Leaving your dog alone: how to do it?
By nature, the dog is a social animal, living in a pack with his fellow dogs in a precise hierarchical structure. The dog is therefore not meant to be left alone. However, the majority of owners must be absent during the day to go to work.
This absence can be very painful for the dog, which may develop signs of anxiety and behavioral disorders such as a tendency to destroy furniture or relieve himself indoors for example.
Some dogs can even become very fearful, or on the contrary very aggressive towards their master, and this usually gets worse with time.
But when the owner realizes the seriousness of the situation, it is often too late to solve it easily… Hence the importance of paying particular attention to this training, which is too often neglected from the first months of the dog’s life.
First of all, how do you know if your dog is suffering from separation anxiety? Certain symptoms allow us to identify this behavior:
- The dog becomes agitated before your usual departure time, or on the contrary, he hides;
- He cries and barks during your absences, sometimes even all day long;
- He destroys furniture, certain objects, ransacks the rooms to which he has access;
- He picks up things that carry your scent and moves them around the house;
- He becomes exaggeratedly agitated when you return.
If your dog exhibits one or more of these behaviours, he may have difficulty managing your absence, which is a major stressor for him. Later on, we will offer you a dozen tips to help your dog learn to calm down during periods of separation.
This is both good for you, since you will have fewer mistakes to make up for when you return, and above all, for the dog, who will flourish better.
Behaviors to banish to avoid dog addiction
When you adopt a puppy or a new dog, it can be tempting to want to be as close to him as possible, to respond immediately to his cries with cuddles, or even to let him sleep in your room. These behaviours are harmful to the dog, and increase the risk that he will develop separation anxiety. Indeed, the young puppy is gradually getting used to separating from his mother and becoming independent.
As the months go by, the mother pushes the puppy away more and more often, responds less to her requests, prevents him from following her everywhere and from sleeping with her. Thus, around 4 or 5 months, a naturally weaned puppy will have learned to fend for itself, to sleep separately from its mother and siblings, which will ensure a certain psychological balance.
Thus, it is important that the owner mimics the mother’s behaviour, even with a dog that is already older. By establishing clear boundaries and a reassuring routine for the dog, he will find his place in the family and will no longer panic when a family member is away.
Of course, such an education will be positive when you are at home and will make it easier for you to leave your dog alone.
Here is a series of precise and easy-to-practice tips to help make the separation a less stressful time for your dog.
Gradually accustom the puppy to the separation
As we have just seen, a young puppy must gradually get used to being alone. Generally, puppies are adopted between 2 and 3 months of age, long before the mother has finished their education. It is therefore up to you to continue this work.
To do so, gradually get the puppy used to your absence. Start by leaving him alone for two hours, then depending on his reaction, increase the duration of the absence. Gradually, leave him alone for several hours at a time, taking care not to overestimate the capacity of his bladder. Puppies must relieve themselves regularly!
During the first few nights, do not respond to his cries and leave his basket in its usual place, without putting him in the bathroom “just in case”, which he would consider a punishment. Some puppies make a considerable noise, but it is very important not to respond.
The basics of education are at stake. Cracking him and putting him in your bed will require a lot of effort later, when you want to enjoy real privacy.
Don’t let him follow you everywhere, send him to his basket if he gets too sticky. You also need to learn how to close doors. The dog that follows you everywhere becomes dependent but also sees this behaviour as a form of domination. He has the impression that he controls your movements, which is not recommended by all dog trainers.
Dedramatize the moment of separation
Do not set up a ritual to accompany your departure. Flooding your dog with sweet and reassuring words will only increase his anxiety. On the contrary, ignore him 20 minutes before you leave, in order to play down the moment and make it seem trivial to your dog, as if nothing special is happening. Try not to have a routine that is too easily detected for him.
Alternate your visit to the bathroom with his morning walk and avoid seeming too rushed. Dogs are like sponges and absorb your feelings. If they are negative, he won’t feel good when you leave.
Soothe the time of reunion
Likewise, don’t overindulge in overwhelming displays of affection when you return home, especially if your dog is overdoing it. Take the time to take off your shoes, take off your coat and put down your things, even have a cup of coffee.
Only when your dog has calmed down can you show him that you’re happy to see him, cuddle him and play with him. Otherwise, your dog will equate your return to a great moment of excitement, and may evacuate this anticipatory excess nervousness on your slippers or the corner of the buffet during the day.
Moreover, young dogs tend to make a few drops of urine when they experience great excitement, and it’s quite unpleasant to have drops of pee on his pants every time he comes home!
Take it out often enough
This seems to be a given, but some owners forget that dogs can’t hold on for 12 hours at a time. So, if you don’t want to find smelly presents scattered around the house when you return home, make sure you take your dog out just before you leave for work. Arrange for a relative to take him out at noon if you can’t get home and your dog is still young.
Then, once you are back home, take him out again. Don’t let this walk be rushed. Your day has been tiring, but hers has not. He needs to have fun. Plus, a big breath of fresh air will do you a world of good to get you out of work.
Allowing him to get his energy up just before you leave.
Generally, a dog that will want to ransack the house is a dog with an excess of energy to evacuate. To avoid this unpleasant scenario, consider offering exercise to your pet before a long period of absence, if possible.
This way, a dog that has been running will spend more time resting than trying to tear apart your favourite chair. If you don’t have time to take him out for a long time, take advantage of the weekend free time to make him run. A dog that has put in a lot of effort is less prone to overexcitement the next day. Moreover, for his emotional well-being, but also for his physical health, effort is recommended.
On the other hand, don’t start playing before you leave, for fear that he will finish his session as he can, without you but by ransacking the whole living room.
Give him a personal space of his own
To reassure your dog when you’re not around, make sure he has access to a space of his own, such as a basket or crate. That way, he can reassure himself in that cozy cocoon he knows so well, and will be less likely to panic while you’re away.
So that he isn’t waiting all day behind the door hoping you’ll come home, or jumping for joy at every noise, put this space in a secluded spot in the house and not at the entrance.
Avoid dog barking
A dog barking is not a normal reaction. Many dogs do it when you leave to show their sadness. Ignore this behaviour. However, if your pet continues to bark all day long, it means that he is under stress and experiences loneliness very badly.
In some neighbourhoods, this barking creates neighbourhood problems and the trustees do not hesitate to ask tenants to implement ways to make the dog quieter. If this happens, consider a barking collar or use a training collar to teach the dog to be quiet. Set it to the minimum intensity to limit the pain inflicted on the animal.
As soon as he barks, he will receive a small stimulation. As it does so, it will stop barking and its stress will also decrease. We always advise you to take a very good collar for the comfort of the dog.
Give her toys to keep her occupied
The first cause of damage caused by a dog is boredom. To alleviate this, give your dog a variety of toys, chewable bones, or pierced bottles to roll into kibble. This will keep him busy, keep him from getting bored, and the separation period will be much more enjoyable for him.
A dog must learn to play alone. This is also done when you are at home. Don’t always respond to his requests when he wants to have fun. He will eventually do it all and repeat this behaviour when you leave him alone at home. Change toys regularly and observe his games. Sometimes dogs like rolling objects more, while others prefer large chew lines.
Don’t punish him if he has done any damage
Finally, one last very important piece of advice: never punish your dog for a mistake made while you were away. Dogs have a very short memory, they live in the moment. Punishment is only useful if you catch him in the act, when he is urinating on the carpet for example.
Punishing him at the end of the day for a poop he may have made in the morning would be totally useless and experienced as an injustice, and the dog would associate this punishment with your return, which can lead to fearful behavior every time you return.
On the other hand, you can put him alone in another room while you pick up this nonsense.
How long can a dog be left alone during the day?
As little time as possible! The longer you or members of your family can be at home, the better it will be for the dog. So try to arrange your schedule as much as possible to limit the amount of time you can be away.
If you really have to work from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with no possibility of coming home for lunch, make sure you play with your dog in the morning before work, and offer him a long walk and some time for play and tenderness when you return.
However, don’t feel guilty if you feel that you are neglecting your pets for too long. If you do so, it is not a matter of merriment. Make up for it by offering love and, if the family is not complete, consider adopting another animal so that they can keep each other company during the day and not feel lonely.