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Ask The Trainer: Leaving Your Dog Home Alone

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QAfter years of working solely from home I am considering switching fields to a career that will require me to work from an office. I have a dog, Harley, who is used to having me home all day, and I’m concerned about her adjusting to me not being around as much. Of course I will be hiring someone to stop by and care for her in the afternoons, but I still worry about the transition. What can I do to make it easier for her?

It’s great that you’re thinking about this now, as a little advanced preparation will make things easier for both of you!

First thing—if your dog isn’t crate trained, or needs a refresher, now may be the time to do it. Crate training is a great tool for creating boundaries and security for both of you. I know people sometimes balk at the idea of having their dogs crated for extended periods of time, but the average dog sleeps 16-18 hours a day. As long as the crate is appropriately sized—allowing room to stand up, stretch, get a drink of water, and move about a bit before going back to sleep—it’s a great tool.

Keeping your dog crated while you are gone also mitigates any destructive tendencies, as well as provide a safe environment for other people who may need to enter your home while you are gone, like the dog walker, maintenance personnel, housecleaners, etc.

Once the crate training is well underway, start working on a very consistent schedule for Harley. Make sure she gets her first walk within the same half hour every morning. Then, take her out again in the afternoon during the same time period and for the same duration that a dog walker will be walking her. Figure out the most likely time that you will get home from work, and walk her within approximately that same half hour every day. What you’re doing here is creating consistent expectations for interaction and for bladder/bowel control, which will provide a reliable framework for Harley’s days.

While you are working on the consistent walk schedule, you can start crating Harley for longer and longer periods during the day. I find that it’s easier for dogs to get used to crating if they can still see you (which is why I prefer wire crates over plastic travel crates). Then, start going out for longer times when she is crated––10 minutes the first day, 15 minutes the second, 20 minutes the third, etc. If she is prone to separation anxiety when you leave the house, distract her with a stuffed Kong right before you leave, and have the crate positioned or partially covered so that she can’t see you walking out the door.

Don’t make a big deal of leaving the house. Put Harley in the crate, give her the Kong if necessary, and go out. Don’t stage an emotional scene every time you leave or come back; it’s disruptive to the dog, and will set her up for failure. If it’s not a big deal to you, it won’t be a big deal to her.

The key to an easy transition is consistency and calm behavior on your part. I almost always find that the humans have a much harder time in this situation than the dogs. However, if your dog doesn’t seem to be adjusting to the new situation within a reasonable amount of time, or if you feel that Harley’s behavior is getting worse, schedule an appointment with your vet and/or a highly regarded trainer. Some dogs just naturally have more anxiety than others, and it’s always best to consult with a professional to make sure you are aware of all of your medical and behavioral treatment options.

Now, if you think Harley will just accept your schedule change without needing to use the crate, then you can simply apply the schedule framework as prescribed and give Harley the run of the place while you are away.

Best of luck to you and your new career pursuits!

img-speaker-jamieABOUT the Trainer: Jamie Migdal is a nationally recognized dog expert with more than 20 years of experience in the pet industry. Thanks to founding four companies in the pet industry and working hands-on with tens of thousands of clients, Jamie is a thought leader and expert in entrepreneurship and canine behavior. Jamie’s newest endeavor is FetchFind, which offers access to a niche employee talent pool, industry-specific career opportunities, and an innovative badging system to showcase skills.

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