Back to school – but what about your pup?
by Imogen Lloyd and Justine Harding // September 2017
Back to school – but what about your pup?
As we leave summer behind and head back to work and school, spare a moment to consider how this might affect your pup…
If you have been lucky enough to get a puppy this summer, you’re likely to have been making the most of long days at home enjoying your new arrival. But if you are now back to work and the kids are back to school, your puppy may be left trying to adjust from having constant company to spending hours by itself.
Dogs are very sociable creatures - if it was up to them they would rarely choose to be alone. As a result, dogs can easily become anxious when left by themselves, and this can quickly become a serious problem – both for you and your pup. Firstly, your pup will miss having your company and may not understand that you will return – howling is a dog’s way of trying to get in contact with you. Secondly, a pup left to their own devices at home, may come up with all sorts of undesirable ways of passing the time – destructive behaviours may be the result of anxiety or of making their own entertainment. Finally, toilet training can suffer as well as you dog’s general training, as pups cannot easily learn what you want if you aren’t at home as much and able to guide them.
Therefore, it is important to consider how you can support your pup through this transition from 24-hour attention to periods alone. A pup who is taught to be alone will be able to sleep, eat and generally chillax and will grow up to be a dog that is well-behaved and confident when you are not around.
Introduce being left alone positively
Ideally begin teaching your pup to be left alone for very brief moments right from the start. Always give your puppy something fun to do as you leave him, like a stuffed Kong (see our blog about food toys for ideas), and then go into another room for a few seconds. Build this up to minutes and start also leaving the house briefly, eg. popping into the garden to hang out the washing. Always come back before they have finished their food toy so they don’t have a chance to get worried about where you are.
Build up very gradually
Once your pup is confident with short intervals alone, gradually increase the distance and time that you go away for. The aim is to get your pup thinking ‘when are you next going out because that’s when you give me something special’! You can leave multiple food toys down and freeze them so they last for longer. Make sure that the food toys you are leaving down don’t need supervision. The key is to avoid them becoming at all concerned and becoming confident that you will always return.
Training them like this will reduce the chances of them getting worried when they are left alone and giving them something to do prevents them from getting bored and turning your shoes into their toys.
Invest in the future
Generally 4 hours is plenty for any dog to be left alone – this can be difficult if you need to work. However, don’t be tempted to think your pup will just learn to cope by leaving him for long periods – this can in fact create more of a problem for you both, especially if he is showing signs of struggling being alone. For example, does he follow you about all the time, look miserable when you pick up your keys or does he toilet when you’re out?
For your dog’s welfare and your peace of mind, it is worth making arrangements for someone to pop in and see your dog to break up his day. Half an hour of companionship, the opportunity to play and toilet, and have his food toys topped up, can go a long way in helping your pup find longer hours alone more manageable.
Alternatively consider whether you pup could go to some form of doggy day care. Always visit care providers and ask for references from other clients. Ask about how they arrange for the dogs to have undisturbed rest and how more timid dogs are managed around more confident dogs.
Depending on your working hours, ongoing arrangements may be necessary for your dog’s wellbeing, or use the additional support to gradually increase the time your pup is able to be left alone comfortably. Either way, by preventing your pup becoming panicky when alone in the short term will reap benefits across his lifetime.
Don’t forget your pup can go to school too! Check out when Dog School classes are running near you and get your pup off to the right start!