As dogs are intelligent creatures, they don’t like having nothing to do. If they are left alone for long periods of time, they can become bored and start to look for ways to entertain themselves. The results are often not to our liking – barking, digging and chewing, even escaping their yard in search of some company. Some dogs soil the carpet and repeatedly lick or bite at their skin.
When we are talking about boredom-related behaviors, we are not talking about dogs with separation anxiety. Anxious dogs have a serious disorder and need specialist support with retraining and possible medication to help them adjust to being left alone.
There are a number of things you can do to keep your home-alone dog happy and prevent them annoying the neighbors or destroying your home and garden.
The first thing to do is to check for any medical reason for their behavior. Perhaps they are urinating on the carpet because they have a bladder infection. Are they biting at their skin because they have allergies or are itchy? Any attempts to modify behavior are wasted unless an underlying health issue is resolved first. This is why your first step is to take your dog to your vet for a full examination.
If all is well, then it is time to look at some strategies for environmental enrichment. This is just another way of saying that you are making your dog’s environment interesting so that they have plenty to keep them occupied and do not need to create their own fun.
How is this done?
- If your dog loves their food, then give them their meals when you are not home. Use a food-dispensing toy like a Buster Cube or Kong Wobbler . Your pooch will play with the toy and get fed over the course of an hour or two. This will keep them busy and tire them out mentally.
- It is likely that your dog will have a favorite toy or game and that they will tell you what that is by their behavior. If they are digging a hole in your backyard, then perhaps offer them somewhere they can dig without getting into trouble. A child’s sandpit is ideal for this; bury some treats in the sand to encourage them to dig there instead of your flowerbeds. Some dogs like to play tug of war, and they will appreciate a toy tied to a tree branch with a sturdy elastic cord. Try a few different ideas to see which your dog prefers.
- Increase your dog’s exercise. Research has shown that dogs get a runner’s high after a run or fast walk and this can leave them feeling calm and relaxed for quite some time. If you time their exercise for just before you leave, they are more likely to snooze instead of cause mischief.
- Find a friend. If your budget allows and you have a facility nearby, a day at a doggie day care center will be a lot of fun for your pooch. He will have company and playtime, and probably will not want to leave. An alternative is to share “dog-minding” duties with a friend who also has a home-alone pooch.
- Get a second dog as company for your lonely pooch. This is not an option for everyone. You will need to be prepared for the expense of a second pet. There is also no guarantee it will solve your dog’s problems. However, if you have the time and budget to share your life with another dog, it may be an option.
It is well worth trying these suggestions to see if they can make days alone more enjoyable for your dog. If they are not helping or if you are concerned about their behavior, then it is time for a visit to a specialist veterinary behaviorist.
Photo ©iStock.com/Diane Diederich