Dog psychology: Are you harming your dog by leaving them at home alone?

“Such short little lives our pets have to spend with us, and they spend most of it waiting for us to come home each day.”

John Grogan, author of Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog

These are poignant words and ones that many dog owners can relate to. Leaving your dog at home alone is a sad part of dog ownership for thousands of families across the country. Whereas some may find that going out without their dogs is an infrequent experience, it’s unfortunately an everyday occurrence in many households.

For families where the adults work in full time jobs and children are at school, the easiest thing to do is to leave the dog at home during that time. Few people stop to think about the possible mental and physical harm that extended periods of solitude can have on their canine companion.

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What happens if dogs are frequently left at home alone?

Dogs are pack animals and crave the comfort and companionship of others. It’s uncommon for people to own more than two dogs, so often the animals look up to their human masters as their main source of consistent socialisation.

How would you feel if you were shut in a room with only your bed and maybe a few toys all day, every day? You’d get rather bored, right? Well… so does your dog! Boredom can cause your dog to become destructive and chew up items in your household, bark or whine uncontrollably for hours on end or develop separation anxiety.

Not only are these conditions annoying for you (and your neighbours!), but they can be very traumatic for your dog. Some dogs experience whole personality changes after long periods of being left alone.

There can be physical effects too, such as house-trained dogs holding on to their urine or poop to avoid messing in the house – something that they have been explicitly taught never to do. In extreme cases this can cause problems internally that can have long-lasting damage to the dog’s health and be very expensive to get treated.

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Alternatives to leaving your dog at home

Now, we’re not suggesting that you give up work or alter your schedule completely to avoid leaving your dog alone. However, there are various activities you can try to alleviate the boredom of a life shut away in the hallway.

These include:

  • Doggie day care
  • Pet hotels or crèches
  • Hiring a dog walker to walk your dogs at lunchtime
  • Coming home yourself at lunchtime to walk the dog and give them some attention
  • Getting a second dog to keep them company (although this is NOT something that should be considered lightly, and if you do get a second dog you should only leave them alone when they have become completely comfortable in each other’s company)
  • Having a friend, neighbour or family member check on the dog
  • Using websites such as Borrow My Doggy
  • Leaving your dog with a neighbour or friend occasionally if you perhaps know someone who would love to own a dog but their situation doesn’t allow it – they may love to look after yours for one day a week!

Giving your dog additional socialisation, either with you or someone else, can have extremely positive effects on your dog’s mental wellbeing. Allowing them to mix with other dogs at doggie day care can improve their behaviour and give them much-needed excitement and stimulation in their lives. Go on, give it a try – your dog’s happiness is definitely worth it!

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