I know I’ve hit a spot that’s going to be sensitive for some of Whole Dog Journal‘s readers when my copy editor sends an article back to me covered with personal comments mixed in with the grammatical and typographical corrections she’s supposed to be making. But in the case of trainer Nancy Tucker’s article “How Long is Too Long to Leave A Dog Alone?“, even as she was writing it, the author herself expressed concerns that the piece might be upsetting for some people to read.
However, both WDJ’s Training Editor Pat Miller and I love the article, even though we recognize that the points made by its author might be hard for some dog owners to accept, at least at first. Our hope is, though, that it makes people think a little about a very commonly accepted practice; are they unwittingly asking their dogs to do something that is very difficult, with little or no recognition of the hardship?
The thrust of the piece is this: Many dogs find staying at home alone all day to be anxiety-producing and challenging, causing a good number of them to exhibit behaviors that their owners find irritating (barking, chewing, inappropriate elimination indoors, etc.). Educated trainers recognize these behaviors as coping mechanisms – things that some dogs do in an effort to relieve their anxiety and boredom and make it through another day – not, as some people believe, things the dogs do out of spite. Experienced trainers have learned that it is far more fruitful – and humane – to educate owners about their dogs’ emotional and biological needs and take steps to improve the dog’s quality of life, than to try to stop the problematic behaviors with crates.
Of course, not all dogs find being home alone onerous. The advent of web cams and home-monitoring software has allowed many owners to observe their dogs sleeping on the sofa almost all day long – a reassuring vision, to be sure. But even in the case of dogs who seem to sleep all day, it shouldn’t hurt to ask their owners: Is this enough?
Compared to life on a chain or ownerless on the streets, our dogs’ lives – mostly indoors, with plush beds and enriching toys and plenty to eat – seem pretty darn good. Who among us has not felt that our own lives, by comparison, are a lot harder? After all, we have to work all day to support their leisure-filled lifestyles!
But we’re asking you to consider the social nature of the dog, just for a moment. His forbears chose to be our companions thousands of years ago, and when given an opportunity to choose, it’s his strong preference to be with us almost all of the time. Please just think about this if your dog shows signs of being distressed by being home alone, or, especially, if you are planning to bring a puppy home soon. And then consider whether any of Tucker’s suggested remedies might be available to you. Your dog will appreciate it more than he can ever say.