Editorial May 2018 Issue

Isolation Distress in Dogs All Too Common

Isolation vastly lowers a dogís quality of life and is nearly unbearable for puppies.

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.

whole dog journal editor nancy kerns

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.

Comments (16)

Hi, everyone. i have a rescue male dog HW , 6yo, who, after I adopted him, went thru a series of immiticide injections. Well, after trying to leave him by himself (before his injections started) I could tell he was upset being by himself. I had a note on my door from neighbors about the yelping/howling, and my blinds and carpet were a little destroyed. Nothing too disastrous, but I did have some damage. Not too unexpected from a middle-aged rescue I guess.

I expect dogs to act out if they are upset and tried to understand and fix the issue.

I have three dog beds for him, including a Zinger kennel, which has not been effective, since he also seems to have confinement anxiety. Funny enough, though, he goes in there now that I leave the door open and put his favorite bedding in there.

He tore up my couch one day when I left him alone when I accidentally left out rawhides where he could get to them. He was simply trying to bury them in the sofa cushions. I wasn't mad at him or punish him. I should have hidden all the treats. I do now. He doesn't seem to be destructive too much without a purpose. But I can see from the camera that he is very concerned about being alone. He just stares at the door all day and goes back and forth from a few perches where he can see the door. The weird thing is I just want him to go to sleep or not care. I think that is what all my past dogs did. I have never had expereince with isolation anxiety in dogs.

I have a few webcams set up, and I can see him staring at the front door the entire time I'm gone. I live alone and I know this can itself be hard on dogs. Especially the dog I adopted, he seems to be quite the extrovert, and probably wants to know why mommy doesn't have much of a pack.

I leave his favorite Smart Bone and he will usually finish that, but he usually won't eat the entire time I'm gone.

With the heartworm treatment, that was especially trying, and he was on steroids to prevent any adverse effects. I also read that steroids can cause anxiety.

Anyway, after thousands of dollars later (training programs, kennel, boarding, etc.), we're done with the HW treatment and he's finally off all meds. I'm nervous to leave him alone still and have been taking him to this really great daycare. Only a couple days so far, but he seems to really love it and he comes home very tired at the end of the day. I can even watch him on the doggy daycare webcam and it's very entertaining!

I guess it is still too early to tell, but the HW treatment puts a lot of restrictions on what you can do with your dog... at least for two months after their treatment. Now that he is over that and off all meds, I am hoping he will be able to be by himself while I am at work just twice a week for 10 hours and once for 7 hours. The other two long 10-hour days I will drop him off at daycare. He is really good there. Likes playing around and being engaged. weekends I am home a lot and will take him on adventures like dog park and hiking/camping.

It's just that all my past dogs were okay being alone while I was at work. This one is a challenge and makes me approach things quite differently. But he is a really sweet, smart dog and I really want this adoption to work out. I am a reasonably active person who will take the dog on a lot of walks and to the park, etc., but he needs to be able to sit by himself in the apartment for the times I am gone. I have the feeling that the obedience training and the daycare both are working to instill confidence in him so he will be able to be by himself pretty soon for a reasonable amount of time. I'm just very grateful for this dog daycare and how he seems to have so much fun there. I think it will be a good tool for us to battle this isolation distress.

Posted by: roznwalt | May 30, 2018 10:21 PM    Report this comment

I am very blessed to be self-employed, and thereby able to have my dog with me all the time. I do leave her to go to the grocery, etc, sometimes up to more hours than I like, but easily 95% of her time is with me (she probably needs more time off ;p
I agree, that dogs are pack animals, and do not prefer to be alone for long stretches of time, but it seems to me that it sure beats living in a crate at a shelter, waiting to die. We can only hope that people donít invite dogs into their lives, and then completely neglect them. It bears repeating, ďwe can only hope.Ē So, hereís my judgment: those of us who have the luxury of spending so much time with our dogs should be inviting more isolated dogs to go for walks with us, have play dates, and otherwise HELP one another. No one should be deptrived of the joy of dog companionship, AND no dog should be isolated so long.

Posted by: Sarahdonis | May 22, 2018 3:53 PM    Report this comment

I agree with your article. We are looking for a second dog and as seniors are going the re-homing/rescue route for an older dog. Far too many purebred dogs that a busy family offers to "re-home" at several years of age are completely unmanageable and may be fear aggressive. When you talk to some owners of the rehoming dogs, they stress how expensive that purebred puppy was and want significant re-homing fees-- They don't realize the untrained, emotionally damaged dog they have created is an intensive commitment and will require many hours of patient training and interaction using professionals to heavily supervise training or actually train it at a facility.

Posted by: AK9Hawk01 | May 17, 2018 12:46 PM    Report this comment

2 dogs that are friends preferably opposite sex and similar age takes a bite out of "home alone" tho they still need to see their people

Posted by: Richard Lind | May 14, 2018 11:42 PM    Report this comment

I wish I could take my dogs everywhere I go especially my Boxer mix who is stuck to me like glue. When I leave he runs clockwise circles around my car trying to hard me back home. Our society has gone mad. Someone should be home or the dog at work and they should be free to run around as in more rural countries today. But i believe it helps to have 2 dogs that are friends. My female Carolina dog and make Boxer keep each other engaged when I'm away

Posted by: Richard Lind | May 14, 2018 9:01 AM    Report this comment

As a certified dog trainer and dog guardian, I have been contacted by people who have dogs with some of the behavior outlined in the article that is due to stress. However, I also believe that dogs become stressed and anxious not so much from being left alone but from the lack of leadership from their human guardians.
It is important no matter what socio economic class one belongs to to provide the dog with proper leadership by training the dog so that he knows what behavior is acceptable in order to live with humans. Many behaviors such as pulling on leash, jumping up on people etc are due to the human not providing the proper leadership. Please note I use and mean leadership not dominance.

Posted by: krystalblue | May 14, 2018 1:37 AM    Report this comment

I totally agree with this article. Why get a dog if you are going to leave him/her alone all day. As the article stated, there are ways around this - from dog walkers to friends & relatives. Get creative. I have an 11 year old Shih Tzu and we never leave her. She even goes to church with me and everyone loves her. The only times we don't take her are weddings and funerals. And those times, my best friend comes over to sit with her and take her outside. I live in a dog friendly community and dogs are welcome to come to restaurants and sit with owners on the patio. And I only shop at Loew's and Home Depot where dogs are welcome. For groceries, I order online and have it delivered. I simply won't leave her. And, for the record, I hate those cages/crates. They should be outlawed!

Posted by: Snicks | May 14, 2018 1:24 AM    Report this comment

I am 63, have 3 dogs on 10 acres, and generally hike with them off leash 3 to 4 times a week. My 1st dog, who was a typically thoughtless present from a fiance, was given to me when I lived in an apartment, and had little ability to be a good dog mom. She had huge separation issues, eating expensive rx glasses and text books. When we got a second dog her behavior improved. When I moved (alone) to a rural area it improved even more. While I worked I walked the dogs off leash first thing, and then left after giving them a large raw bone each, but it tore my heart out to leave them. These days they go with me everywhere, practically, and my vehicle is an Element, which seems designed as a rolling kennel:) Dogs are sentient being with very specific needs, and act out if these are not satisfied. Too many people get dogs without educating themselves, and specific breeds have even more precise needs. Oh, one time I used a kennel when 2 males were having aggresion issues-my kenneled dog broke through the welds and could have badly injured himself. I would never again use a kennel. It was bought at Tractor Supply.

Posted by: abbeyrhode | May 14, 2018 12:04 AM    Report this comment

Although my first choice would always be staying home with my dogs, my husband and I had to work many years. Having more than one dog (3 seemed to be a magic number), a large fenced & shaded yard (complete with oak trees and squirrels to entertain), a covered & shaded porch with windows & blinds on 2 sides and a broken tiled floor, and neighbors on both sides & across the street who adored our dogs, seemed to be the magic formula. No one ever dug out or even tried. They were happy & healthy, got lots of attention.
Now I am older, have only one dog, but must still work long hours. My ONE dog has a shaded porch and a privacy-fenced yard, which she can access via her doggy door, whenever she wishes. In the summer, she's usually inside in the air conditioning on her favorite bed under the ceiling fan. I also hired a wonderful pet sitter, who feeds her, plays with her, and walks her while I am at work.
It's all a matter of creating a comfortable and safe environment, and enlisting the help of trusted friends and neighbors.

Posted by: LifeWithDogs | May 13, 2018 10:13 PM    Report this comment

As is typical, the conclusion reached is that poor people don't deserve to have any joy in their lives.

Posted by: Mafia Kirby | May 13, 2018 8:19 PM    Report this comment

I have a dog that rarely gets crated for long periods of time. when I first got Travy I crated him to rehouse train him (he was a rescue). I do crate him if my roommates or I are not at home on Wednesday for about 4 hours. He has a major separation problem concerning me. Sometimes my one of my roommates is home with him and he still cries and howls until I get home.

Posted by: Jamiewren | May 13, 2018 7:36 PM    Report this comment

I'm a volunteer at a shelter, and so many people who work long hours come in, asking if they can leave their dogs in a crate while they are at work for 10 hours. Or, they dump their dogs off at our kill shelter when their dogs are anxious and bored and become destructive! This article simply points out that dogs have needs, and if someone can't provide those needs due to their schedule or budget, then they shouldn't have a dog. It doesn't mean they're bad people, and it's not a question about "deserving." It comes down to making choices that are not selfish and what's best for the dog.

Posted by: DDSinLA | May 13, 2018 4:22 PM    Report this comment

LuckyMom, I think thatís great for you. But please understand that most people do not have that option, and should not be expected to do this. I agree with Dharma Dog Mom that it is our responsibility to teach our dogs the skills they need to successfully live with us. I had to work through some severe separation anxiety with my dog when I first adopted him. I was living alone at the time and had a demanding job. But with the help of a professional trainer and a desensitization/counter-conditioning program, we managed to help him be comfortable home alone. In the meantime, I kept coming across articles that even more bluntly than this one, would suggest that people with full time jobs just should not have dogs. I struggled with this a lot. I donít doubt that we all could do a little more to ensure our dogs are happy. Some day care, some trips home for lunch, more time spent interacting with them. Those are absolutely positive changes we should all consider. What irks me is the implication that if you live alone and work full time - as lots of people do - you donít deserve to have a dog.

Posted by: AlexJ | May 13, 2018 2:05 PM    Report this comment

I am a trainer and we do both of these things we "educate owners about their dogsí emotional and biological needs and take steps to improve the dogís quality of life," but then we teach the dog to manage emotions in a kennel/den space for humane periods of time. This is a life skill that dogs have for the rest of their life.

If dogs cannot hold calm space in a kennel it will make it difficult for them to go anyplace that requires kennels, vet offices, day cares, boarding, friends or families, etc. And often times if dogs are destroying the house, they will chew drywall to get outside, so kenneling is NOT the issue. Teaching the dog to manage their emotions while meeting their needs physically and mentally are equally important.

There are so many dogs being returned to shelters and rescues because they are not kennel trained which leads to deeper issues that need to be addressed with the dogs. I do not believe the answer is as simple as NOT to crate dogs. By not teaching dogs to deal with this life stressor I believe we are failing them.

Posted by: Dharma Dog Mom | May 13, 2018 1:13 PM    Report this comment

How does one not leave their dog(s) home all day? They become rich and quit their jobs. This is not an option for probably more than 95% of the population.

What isn't taken into account in this post is what activities are done with the dog when the people are home.

I also find dogs that aren't crated and have full access to the house tend to have more separation anxiety issues than those crated.

When I worked as an engineer, I use to crate all of my dogs for an average of 11 hours per day, Monday-Friday. Until the age of 10-12 months old, they would go to work with me and be crated in my vehicle. My morning and afternoon breaks and my lunch hour was spent with my dog. Crate fans, sun tarps, heated pet beds, timed remote starter, etc., kept my vehicle between 55 and 80 degrees, from 10 degrees to 95 degrees.

I do agree that all dogs are different, but will also say that the majority of pet owners that crate their dogs all say just let them out when they are home, but don't necessarily socialize with them. Yes, my dogs were crated at least 55 hours per week, but when they weren't crated we were training or in class for dg agility and we hiked an average of 15-20 hours per week.

Posted by: dbogart1 | May 10, 2018 10:07 AM    Report this comment

I made a lot of mistakes after I adopted my first dog. But the very best thing I did, which I never regretted for a moment, was to quit my job and spend the rest of her life at home with her (11 years).

Posted by: LuckyMom | May 9, 2018 5:11 PM    Report this comment

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