A few days ago we received a letter from the local council stating that someone has complained about dog barking. To say that we were shocked is not enough. Milo is never left alone for long periods of time except for the two days this year, when we had to leave him for the whole day. The only people who could have complained are our upstairs neighbours. When we asked them about it, they said that they were concerned for Milo’s well-being because he barked almost every day for 10-15 minutes at a time. I was quite annoyed that they failed to tell us first. After all, how are we to know that he barks, if we’re not home? Moreover, I seriously doubt that Milo actually barks that often. Next day after receiving the letter we installed a camera. I was away for a few days, and Milo was home alone while my husband was at work. We haven’t seen or heard him bark once. He was sleeping like a log on the sofa, which is pretty much his favourite pastime. Anyway, I just wanted to share a few tips on how to make your dog comfortable while you’re gone. From now on I will make sure that I use these tips myself, although being home alone had never been an issue for Milo before.
- Make him tired. As with any other issue, lots of exercise and mental stimulation will reduce inappropriate behaviour: in this case, separation anxiety or excessive barking. Your dog needs a lot of sleep, and the more tired he is the more sleep he needs. Allow time for a run in the woods, some playtime or training before you leave your dog alone.
- Help your dog to feel safe. Make sure your dog has access to his usual favourite places in your house. Don’t move his bed to a different spot, when you leave the house. Dogs hate change, especially, the one they learn to associate with something unpleasant. Being home alone is an unpleasant experience for most dogs.
- Help your dog to stay calm. There are different sprays and diffusers on the market that are supposed to make your dog feel calm and safe. I haven’t noticed any effect on Milo, but it may work for your dog. In severe cases, it may be worth trying calming pills for dogs. Always consult your vet before you try them for your dog.
- Avoid fuss and stressful routines. Dogs are very good at learning routines and picking up our stress. A large proportion of your dog’s anxiety over being home alone comes from watching you getting ready to leave. Your dog has learned all your routines and will know if you’re going to leave the house. Therefore, breaking or minimizing your leaving-the-house routine may help to reduce your dog’s stress. Get your staff ready the night before or start picking up your car keys and putting on your shoes at random times during the day. Your dog will learn not to worry about these actions. In addition, make sure you are calm and organised when you’re getting ready to leave. Dogs don’t like seeing their owners in a hurry, stressed out or annoyed.
- Leave the lights and the TV on. If you’re going to leave your dog alone when it’s dark, leave the lights on. It may not be very “green” or economical, but it will eliminate yet another unusual element. If your dog is used to hearing background noise and having the lights on during the evening time, but then one day it is dark and quiet and he is home alone, it can be uncomfortable at the least, but most likely it will be terrifying. No wonder your dog will start howling, hoping that you hear him and come back to rescue him or to keep him company.
- Hire a dog walker. Having someone to check on your dog, to walk and feed him at his usual time and to provide some human interaction is the best way to keep your dog comfortable if you are gone for longer than usual. I’ve been researching the local dog walkers myself, because occasionally we want to go for a day trip or to go out in the evenings, without being too worried about Milo being home alone. Most of them are relatively inexpensive and will be happy to come and meet you and your dog beforehand. Anyway, it will definitely be less expensive than paying a fine, replacing destroyed furniture or treating anxiety.
I hope this advice will help you, your dog and your neighbours. After all, the less stress we all (humans and animals) have the healthier and happier we are. Good luck!