We treat our dogs like our children, and for the most part that's not a bad thing. But sometimes we take the coddling too far, in a way that does not benefit our animals or us. We sacrifice dog-free vacations, we skip after-work drinks, and we ditch on the gym all to run home to Fido — but does the dog really need us as much as we think? We spoke to top animal trainers and dog experts in the country to put this problem into perspective. "It's very easy for a person to have developed an, 'Oh-my-god-I-can't-leave' complex that has nothing to do with the dog — the dog might be absolutely fine — but the person isn't okay," says Roland Sonnenberg, an animal trainer for movies and television shows. You can strike a balance to keep your dog safe and happy, and still have a life. Use these tips, and your dog will know you're always coming back.
Keep a loose schedule.
You might think setting regular mealtimes is best, but getting your animal accustomed to anticipating feeding times is actually something you should not do."I will intentionally feed my dogs an hour early, and then an hour late, so they are fairly relaxed about their dinnertime," says Sonnenberg. Having a super rigid schedule means a dog expects to be fed and walked at exact times in the day. It's not a terrible shock to the dog's system either — canines evolved from carnivores that sometimes didn't catch food for a week. Dogs are very much a feast-and-famine species well prepared to go without food for a few extra hours.
Let go of the guilt.
Dogs have internal cues, so they will let you know when it's dinnertime, but their overall sense of time is different than ours. Canines nap, wake, and rest, but aren’t tracking hours that you’re away the same way a human would. Dogs are predators —they concentrate hard when eating and running after a tennis ball. After that, they rest to conserve their energy, so it’s likely your pet is sleeping for most of the time that you’re gone, says Alan Beck, the director of the Center of the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University.
Keep them occupied.
If you know you'll be gone for most of the day and night, let your dog chew on a knucklebone, or put kibble in a ball for him to find, notes Sonnenburg. Toys with hidden prizes provide good mental stimulation and a reward, so your pet will play and then nap happy. "A dog that isn't stressed will chew on a toy, eat, drink, and flop down for a nap for a few hours and repeat. We like to think we are so vital to them, but they do pretty well on their own."
Leave a radio on.
Beck suggests music or television to mask low sounds, like a refrigerator coming on and off, or outside noises, such as sirens or passing cars, so they aren't so startling.
Monitor from afar.
A web camera is a hugely useful tool. "If you haven't left your dog home a lot and all of a sudden you do, they may get into stuff they haven't gotten into before," says Sonnenburg. The dog getting his collar caught on something or swallowing a dangerous substance are extremes, but do happen. Sonnenburg suggests installing a camera that streams to your phone so you can see what your dog is up to when you're gone.