Happy New Year! The holidays are finally over and life is back to normal. The kids are back to school, you are back to work and the dog is in shock because he is all alone. Dogs are pack animals and as pack animals it is innate within them to want to have others around them. In the wild, that is their canine pack but in domesticated animals, that is you and your family. Even older dogs go through stress at being left alone after having a couple weeks of company and activity. Under normal situations your dog might be fine being alone but now that they have had company for some time, the stress of being alone seeps back into their minds.
Symptoms of Stress:
The symptoms of stress can be subtle such as the dog being ‘depressed’ lethargic or quiet, not wanting to chew his bone or play; other, less subtle symptoms, may be a regression in housebreaking, destructiveness or an upset stomach. It is important to keep in mind that unfortunately, for the dog, these are all normal reactions to stress, and not attempts to upset you or ‘get even’ with you for leaving him alone at home. Dogs are not vindictive and do not do things to upset you, but rather as an outlet for their stress and insecurity at being alone because you, their Alpha, are no longer around to tell him what to do.
Before a lengthy departure, provide a vigorous session of play and exercise. A brief training session can also be productive to counteract the anxiety. Avoid all departure signs so the dog does not become increasingly anxious before you leave, perhaps keep him outdoors or in another room as you prepare to go to work and give him something to do; i.e. eat, chew a special bone, or play outside in the yard.
If you crated your dog as a young pup, don’t be afraid to take a step back and use it again until he is over this phase. Being ‘locked’ securely in his den will help alleviate the problem because you are telling him that this is what he should do. The decision of what to do while you are at work has been taken from him, he no longer has to decide but just wait for your return. This may be something you must do for a few days or weeks. You may have to use the crate once or twice a week for months or years to avoid problems.
A few minutes prior to departure place your dog in his crate and give him some fresh toys and objects to distract him from your leaving. It is important that your dog is occupied while you depart; do not do anything to have him focus attention on your leaving. Frozen treats or treats stuffed into a toy or Kong keep many dogs occupied because they are actively ‘scavenging’ for their treat. Your dog must be occupied until you are long gone. Keep a radio or television on so your dog hears voices while you are gone. Leave a blanket or piece of clothing for him that has your smell on it so even though you are not there, he can still smell you.
Keep your pre-departure signals to a minimum; do not jingle your keys. Your dog will still pick up on cues but try not to ‘tease’ him too much with the fact that he is going to be left alone for the day. If you have an answering machine at home, call your house while at work and leave notes to yourself so your dog can hear your voice. Do not call your dog or talk specifically to him, because though your intentions may be good, you are actually teasing him and that may increase his stress.
When you come home, take him outside and allow him to settle down. Do not make a big fuss over your dog when you are returning, if you do it will be rewarding his anxious behavior. When you return, all should be calm and do not act like it was a big deal for your dog to be left alone. Allow him to vigorously play in your yard and use the time to give him a brief training session as well. Remember, he has been locked in his crate all day so he needs to burn energy before you go to sleep for the night. A long leisurely walk so he can take in smells and scents in your neighborhood will both physically and mentally tire your dog both of which are important so he can (1) settle down at night for sleeping and (2) stimulate him both mentally and physically so to make him well-adjusted.
When you are at home, train your dog to be independent of you. Teach him to stay in his place (bed, pillow) and/or away from you while you are home. When in his place, keep him there until he is relaxed. This will require his understanding a down/stay command.
A new and more exciting answer for your dog may be “Doggie Daycare”. Doggie Daycare will provide ample exercise, as well as socialization for your dog with other dogs and people. You do not have to bring your dog to daycare every day but once or twice per week may be all that is necessary so your dog gets a mental break from being alone and get as much exercise as he desires.
So, don’t be afraid to go back to using the crate until your dog adjusts to being alone again. But don’t keep your dog in the crate any longer than you must especially if you are at home. It is important to remember that dogs are pack animals but they are also working animals too. From the Rat Terrier (hunter) to the Saint Bernard (rescuer); if your dog is home alone for 8 hours, locked in a crate and only allowed to go outside in the yard to relieve himself, you are not providing enough physical or mental stimulation. This is an unhealthy lifestyle for your dog both physically and mentally. It is your responsibility to provide your dog with daily exercise and training so he is well-adjusted and free of behavioral problems. Please feel free to contact me with any behavioral or training issues that you may have.
Until next month…………
Beth Bradley began studying animal behavior and dog training at 12 years of age. She became a New Jersey State Animal Control Officer in 1986. Beth graduated Rutgers University with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Criminal Justice. Throughout her schooling, Beth worked and studied under many well-renowned animal behaviorists and trainers. Beth formed her own company in 1989 and has made dog training her full time career since 1995. Beth is also a writer for the Animal Companion, she has produced CD-Roms and DVD’s on training and is author of a training book titled Real World Dog Training.
Beth is a member of the German Shepherd Dog Club of America, the German Shepherd Dog Club of America – Working Dog Association, the United Schutzhund Clubs of America, and she is Secretary and Training Director of the Greater Philadelphia Schutzhund Club. Beth actively competes in both American Kennel Club and Schutzhund Trials both in the United States of America and Europe. Beth is a certified Canine Good Citizen Evaluator for the American Kennel Club.