The first time you leave your dog home alone is stressful. I remember when I first left Halo, our Husky, home alone. The rescue let us know that Halo was crate trained, so I knew she would be ok in the crate. But… I left a bed in there with her and I had no idea if she would tear it to shreds. And then there was the thought of her swallowing the pieces of bedding or stuffing. Yes, our minds wander and we seem to always think the worst! The “what if’s” keep scrolling through our heads.
Now that we’re in the post-pandemic era and many people have returned to their offices and to a somewhat “normal” life (is there such a thing?), you’re probably leaving the house a little more often. And if you feel guilty about leaving your pooch behind, you’re not alone.
It’s expected to feel sad or guilty about leaving your pet behind. But the fact is—you will need to leave them alone every once in a while, if not every day. You don’t have to live with that guilt. I promise. Here’s what to try:
Preparing Your Dog For Being Home Alone
Preparing your dog to stay home alone is often recommended. You don’t want to jump from spending every minute, every hour of every day together to leaving them home alone for 8 hours suddenly. Oh my!
Dogs may suffer from what is called “separation anxiety”. In her article “Separation Anxiety? What You Can Do“, dog trainer Linda Michaels gives 7 steps dog parents can take to help prepare their pup for longer stays alone.
Please make sure to take it slow and get your dog feeling safe when you’re not around. Knowing your pup will be just fine without you home can help alleviate some of the guilt.
Practical Tips to Help You and Your Dog When You Can’t Be Together:
1. Provide Mental Stimulation
Dogs need mental stimulation to alleviate boredom, prevent destructive behaviors and keep them happy and entertained. By making sure your pup has enrichment, you can help keep the guilt in check because you know you are leaving them with something good for them.
You can add enrichment in the form of toys or their environment. Halo is a “licker” and she tends to lick if she is bored or stressed. She licks her paws and will even lick the couch or the floor. The Lickimats have been great for Halo! We spread some peanut butter and pumpkin on them and she goes to town! I have three that I will freeze and rotate for her. The are so many options to choose from! (these are also great for entertaining your pooch during a nail clipping session).
2. Spy On Your Dog
This may sound a bit creepy, but when I say to “spy” I do mean doing this in a healthy way! The guilt is sure to fly out the door if you can check up on your pup throughout the day and see that they are doing just fine. Pet cameras (with an app so you can check up on them) can make that happen.
Our previous dog, Kota, was crated when my husband and I would leave the house up until about 2 years old. I remember the first time we gave her the “run of the house” – with the camera set up! Kota had been a destructive puppy and the crate is wonderful for safety. The first time we left her outside the crate, can you guess what she did?
She slept the whole time! Kota was a big girl and proved that she could be trusted!
Halo on the other hand? She’s about 2 right now. I can’t imagine her giving her full reign of the house! She’s a little terror! Just this week I was on a phone call and she tore the sheet off the bed and ripped apart our mattress. Oh, Halo! I’m not even taking the chance with a camera!
There are a lot of neat features you can look for in pet cameras. Besides looking for one with an app, you can research for one that includes things like remote controlling, two-way audio, night vision, motion detection, broad range of view, and real-time alerts. Remember you are looking for features that give you peace of mind and keep your dog safe.
A word of caution on spy cams: You do not want to become OBSESSED with checking on your dog every 5 seconds. Nor do you want to talk to your pooch through audio, causing there time alone to be more stressful than relaxing. Please use the webcam wisely!
3. The Crate
Crating your dog when you leave home can help with your dog’s anxiety and your guilt. As I mentioned above, our previous dog, Kota, was crate trained as a puppy. She was destructive. She chewed up my favorite pair of Steve Madden dress black shoes. She could NOT be trusted!
In later years when we no longer used the crate for Kota, she would go in during the day and nap. It was also a safe space for her during fireworks or thunder storms.
Crating can be a challenge to teach, but it’s well worth the effort. Before I was a pet photographer I was a dog trainer and I worked with clients on crate training. Here are some great crate training tips from expert positive reinforcement dog trainer Victoria Stilwell.
Believe me, not having the struggle of getting your dog in a crate or hearing their cries does wonders to keeping you guilt-free! Take the time to make the crate a safe, enjoyable option for them!
I’m so glad I stuck it out with Kota and thrilled that Halo came to us a “star crater!”
4. Add Playtime, Photoshoot, or Exercise Prior to Leaving
Exercise before leaving your dog is important! Take a walk or a hike or throw the ball in the yard to tire out your pooch. Find some open shade, grab your phone and and make your dog work on sits or downs and take some cute pics to share. Did I trigger thoughts on a professional portrait session with your dog?
Remember: A tired dog is a “good” dog. Spend the mornings doing an activity you both enjoy and make sure your pup is getting enough exercise. Halo enjoys playing with toys on the yard. She gets bored quick, but a few good sprints tire her out! One of her favorites is this Halloween squeaky toy.
5. Hire a Great Dog Walker
Don’t have time to walk your pet in the morning? Or are you going to be away too long? Get help! It’s out there! There are people who walk dogs for a living – I used to be a dog walker myself, so I know!
A professional dog walker can help you meet your pet’s needs and make being home alone less lonely. They’ll have some companionship throughout the day or while you’re away for an extended period of time.
You’ll feel good because you’re giving your pooch the exercise they need!
If you are local to Georgetown, MA, we love Aunty Michelle’s Pet Care. They are a husband/wife team that focus on keeping dogs safe and giving them the best possible care. They send pictures each visit and give a full report. My husband and I had a wedding last March in Phoenix that we traveled to and they came to see Halo four times a day. I have peace of mind knowing Aunty Michelle or Uncle Aaron will be getting Halo out for an adventure when I am gone.
Look at how much fun Halo has with her friends!!!
Life is hard enough. You don’t need to drag around a bag of guilt too! As dog parents, we’re always looking for the best ways to take care of and love our pets. I hope one of my tips helps you shake off some of the guilt and makes your dog’s alone time more peaceful.
Have you tried anything that worked that is not listed? Let me know what’s worked for you and reply in the comments!