Leaving your dog alone while you work is problematic. The pandemic is about to create a fresh problem with respect to dog ownership. Workers have suddenly found themselves with long hours and days with their dog companions during lockdowns. They’ve perhaps learnt more about their dog; about how they bark more than they had thought at strangers outside the home. Because people spend more time with their dogs during these lockdown periods they are more likely to notice how their dog behaves.
And it’s all going to change again when people start drifting back to their offices and workplaces. Not everybody will because the coronavirus pandemic has probably altered the employer-employee relationship forever. Many more will work from home part of the week and fortunately for dogs many more will work under more flexible hours.
But for those people who work full-time and long hours in the office or away from the home it’s going to be tough for dogs. They will have to get used to long periods of time alone. So these dog owners will have to devise a strategy to acclimatise their dog to solitude once again. It’s advised that they should leave the dog alone for increasingly longer periods of time perhaps starting at 10 minutes over several days or even weeks. It’s suggested that people should leave their dogs in a room with the door closed if they can’t leave them in the house alone. This sounds cruel. It hightlights the inherent inappropriateness of leaving dogs alone.
For many dogs who were adopted during the pandemic is going to be particularly severe for them because all they’ve known is their human companion being around all the time. They may find the new arrangements intolerable. I can foresee many new dog behaviour problems being presented to dog behaviourists in the coming months and years.
One dog behaviourist based in Devon, UK, Kirsty Peake, said that the maximum amount of time a dog should be left alone is four hours and “that’s pushing it”. How many people comply with that recommendation? It basically means that you have to abandon the idea of working for a straight eight hours at your workplace and then coming home in the evening. It might mean you have to devise flexible working hours in consultation with your employer or even changing your employment. It may mean reassessing your ability to provide proper care for your dog.
It’s probably fair to say that a lot of people don’t realise how anxious and distressed their dog becomes when they are alone all day. If they installed a time-lapse camera in their home with audio they might realise how bad it can get for their dog and perhaps for neighbours who are retired and you have to put up with the barking.
It depends somewhat on the breed. For example border collies in particular need mental stimulation. They are more demanding. Some breeds will be more attuned to the idea of being alone but the big problem is when people work 9 to 5.
One of the issues with the pandemic is that a lot of people have adopted dogs without really researching how you look after them successfully with the interests of the dog’s welfare as a priority. This is going to lead to, and has already led to, abandonment of these dogs often online when they resell their animal because they’ve cost too much in the first place.
I think you can ask any dog expert and they will say that you can’t leave the dog alone for hour after hour. You can’t leave a dog alone from morning until evening with someone just popping every 10 minutes at lunchtime said another dog trainer, Tony Orchard. Clearly dog walkers are a big asset in terms of stimulating your dog. However, it should be said that they are vulnerable at the moment to dog thefts and they should take out public liability insurance as well.
Battersea Dogs & Cats Home don’t allow adoptions to people who are out of their home for a full day’s work. That I think signals very clearly the inappropriateness of adopting a dog if you really have to work out of your home all day and there is no one else to step into your shoes.
I would argue that it is at least a minor form of cruelty to leave your dog alone all day in the home. One Lincolnshire-based charity, Three Counties Dog Rescue, suggest that if people do work longer hours away from home they should adopt an older dog. One possibility is that people can come home at lunchtime if that is an available option.
Sometimes, where a couple look after a dog it is much easier, it seems to me, to integrate their work to provide companionship for their dog or dogs on a shared basis. For example, Carole Fullerton who is a full-time police officer, and who work shifts, lives with Steve Smith, a self-employed builder. She said that they share dog ownership and that her dogs are hardly ever in the house alone because they integrate their shift working patterns.
The moral of this article is that the pandemic is coming to an end in the UK and there will be problems with dogs who are used to being with their owners all the time and these dogs are going to need special consideration for the days ahead. In addition I think the four hour maximum alone rule as mentioned above is one which should guide people when adopting a dog.