Leaving Your Dog at Home

Hopefully, the adult dog you have brought into your home has already learned that at times he has to remain alone. There are some dogs, though, who have become anxious about being left and will chew and demolish everything they can lay their teeth on, howl or bark, soil indoors and even sometimes self mutilate, the whole time you are out. For these dogs, being left is almost like being punished.

They find it particularly stressful as they don’t understand what they may have done to receive such treatment from you. Dogs who have already had several homes may be particularly affected by being left. Quite simply, because they have already ‘lost’ previous owners, when you leave them to go out, they don’t know if you’re coming back or if they have been deserted once again. When you are at home, the dog may follow you from room to room, even to the bathroom. He may always want to sit at your feet, perhaps with one of his paws on your foot. He may object when a door is accidentally closed on him. All these are signs that the dog is suffering from what is called ‘separation anxiety’

This problem can be sorted out, although it is a slow process. To begin with, shut the dog in a room on his own for just fifteen seconds. When you put him in the room, be very cool, not cross, but just leave him in there without saying anything. Leave an article of your clothing laying across the bottom of the outside of the door. That way, when he sits and sniffs at the door, he will be able to smell you, which will reassure him. Leave a radio on in the room with him, and an interesting toy to play with. Don’t be tempted to try for longer than fifteen seconds to start with.

When he can be left for that length of time without scratching at the door, or barking or howling, start building up the time until you can leave him for ten minutes. You can then start preparing to leave the dog when you go out. Make sure he has had a good walk before you go. Leaving him with a full stomach will encourage the dog to rest. Up until this time, you will have probably found that the dog begins to get worried long before you actually leave him, following you about and initiating contact with you whenever he can. This is because he ‘picks up the signals’ that you are going out, as your routine is always the same. That routine culminates in you perhaps putting on your coat, or picking up your keys, then giving the dog a cuddle, to reassure him.

What you need to do is completely change your leaving routine, so that the dog cannot pick up on the leaving signals. Reduce contact with the dog at least an hour before you go out. You don’t need to be cross with him, just don’t talk to or touch him. If he tries to initiate contact with you, ignore him. When it is time to leave, just walk out, saying nothing to the dog. By following this procedure, you are slowly withdrawing from the closeness which has previously been present up until the moment you leave. One minute, the dog has been in warm contact with you, and the next, you’re gone, leaving him bereft. By slowly reducing that contact prior to leaving, the act of you going is not nearly so stressful for the dog. When you return, you can greet the dog lovingly as usual — even if you find he has destroyed something whilst you have been out!

If you are cross with him when you come home, he does not know that it is because he has chewed something precious. All he learns is that you are angry when you return, and probably best avoided. The next time you return home, it is likely the dog will be even more stressed, as he will be anticipating your grumpy return. As such, the stress he feels may well culminate in even more damage being done, and thus the circle of destruction continues!

Although all dogs have to be left alone at some stage, I consider three to four hours is the maximum a dog should be left alone — even then not until he is mature and certainly not on a regular, or worse still, day-to-day basis. Dogs are naturally gregarious; they like people’s company and if they are left alone for long periods they can become either depressed, or destructive, or both.

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