the whining tone of voice usually used in such situations indicates something is wrong. Similarly , overly-exuberant homecomings get the dog psyched up for your arrival. Should you be late (and dogs are remarkably capable of telling time), the anticipation takes its toll on his nerves. Too enthusiastic a greeting can also result in involuntary urination (after all, he's been holding it for hours).

Confine your young pup to a place that's safe for both him and your belongings. If you choose a crate, make certain it's big enough that your dog can stand and sit comfortable and there's sufficient length for him to be able to stretch out comfortably. Three to four hours is the maximum amount of time that a young dog should be crated at a stretch. It is not necessary to provide , but do give him safe playthings such as hard rubber toys, nylon bones or a dog biscuit treat and water. For safety's sake, don't leave a collar on a crated dog. Pups often find ingenious ways to entangle them in paws, jaws or door latches.

With planning and common sense, it's possible to enjoy the benefits of dog ownership even if you're a part-time parent.