The working person's guide to preventing pet loneliness

If you’re a dog owner who has never come home to a suspicious piece of tissue, something half eaten from the garbage or a random shoe with tooth marks, your dog may be a robot. No matter what breed the dog is, or how well-behaved, something like this is bound to arise for even the best pet owner. And while the dog may initially be the first to blame, how many owners step back and wonder, “Did this happen because I was gone too long?”

According to a recent story from Daily Mail, dogs should never be left at home alone for more than four hours. For the average 9-to-5er, it’s a miracle to get out of the office in eight hours. Gallup goes even further to point out that four out of 10 workers can work up to approximately 50 hours per week. Midday dog-walkers should be a given, but when the owner gets home, shouldn’t they have just as much right to relax with their pets as a stay-at-home mom, retiree or a work-from-home professional does?

There are countless studies pointing out how pets can help to reduce anxiety, depression and loneliness in people’s homes, nursing homes and hospitals, but pets are often prone to the same anxiety, depression and loneliness that we humans experience. Among the reasons pets act out is because of insufficient love, affection or just the plain presence of their owners, an insufficient amount of exercise and enrichment, but also, insufficient training and conditioning to be left alone.

Neglect is actually a common sign of dog abuse. Sometimes pets are neglected because the owner has so many pets that they can’t be reasonably take care of them. These types of owners are oblivious to infections or diseases because they’re not around their pets often enough to notice behavioral differences. The animals are often kept inside of cages or rooms all day without being let out, they’re not bathed regularly and properly, and they’re not provided with regular fresh food and water on a daily basis.

A neglectful owner may punish a dog for scratching up the carpet without even noticing that the act could be a cry of abandonment -- or worse, it could be due to stress, related to a pet disease. A dog incessantly walking around in circles or rubbing up against furniture could be overlooked as the animal trying to get comfortable, but it could actually be a reaction to a serious ear infection or hearing loss.

After a long, hard day at the office, who has time to sit and stare at their dogs long enough to notice unusual behaviors? For those who choose to be pet owners, the answer is simple: YOU do.

World renowned veterinarian Marty Becker, DVM, believes that there are some workarounds. While agreeing with Daily Mail that dogs are social animals, one of Becker’s recommendations is to start with house training to prepare the dog to be on its own. Whether allowing the dog to roam free about the house, or confining them in a crate or a specific “dog room,” the pet should learn to be on its own for a few minutes, up to a few hours so it can prepare itself to be left alone for extended periods of time. This type of training, while not at all difficult, requires commitment and consistency.

While the pet owner and the pet can’t communicate in the same initial language, dogs do indeed try to “communicate” with their owners in other ways. And, as with any friendship, whether on two legs or four, it takes time to learn a different style of communication. Here are a few tips for the working person who wants to own a pet but has to have a working life, too:

  • Always make sure the dog has fresh food and water before leaving home.
  • Keep a supply of the dog’s favorite toys around for the dog to busy itself with.
  • Embrace the 10,000-step goal, and start it off by letting the dog be a personal trainer: walk the dog. Dogs tend to want to relax after a long walk and often find themselves less anxious about an owner leaving once they’ve had a reasonable amount of attention and exercise.
  • Daily Mail recommends the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters. Some may be surprised to find out that the most popular customers are couples (73 percent) over singles (19 percent), which proves that even multiple people in the home may not solve the pet attention problem. However, if funds are limited, finding a trusted dog sitter on sites like Care or Rover may do the trick. Perhaps you even have a friend, family member or neighbor who would like to be a part-time dog owner!
  • One-on-one time is mandatory. No matter how busy you may be, if you’ve chosen to be a dog owner, it’s essential that you honor your commitment to your dog and set aside a few hours a day to spend with him or her. This means not only walking or ‘hanging out’ with them, but caring for them as well – cleaning their teeth, brushing them, examining their paws and so forth.

Keep in mind these three things:  1) it was you who chose to have a pet, 2) you owe your pet the commitment and care you ‘promised’ them when you took them in, and 3) the more present you are for your pet, the happier, healthier and more fulfilled both your lives will be!