Do you wonder about what is realistic as far as absences go? There are so many schools of thought out there and I’ll share with you, mine.
I’m a firm believer that we have created unrealistic expectations about dogs throughout this process of domestication. It has always baffled my mind. We bring an animal home with us (yes – we have forgotten that these are animals!) and we expect them to be happily, quietly crated for our 8-9 hour workday. Just leave the radio on and a bowl of water and they’ll be fine.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t care for “fine”. That’s the word we use when someone asks us how we are and we both know that we’re really not okay. I don’t want my dog to be “fine”! I want my dog to thrive in this world, to have an excellent quality of life, to really enjoy their existence with me.
Even if we don’t crate our dog, the isolation for that length of time can be so detrimental to their mental health! Imagine if we expected this of a human? Now, the difference is that with us humans, we have options. We can get up and leave the house, take a walk, go to the mall, pick up the phone and talk to a friend, watch TV, surf the internet, engage on social media, read a book, do a crossword, you name it! What can a dog do when we leave them alone? They will make their own fun! Or, they will feel so anxious about the alone-time that they will display signs of distress...and here we are! They don’t have the options we do.
My idea of realistic is generally around the 4-hour mark for most dogs. I recommend starting the day with a good, stimulating walk where your dog can explore, sniff, forage for treats, meet people and dogs (if they so enjoy), run off leash (where it is safe), and really get their beans out. Come home and rest up while I get ready for my day, then breakfast is served out of a mentally-stimulating puzzle toy that will take longer than 60 seconds to eat. I might leave the dog with this, if it’s safe, or I might monitor while I’m getting ready and they should be done by the time I’m ready to go. I might leave the dog with a stuffed Kong or two instead, so that they can be kept busy and then have a good sleep for a few hours, uninterrupted.
Four hours is a nice even number where they can work at a food toy and have a good nap. When that four hours is up, returning home for lunch and a walk is ideal if you can do it, or having a friend, family member, neighbour, or dog walker come in to give them a break and an opportunity to potty and stretch their legs, is just fine. Some dogs are pee pad trained and they choose to use that during the day, but we should still consider the social isolation in this type of scenario too. Holding their bladder for longer than 4-6 hours isn’t ideal – this can lead to so many health issues, but it can also create such anxiety as it would in a person who was being prevented from relieving themselves! Sure, they can go 8 hours overnight, but that’s when they’re asleep, so most healthy, adult dogs can handle that.
After a good break, a food puzzle or stuffed Kong and they should be set for another few hours until you get home to relieve them, give them some well-deserved love and attention, and spend the evening with them!
Where will you by the end of this course? No one knows, but I think that a fair goal to have is a 3-4 hour absence for most, and for some, two four-hour absences with a break in between might even be realistic!
Dogs are not carbon copies of one another, so what one dog can handle will not be what another dog can handle. Don’t expect too much of your dog just yet – we’re working on it!
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