While most dog owners would love nothing more than to spend every waking minute hanging with their pups, for 9-to-5ers, that’s usually not an option. When you see that all-too-familiar baleful look when you leave for the office, it’s natural to assume that your dog is lonely.
Unfortunately, our dogs can’t just come out and say how they’re feeling. So how can you tell if your dog is lonely while you’re away? Your pup will make it pretty clear when you have a problem on your hands.
Behavior to watch for
While “loneliness” is a common human emotion, it might not exactly translate for dogs distressed by their owner’s absence, explains Shelby Semel, senior trainer and founder of Shelby Semel Dog Training.
“I believe dogs are more likely to be bored, anxious or stressed than ‘lonely,’” Semel tells The Dodo. “They may bark, whine, pace, howl, try to escape and/or sleep by the front door waiting for your return.”
Pet owners should keep an eye out for these behaviors, but try not to become too much of a helicopter parent for their furbaby. “If your dog looks relaxed, takes a nap while you’re away and is not entertaining themselves by playing with toys or is eating, that is not a reason for concern,” Semel says. “The behavior is not categorized as being lonely or unhappy, but is most likely a sign of resting!”
Some dogs are more prone to anxiety than others
It’s important to understand the signs of loneliness and anxiety so you can figure out how to help your little bud. Every dog is different, and some are more likely to experience symptoms than others.
Dogs who are very attached to their owners or have experienced significant trauma, such as a recent move or transitioning from a shelter to a home, may have more trouble being left alone, Semel explains. Dog owners may have to give these pups a little more TLC to help them get through the day.
Train your pup to be alone
How long is too long to leave a pup by themselves? There’s no hard and fast rule for this amount of time, so pet owners need to take into account how long their dog is able to hold their bladder and rest comfortably.
Alone time training can start as soon as you bring your pup home, Semel advises. “For a typical puppy, I suggest one to two hours to start, then slowly extend the time they can be left alone longer as they get older,” Semel says. “An important point to note is to make sure your dog has had an adequate level of exercise before being left alone, as this can help your dog being left alone for long stretches of time.”
For pet owners working long hours, hiring a dog walker for those afternoon walks or having a neighbor look in on the pup while you’re away can be a lifesaver. Doggy daycare is also an option for pups that have trouble with being left alone. That is, if you can’t pop home on your lunch break for a snuggle.
Make sure your pup is comfortable before leaving
“I suggest plenty of exercises before the dog is left alone,” Semel says. “Make sure they have a VERY high-value chew or toy that they can keep busy with.” There are numerous multipurpose dog toys out there, the key is finding the right one to curb boredom. Popular choices range from a rag rope ball, perfect for fetching and shaking, to a classic rubber Kong toy, which will keep your dog amused as it bounces and rolls in unexpected directions. For a little extra encouragement, you can stuff the Kong with dog treats or pack food inside and throw it in the freezer for longer enjoyment.
Setting the vibe at home may also be comforting to a stressed-out pup. “Leaving on classical music or any calming music and a lavender plug-ins can also be helpful,” Semel explains.
If that’s not doing the trick, pet owners can try other calming tools on the market to get their dog through the day. “Adaptil collars, which release dog appeasing pheromone (DAP) through a dog’s ears, or Thundershirts, designed to provide gentle pressure around their body for dogs who suffer from anxiety, fear or separation anxiety are all great options,” Semel notes.
Talk to your vet
If signs of stress continue, dog owners should discuss additional techniques with their primary vet. “If you suspect your dog is more sensitive to separation anxiety, there are safe and natural calming supplements available, and you should discuss your options with your veterinarian,” Semel suggests.
Don’t let the issue get out of hand
If you believe your dog is suffering, don’t let it go on too long. Semel advises investing in a baby monitor to check in on your dog regularly when you’re on the go. “With modern technology, most baby monitors also offer an app, which allows you to easy accessibility to monitor your dog from your mobile phone.”
If you see consistent displays of anxiety such as constant pacing, vocalizing or potentially harmful behavior, Semel advises that pet owners call a professional right away. Pet owners should also be wary if they notice their dog barking for more than five to 10 minutes after they leave the house, as it could be a sign of separation anxiety.
Of course, no one wants their dog to be upset when they leave, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with becoming a stay-at-home pup parent.