Home Alone – The Path to Destructive Behaviour

I once watched a programme with Victoria Stillwell where a couple were keeping their puppy (under a year old) at home alone in a single room all day. What she said has always stuck with me. “If you were a child, kept in a room home alone all day with nobody for company, how would you feel?” The woman replied, “I would go mad.” To which Victoria declared, “What were you thinking?!”

You can’t argue with the logic. Anybody who is stuck home alone with nothing to do and nobody to see is going to go insane. A hamster that is kept in a cage with no enrichment goes mad!

All the people I know who have animals are either animal welfare students or workers, or people who got their pets after serious research and understanding of what they are letting themselves in for. You just don’t BUY an animal without knowing the full deal. You don’t jump in the water without learning to swim!

So that’s why it’s a surprise again and again when people leave their dogs home alone for hours on end. A family member of mine was a classic case of this. He had an old dog who was happy to sleep on the sofa at home in a small house with a small courtyard instead of a garden (no grass). This didn’t bother the dog, what with him being old he didn’t need much space to exercise and he slept a lot. When he died, my family member got another dog of the same breed, but a puppy. The puppy didn’t feel the same way. He would come home to find that she had destroyed the bottom of the sofa, the carpet and the table legs. Everything had to go. Including the dog. Lucky for him-or should I say lucky for the dog- he had got her from a reputable breeder who was happy to have the puppy back.

Remember, if you buy your puppy from a reputable breeder you should always be able to take them back to them as a good breeder only wants the best for their puppies and if you accept that you cannot offer that to them, the breeder will be only too happy to take them back. Sending a puppy to a rescue should ALWAYS be a last resort. Everyone thinks “oh, a puppy will get rehomed quickly.” This may be the case. But a rescue by law has to keep a dog in the kennels at least a week before they can claim it entirely into their care and re-home it. This week of barking, frightened or aggressive dogs surrounding it, loud noises, strangers walking by and being shut in a kennel alone with very little social interaction will affect the dog for the rest of its life. The affects may not be obvious, but they are always there. It’s the same as putting a child in a care home. They have been left behind by the pack they thought was theirs. Their safety net has gone. They are in an unknown area that is giving off a dangerous vibe and there is no pack for safety! It goes against everything a dog knows!

So some rules you ought to know before getting a dog;

1. Never leave your young dog home alone for longer than two hours at most. And I personally would advise not leaving it home alone for long periods of time at all until you have had them for about 3 months and they are happily sleeping alone through the night without crying.

2. Always keep their bed separate from you when they are sleeping when they are young. Most people keep their dog in the kitchen in the night when they are little so they do not wee in the bedroom. Not only is this a good idea, but it gives the dog a sense of independence so it makes it easier when you want them to be home alone for a few hours!

3. You should keep your dog in the room it sleeps in when you go out. Harri sleeps in the utility room. Not only is it a tiled floor, but it has underfloor heating so she is never cold. It is also right by the back door, she can go straight out to the loo in the morning. She also eats in this room, and the cupboard with all her food, treats and leads are kept in this room. It is useful to make a room the dogs domain, because that is where it feels safe. A dog will only eat and sleep when it feels safe, so if you feed and put them to bed in that room you are telling them it is a safe place in your opinion and as pack leader, your opinion is what they treasure most. So keeping a dog in that room when you leave is the place they will feel most safe! They will also rarely soil their own room.

4. Never get a dog if you have a demanding job that keeps you from spending enough time with your dog! This one seems obvious but so many people do it for company in the short time in the day that they are actually home! If you are lonely between the times you get home from work and the time you go to bed, this is how the dog feels all day and all night. Also, you can never successfully train a dog if you are away all the time. Now for some training advice. We must all leave our dogs home alone for hours here and there at some times. It cannot be avoided. I myself left my dog for an hour the other day when I went to see a man about my marine aquarium (in my defence, it was regarding the health of my marine fish which are very temperamental and could not really be delayed!) The main deal with leaving dogs home alone is to simply give them something to do! I know it’s so obvious, but the number of people who disregard this very thing is unbelievable! Rawhide has saved my life. When my puppy gets bored, I give her rawhide bones and sheets, rings and shoes. I now have to get them in bulk. I always leave her a rawhide to chew on. She has one in the car, ready for when we go on long journeys, as well as in the house. It takes her ages to get through them and she loves them to bits. Another good idea is the KONG collection. There are a lot of chewy toys on the market (again, lifesavers for myself) that you stuff full of treats and it entertains a dog whilst it works out how to get the treat out of the toy. They are also very good for the teeth!

A problem people have when they have a dog that is destructive due to loneliness and boredom is that they end up getting another dog to keep the lonely dog company. This would be very beneficial, if the other dog was already well behaved. It is much easier to teach an animal manners and appropriate behaviour by getting another animal to show it. I recently worked with a litter of kittens which were completely house trained by the age of four weeks because their mother had carried them from the basket to the litter tray every time they started to go to the toilet. Lets be honest, if you’ve got a dog that is too young to be fully trained the way you want it to be trained, it’s just going to make it harder for you to train them because another dog will distract them and then you have to try and train them both at the same time! I myself had to train Harri to sit whilst Tilly (a rescue dog) tried to get in on the act.

A word of advice, get a young dog to accompany an adult dog. Then the adult dog can show the young dog how to go to the toilet, not go behind the tv, not chew on peoples hands/faces etc etc.

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