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Why do dogs “behave badly” when left alone?
Dogs are fundamentally social animals, geared to spend time with others (whether dogs or people). So it’s not surprising that many dogs get upset when they are left alone for long periods, chewing objects and barking, behaviour that people (incorrectly) refer to as “bad”. My main message is that people should not own dogs if they are predictably going to be forced to leave their dogs on their own because of long working hours etc.
In general, owners should spend around fifteen minutes a day training their dog (not necessarily all at once: five minutes three times a day may even work better), day after day, week after week, month after month. As well as this, dogs should be exercised for around half an hour twice daily. Any dog that is not getting this level of training and exercise is more likely to behave badly when left on their own. Being allowed out the back door to wander around the back garden does not count as exercise. Dogs need enough energetic, interesting exercise (visiting different places, meeting other animals, having the chance to run around off the leash). If they don’t get this, they end up frustrated, bored and prone to behaving “badly”.
What can dog owners do to help dogs that “behave badly” when left on their own?
- Increase the level of general training and exercise. As mentioned above, aim at 15 minutes per day training, plus half an hour twice daily of exercise.
- Train a dog to gradually get used to periods of being on their own, rather than suddenly abandoning them for an hour or more.
- Consider using an indoor kennel (or “dog crate”) as part of a dog’s daily routine: they often begin to see this as their own private bedroom and they can feel more secure when based in one of these. Please note that dogs should not be kept in a cage for hours on end: this is not my message at all. A dog crate is only one part of a strategy to help.
- Talk to your vet about the possibility of medication designed to help dogs suffering from severe separation anxiety: this calms them down a bit, preventing them from panicking, and helping them to learn new ways of reacting when left on their own.
- Consider using food-releasing toys to feed your dog, so that they take time over their meals rather than gobbling it down all at once from a bowl (e.g. Kong or K9Connectables.com). But be aware that strictly, dogs should never be left on their own with any toy in case they get into bother of some kind (e.g. choking). This is especially important when using toys that are old that have become easier to chew into fragments.
- If your dog is likely to be on their own regularly for more than two hours, consider using a doggy day care facility. This can cost as little as €20 per day, and even just two days a week of doggy day care can be enough to tire a dog out so that they are more settled when left on their home on their own for a period the following day. Alternatives include using a local dog minder (e.g. Housemydog.com) or seeking a “free” dog walker (e.g. BorrowMyDoggy.com).
- Ask your neighbours if your dog barks when you are out. This is a common cause of neighbourly disputes, and if you don’t ask, you might not even know about it.
- Sometimes two dogs settle more easily together than one dog on their own: if you can’t have two dogs, maybe you can borrow one from a friend – it could help both animals.
- Leave the radio on when you go out, with some of your clothes in the dog’s bed area, and also a plug in pheromone diffuser (e.g. Adaptil). These measures will make the dog’s immediate environment cosier and less stressful.