On days I go to work, I always apologize to the dogs. “Be good, I’ll miss you, I’m sorry I have to leave you today,” I say as close the door. I often wonder what they’re up to all day when I’m gone. Are they wandering aimlessly from room to room? Lounging on the couch? Gazing at the door?
Is my dog lonely?
Here are signs your dog might be lonely:
- Chewing and other destructive behaviors
- Barking or howling constantly
- Pacing or hiding
- Potty accidents
- Reduced appetite
I haven’t set up a spy camera for my own dogs, but plenty of other pet parents have, and the results are clear: dogs get lonely—or bored. Witness Marlee, a sweet yellow lab that whines, paces, and tosses her person’s laundry around the house until he gets home:
It’s heartbreaking to see a dog suffer while her people are gone, but what’s a working dog person to do? Thankfully, there are ways to alleviate loneliness and boredom, and make separation easier for human and dog.
Create a secure “dog zone”
Even the sweetest, best-behaved dog can get lonely or cause trouble when left to their own devices. I’ve learned that having his own special den helps Radar feel secure. These days, when I say “crate time!” he happily walks into his crate and curls up on his blankie with a durable chew toy.
For dogs who need more space than a crate, choose a secure area of your home, whether it’s the entire living room, a bedroom, or a small portion of the kitchen sectioned off. Here’s what you’ll need:
- A crate if you’re crate training.
- Baby gates! This pet gate is a fun, freestanding choice if your dog isn’t a jumper. If she is, you’ll need something higher.
- Cozy items like blankets or your old shirts.
- At least one bed like this comfy orthopedic pet mattress. Note: You may need a chew-proof bed (we like the K9 Ballistics line). This is a good list of more options.
- Safe chews like Nylabones. Remember that some chews present a choking hazard and shouldn’t be given unsupervised.
- A puzzle toy or other favorite toy
Toys and other distractions for lonely dogs
Start simple: you can leave a radio or television on to provide company and distraction. Some dogs will love the white noise, and what’s more, the sounds can help mask outdoor ones that set off barking in territorial pups.
From there, interactive or puzzle toys can be helpful. Some we like:
- KONG toys can be filled with treats, or for a challenge, put in the freezer.
- This nifty shuffle bone dog puzzle takes a little training for some pups, but it’s a lot of fun once they get it down.
- IQ-testers like this colorful ball toy keep your dog entertained for longer than you’d think.
- Treat-dispensing toys don’t stop at the KONG. The big version of the Bob-A-Lot gets a thumbs-up from our dogs.
- The Petcube is a fun splurge that provides a lot of entertainment for both of you; it gets addictive! It lets you watch and communicate with your dog from afar with camera and 2-way audio.
Separation training for your dog
Just because she’s not scattering your stuff all over the floor like canine Jackson Pollock doesn’t mean your dog doesn’t miss you while you’re gone.
For example, here’s Stewie, a Jack Russell terrier who doesn’t move from the spot he’s left in, but whose mournful howl makes his loneliness all too clear.
If your dog goes into mourning every time you leave the room, it’s important to teach her that your absence is not the end of the world. Start a training routine to help her get used to temporary separation. As with any training, it’s important to work gradually and consistently.
- Start by asking your dog to “stay” in one room (preferably her “dog zone”) while you’re home with her.
- Gradually lengthen the distance and time of your separation until you can leave her alone for 20+ minutes without incident.
It may take some time, but separation exercises will help to calm your dog in your absence, giving her a task to focus on, as well as teaching her that when you leave, you’re not leaving for good. Get more tips on helping your own dog overcome separation anxiety here.
Get by with a little help from your friends
The best cure for loneliness is companionship. When possible, popping by your house at some point during the work day gives your dog a break from solitude. Even if it’s just for 10 minutes, your dog will appreciate the company, attention, and quick game or activity.
If your schedule makes it difficult to do this, consider booking a trusted pet care provider. You can opt for a full doggy daycare experience, or simply have someone swing by for a walk. Rover offers the nation’s largest network of pet sitters and dog walkers—all a tap away on your phone.
The bottom line
In a perfect world, we would all get to spend every single day with our dogs, but the reality is, separation happens. With preparation, training, and a little help, your time apart can be cheerful and worry-free—making your time together all the more sweet.
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The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Top image via Flickr/stuartmadeley