The holidays are officially over for many of us and we are returning to our normal work routines. This can be hard on our dogs, who love nothing more than being with their family! Read on for advice on making the separation easier on them.
When Nicky Morkel picked up her new puppy, Abby, a tiny Jack Russell Terrier, she knew that her heart would break when she had to go back to work a few days later. Nicky made sure that when Abby had to spend her first day at home alone (about a week after leaving her mother and littermates), she had everything she needed, in a safe environment. Those first few days went very well and Abby settled with Spot, their Fox Terrier.
The dogs are older now, but Nicky still feels guilty when she has to leave ‘her girls’ after the weekend or when she returns to work after annual leave. She makes sure they have shelter, water, and toys to play with. “The best is coming home to that wagging tale and Abby jumping up into my arms!” she says. “Dogs are so loyal and are truly man’s best friend!”
What can go wrong?
The Morkels have been lucky – their dogs bonded quickly and are happy together while they are at work. Many pet owners assume that things will be ‘fine’, but are surprised to arrive home to find the garden re-landscaped or an assortment of items chewed to bits. Sometimes the owners aren’t aware that anything is amiss – then the neighbours call around to say the dog has been crying, howling or barking all day …
“With everyone back to work and school, there will be a huge gap in your dog’s day, and this is when he starts to look for things to do to make himself feel better,” says Wendy Wilson, COAPE SA lecturer and tutor. “These include barking, digging, chewing up all sorts of things from pool pipes to furniture, and running up and down the fence.”
Indoors or out?
Wendy says that owners need to anticipate that the dog may feel unhappy when everyone ‘disappears’, so they should put plans in place before the back-to-work or the back-to-school day rolls around.
You will need to decide if you want to leave your dog indoors or out. This is a personal choice. If you plan to leave him outdoors, he needs shelter, a soft place to sleep and plenty of fresh water. Toys will keep him busy outdoors. “If you have other pets and they all get on well, then your dog will find their company comforting while you are away. If the dogs are not great friends, rather err on the side of caution and separate them when you are not there to supervise,” says Wendy.
If you want to leave your dog inside, he must be in a well-ventilated room with his bed, water and things to keep him busy, like a stuffed Kong and other chew toys. “If you are going to be away all day, he needs a place to toilet,” says Wendy. “If he is used to toileting on the grass, an excellent plan is to get a geyser tray and place a roll of turf inside the tray. If he is used to toileting on newspaper, make sure there is plenty for him.”
Also, take into account the age of your dog and where you leave him in the house. Animal behaviourist and trainer, Taryn Blyth, says that adult dogs who have been housetrained and chew-toy trained (they have learned to chew the stuffed chew toys provided for them, rather than household items) can be left safely in the house with access to all areas. “Puppies and adolescent dogs or dogs who have not previously been left alone indoors, may need to be left in a confined area or have access to certain rooms restricted,” she cautions.
When not to leave your pet at home alone
There are times when you should be cautious about leaving your dog alone at home, especially outdoors. Veterinarian Dr Kristen Lachenicht says that if your dog is anxious to be on his own or is scared of thunder, he may run away or get hurt if left alone (see the box ‘What is separation-related distress?’). “I would consult an animal behaviourist if your dog suffers from either of these two conditions,” says Dr Kristen. “I would also not leave a bitch outside if she is on heat. The same goes for an intact male, if you know there is a bitch on heat in the area.”
If you have a new puppy, pick him up on the weekend, so you can stay with him for a few days. “You shouldn’t leave your new puppy alone for the whole day,” says Dr Kristen. “At this age, puppies should be getting at least three to four meals a day, and potty training too, so make a plan to pop in personally, or get a friend or neighbour to check up on your puppy, feed him, and take him outside during the day.”
Once pup has settled in and bonded with other pets, you can leave them together. There is no set age for this, but it will depend on your puppy and circumstances. Puppies need three to four meals a day until they are six months of age, so factor this in when you make the decision.
*Get the January issue of Animaltalk for more advice on this matter.