The first time you leave your dog home alone is ruff. I had a dog named Baby in college, and I remember how anxious I was when I first left him alone for class. He took it like a champ, and even found his preferred window in my apartment to watch the birds and pedestrians while I was gone.
Now that we’re in the post-pandemic era and many people have returned to their offices and to a “normal” life, you’re probably leaving the house a little more often. And if you feel guilty about leaving your pet behind, you’re not alone.
It’s normal to feel sad or guilty about leaving your dog or cat behind. But the fact is—you will need to leave them alone every once in a while, if not every day. And hey, you don’t have to live with that guilt. Here’s what to try.
Preparing Your Pet For Being Home Alone
Preparing your dog or cat to stay home alone is often recommended. You don’t want to jump from spending every day together to leaving them home alone for 8 hours suddenly.
It's well known that dogs and sometimes cats may suffer from 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.
So make sure to take it slow and get your pet feeling safe when you’re not around. Knowing your pet will be just fine without you home can help alleviate some of the guilt.
Here Are Some Practical Ways To Help You And Pet When You Can’t Be Together
Provide Enrichment: Pets need mental stimulation because build confidence, prevent boredom and ignites their natural instincts. By making sure your pet has regular 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.
Adding toys or changes to the environment (like a catio or rearranging furniture so your pet can see outside) can add a lot to make their alone time high-quality and keep your guilt in check. Some of my favorite types of enrichment include:
NOTE: When it comes to toys, make sure it’s safe to leave your pet unattended with it. Some toys or games need human supervision.
Crating can help your dog’s anxiety and your guilt. Some dogs will do better being crated while you’re out.
Crating training can take some time but it’s well-worth the effort. You’ll be able to create a safe, comfy space for your dog, feel confident knowing he's comfortable and not getting into things he shouldn't.
Here’s a simple process that will work to crate train most dogs.
Step 1: Leave the crate door open all the time. Encourage your dog to go in and out using treats and toys. Give lots of praise anytime they go in willingly and on their on volition. Practice this many times over several days or even weeks.
Step 2: With the dog in the crate, close the door for a short period. Stay within eyesight of your dog, and provide rewards when he is quiet and calm. Let your dog out right after they finish the treats, or at any barking, whimpering or pawing at the crate that might indicate they want to come out. Again, keep at this step until your dog seems relaxed and shows no signs of stress inside the crate. PRO TIP: have a playtime or potty break right before you practice this step so the dog knows that once he plays/potties outside it's time to come in and relax in his crate.
Step 3: Gradually increase the time he is in the crate with the door closed and slowly increase your distance to where he can't see you. Keep rewarding for calm behavior. Start with one minutes and slowly increase over time.
Believe me, not having the struggle of getting your dog in a crate or hearing their whimpers does wonders to keeping you guilt-free! It's important to take the time to make the crate a safe, enjoyable option for them!
Add playtime, a photoshoot or exercise before you leave! A tired dog is a “good” dog. Spend the mornings doing an activity you both enjoy and make sure your pet is getting enough exercise. I try to make sure and get my dogs outside even for a short walk around the block so they can sniff and get some fresh air exercise before I leave the house.
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 time. You’ll feel good because you’re giving your pet the exercise they need!
Life is hard enough. You don’t need to drag around a bag of guilt too! As pet 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 not listed? Let me know what’s worked for you!