Dog with kong toy

When people talk to me about getting a dog, the first thing I like to ask is how much time they have available to spend with the dog. It’s important to remember that dogs are social animals. There’s a reason we call them our best friends: They are wired to spend time with us, watch us and help us. It’s hard for dogs to become great at their job of companion if they don’t ever spend any time in our company.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t get a dog if you work — far from it. We all need a friendly face to come home to at the end of the day. A dog is a friend who is always there to greet you, play with you and exercise you. (You didn’t think this was a one-way relationship, did you?)

But not many of us can spend all day with our dogs, although it would be a great world if we could. We have work, school, family obligations, friends and other commitments in our lives. I’m here to share some tips on how you can make your dog’s life better — enrich it, as my behavior expert friends say — even when you’re not home.

House Training

First, teach your dog that being home alone is okay. Every dog should be able to stay on his own all day without falling apart emotionally or becoming destructive. From the time you first get him, whether he’s a puppy or an adult, practice leaving him alone. Start with just a minute or two and gradually extend the length of time as you become comfortable with his behavior while you’re out of sight. He can be in his crate, in a special dog room or dog run or, once you’re sure he’s trustworthy, on his own in the house. Watch for potty accidents, too, as these will tell you how long your dog can be left without needing to go outside.

Don’t re-enter the room if he’s crying, whining, howling or barking. Wait until he’s quiet, then go in and praise him in a brief, matter-of-fact tone of voice. You want him to think that being on his own is normal and safe. Give him a treat when you leave but not when you return.

Make sure he has constructive ways to occupy his time when you’re not around. Stuff a Kong toy with enough goodies to keep him busy for hours. Fill a puzzle toy with his daily ration of kibble so he has to work for his meals. Hide treats or favorite toys around the house for him to find while you’re gone. But a word of caution: Never leave your dog unsupervised with a toy that could be chewed apart and swallowed. Before leaving your dog alone, make sure any toys in the environment are indestructible.

Leave the radio tuned to a calming classical station or a talk radio show. Choose the station carefully. You don’t want to come home to a dog who is amped up from listening to people shout at each other all day.

Social Life

Think about getting your dog a friend. This can be a cat (they absolutely can be good buddies if you introduce them properly) or another dog.

If a second pet is more than you can commit to, arrange for another dog to come visit. Talk to a friend or neighbor about exchanging a playdate time — her dog comes to your house when she has to be gone or vice versa. Of course, this works only if the dogs are already friendly toward each other.

You might also need to hire some help. Depending on your dog’s activity level and athleticism and bladder control, bring in a dog walker to take him for a walk or run, or a pet sitter to play with him in your home. If he enjoys playing with other dogs, look for a doggie day care or dog camp in your area where he can spend the day while you’re gone.

When you are home, give your dog some quality time. For a quick outing, take him with you when you run errands. Choose ones where you don’t have to leave him in the car, such as picking up the kids from school, going to the drive-thru at the bank or buying food at the pet supply store.

Go for a walk, every day, and give him plenty of sniffing time. Play hide-and-seek games such as nose work. Practice his obedience commands. Beyond his walk, which should be an appropriate distance and speed for his breed and age, just a few minutes of these activities will enrich your relationship with your dog, even if he spends a chunk of the day without you.

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