Monday, 15 September 2014

The Home Alone Dog

"Now, Muffy. Mummy has to go out and leave you, but here’s your toys and water and cookies. Now, you be a gooood girl and Mummy will see you soon. Here, let Mummy give you a big hug and kiss. Now, please, be a good girl."
Is Muffy consoled? NO. Does Muffy understand any of what Mummy said? NO. Is Muffy confused? YES. Does Muffy feel anxious? YOU BET!

One of the worst elements of being a 9 to 5 out-of-the-house dog owner is the guilt that we heap on ourselves at leaving the little one at home "all by herself." So, we turn ourselves inside out to dote on the dog, even more than we normally would, just prior to our leave taking.
On our return home, our guilt-ridden behaviour intensifies. "Oh, Muffy. Did you have a good day? Did you miss Mummy? I wuv my widdle Muffy. Oh, Mummy’s sorry she had to leave her little baby. Want something to eat? Want to go walkies? You Mummy’s little love?"
Is Muffy consoled? NO. Does Muffy understand any of what Mummy said? NO. Is Muffy confused? YES. Does Muffy feel anxious? YOU BET! Does Muffy have ANY idea what is expected of her? I doubt it.

Confronted with these displays, Muffy will do one of two things; shrug her shoulders and go find a corner, curl up and go to sleep for the next eight hours (highly unlikely) or, watch the door close and then, because "Mummy" has instilled such a sense of anxiety, Muffy will look for an outlet for her frustration such as, chewing furniture, defecating, urinating, shredding curtains or paper or barking while running helter-skelter throughout the house.
How did Muffy’s owner make Muffy anxious? She just hold her how much she loved her and how much she would miss her (assuming that Muffy would miss her as much!) and made a BIG fuss of her when she left. Mommy acted like this was a BIG problem? Why would that give Muffy an anxiety attack?!

Dogs are wonderful creatures but they are creatures of habit and routine. Once a routine is established, dogs are quite happy knowing what’s what, what is likely to happen next and what is expected of them when it does.

Does Muffy know what’s happening? (Mummy’s leaving! Aghhh!!) Does Muffy know what’s going to happen next? (When Mummy comes home again, she’s going to be upset! Aghhh!!) Does Muffy know what’s expected of her while Mummy is gone. (Aghhhhh! What to do? What to do??)
How do we avoid this scenario?

First of all, DON’T be guilty because you’re leaving the house for the day. This is a fact of life and dogs are very clever creatures. However, they communicate in dogese ... not English. They understand your para-language (whining and cooing, etc) and your body language and they interpret it accordingly. Although some dogs have a fairly extensive vocabulary, much of their interpretation of what is actually said (as you understand it) is by your para and body language.
So, how do we get out of the house? In the words of Ian Dunbar, "Close the door." Too simply stated? Then teach your puppy that you are leaving the house ... daily ... and that he has to learn to like (or at least, tolerate) his own company. Puppy (or dog) should be confined to an area (oversized crate or a room where he cannot destroy things), given his supply of water, toys, cookies, Kong toys ... anything to keep him amused. Tell him, in a normal tone of voice, "Ta, ta.
Look after things while I’m gone, Kid. See you later." Then, simply leave.
Is Kid consoled? NO. Does Kid understand any of what was actually said? NO. Is Kid confused? NO. Does Kid feel anxious? NO.

When you return? Leave the puppy (or dog) in his confined space but troop through and say, "Hi. How’s it goin’? Cool your jets and I’ll come and get you in a minute." Then, hang up your coat, put your purse down, go change your clothes, grab a beer as you pass the fridge and then, and only then, go and let Kid outside for a piddle and a Frisbee throw (or whatever Kid considers fun!).

Does Kid need consoling? NO. Does Kid understand any of what was said? Maybe, although probably not. Is Kid confused? NO. Does Kid feel anxious? NO. Does Kid have any idea what’s expected of him? YOU BET! Is Kid happy with his routine and his owner’s expectations? Probably.
How do we get a Kid and not a Muffy? Ideally, you start from the minute your puppy enters your home. If your regular routine is to be out of the house during regular working hours, that’s the routine your puppy is introduced to at the start. It is far easier for an eight-week old puppy, who has limited life experience, to handle this fact of life. This puppy learns his routine early and becomes accustomed to being alone.

Folks who are fortunate enough to have the summer months free from the workplace, often think it is an ideal time to acquire a puppy. Not so. This eight week old puppy is ’trained’ that people, and sometimes kids, are available all day and all night every day and every night. Then, when he passes his fourth month birthday, the house empties and he finds himself totally alone. This is a difficult adjustment for a young dog. What happened? Was it something he did? Where did everyone go? Where’s my entertainment? This puppy should be trained, prior to school beginning again, in short spans of time gradually built up, that he will be left alone, confined, with his own company.

Your dog is an adult and you find that you are returning to the workplace? All is not lost. Start teaching your dog that there are times that he will be alone. Put your dog in his spot, give him his toys (even adult dogs love stuffed Kongs) and with no fuss or bother, leave the house. When initially teaching your dog this new "game", just leave him for an hour or so and return. Build up the length of time that he’s alone gradually. Again, no fuss or bother. If you don’t make a big deal of this, neither will he. He may not even notice you were gone!

Being a 9 to 5 out-of-the-house dog owner is a way of life for many of us. Teach your puppy or dog to handle this. Spend quality time with the dog during the evening hours and you’ll both be happier for it. And, prepare yourself. If you teach Muffy that your going and coming is nothing to concern herself with, in no time, Muffy won’t give a hoot if you leave her for the day or not. Ever notice how much dogs sleep? That’s what she’ll do with her day. Play a little and sleep a little and sleep a little more. She will, however, just like Kid, be very happy to herald your return!

Keep your tails wagging
Bear's P4ws

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