The sweet sorrow of leaving Fido home alone
Fido… Come… Sit
By Yvonne Passmore
A past client of mine was just telling me how her dog is now trashing her belongings when she is gone to work for the day. She tells me that her dog is angry with her and that’s why he ruins her new glasses, her shoes, her couch, and the list goes on. She won’t accept my explanation that the dog is upset. Obviously he is upset, but not at her. He’s just stressed.
This is known as ‘separation anxiety’. It’s common, and most dogs do react unfavourably to being separated from their owners. It’s unnatural for a dog to be away from its pack; a dog is a pack animal, after all.
Of course we have to go to work. We have to shop (some more than others), and we have to go to school. We have to leave our dogs for a myriad of reasons.
The stress that dogs feel when we leave them is easily preventable. It’s in the dog’s best interest to have him adjust early on to being left alone, as unnatural as that is for him.
Too many people apologize to their dog for leaving them and apologize again when they get home. This is the cause of the stress. You have to teach your dog that it isn’t his business if you leave the house or when you come home.
I have the luxury of staying home most of the time with my dogs, so it is an adjustment for them when I’m not there. My Great Dane used to howl and whine when I left him home alone. It was my mission to never say good-bye to him when I was leaving the house and never to say hello to him when I returned. He has become so comfortable with me leaving, whether for 15 minutes or six hours, that he won’t bother to get off my comfy Memory Foam bed to greet me when I do come home. This certainly doesn’t hurt my feelings. It means he’s adjusted and has become quite comfortable out of my presence. I never have to worry about the damage those big jaws can do to my belongings.
There are other things you can and should do before you leave your dog alone to help ensure his comfort while you’re away.
Make sure he’s had enough exercise to help relieve any physical frustrations he may have, especially for a young dog. Make sure he’s gone ‘potty’ and don’t feed him just before you leave him. Make sure that you have any items that may be tempting to him out of reach. Leave a radio or television on for some distracting background noise. The obvious answer to prevent destruction is to teach your dog to become comfortable in a crate or an ‘X-pen’, which is the doggy equivalent to a playpen.
Above all else, your dog needs to believe you are the leader and that you call the shots. You pay the bills and you make all the decisions about lifestyle. That doesn’t have to be as mean as it sounds. Controlling your dog’s environment and having him understand that his role is as a follower will only help him cope with the realization that we have placed him in an unnatural lifestyle for a dog. By taking one simple step of acting like a leader when you leave and return, you will help reinforce to your dog that he lives with you in your home and not the other way around. In a pack, the alpha doesn’t go running to the rest of the pack to greet them, the pack comes to him.
Wait to say hello and only do so once your dog has calmed down about you being back. I’m sure some of you think that it’s cruel to not instantly get down on your knees and hug and kiss your dog when you come home. It’s actually an act of kindness to not let him get excited about you going about your life. The more relaxed your dog is about you leaving and returning, the more relaxed he will while you’re gone.
Visit www.fidocomesit.com for column suggestions, questions and dog training help.