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Home alone, Dog Day Care, Group Walks... what's best for your dog?

Many dog owners feel guilty about leaving their pet home alone. As social species dogs need plenty of company and interaction. Being home alone for long periods of time on a regular basis isn't ideal. But how long is too long depends on your individual dog. If your dog can't cope alone what is the best option?

There are so many businesses now to help us with pet care. Almost every town has a doggy day care and every street a dog walker. But not all are created equal and not every one will be the right fit for your dog. First off make sure the person you are entrusting your dog to has insurance, approproate training and that your values align in terms of how you would like your dog to be treated. Second of all find out what they are actually offering. Dog day care could be one or two dogs in someone's home for the day, or twenty dogs in a doggy creche. With current licensing laws each dog must have it's own space to rest, but it is up to the person in charge to decide when they need a time out. Dog walkers are similar in as much as they might walk the same 2-3 dogs together every day, walk your dog alone, or they might have an ever change group of ten dogs all off lead.

Being in large groups that have been selected by people, not the dogs themselves, is not natural. Some dogs will love it, some will cope, some will hate it. It's a bit like going to a party all day or speed dating every lunch time. Personally that sounds like hell, but some of you reading this would probably enjoy that. The 'person' we need to be asking is your dog... do they think that sounds fun?

If your dog loves other dogs and enjoys being in big groups then group day care might be for you. However I would still encourage you to dig a bit deeper. Who supervises the dogs? Or do they get left to sort themselves out? What if a 'bully' joins the group? Or what if one of the dogs is finding it too much? Even if your dog loves dogs, it is important to ensure they aren't being allowed to practice unwanted or inapproprite behaviours towards other dogs, or being the target of such behaviour.

Want your dog to get used to other dogs? Then large group walks or day cares are not the answer! If your dog is lacking confidence or social skills they need help developing those slowly and carefully. Throwing them in the deep end is a risky tactic.

If your dog likes people but can't cope with other dogs then one to one dog walks or dog sitting is probably a better answer. If they are 'reactive' on walks, or undergoing training, ensure that is discussed with the person you are entrusting them to. Will they follow the training plans? If you aren't sure it might be best to ask them to simply come and visit your dog during the day. They could play in the garden, have a fuss, provide some food enrichment etc.

If your dog struggles with people that's often a trickier scenario. I'd encourage you to try and find a dog walker who also has an interest in training and behaviour. Discuss your needs and explain that your dog will take time getting to know them. Supervise the meetings until you are coinfident that your dog is happy with the person entering your home and letting them outside. For some dogs that still may be unachievable.

If your dog finds other dogs and or people highly stressful, you need to consider if being home alone would actually be the better option for them. If leaving your dog home alone, it is important that they are closely monitored for signs of stress (such as vocalising, pacing, toileting, destructive behaviour, waiting by the door/window for prolonged periods). I would recommend fitting a wifi camera / home CCTV system so you can observe their behaviour when you aren't there. Always ensure that dogs have been fed, walked, toileted etc prior to leaving. Try to reduce the chance of them beign disturbed by outside noises, and leave them with something to do.

If your pet struggles to cope alone, is fearful or 'reactive' towards people or other dogs, please seek help from a suitably qualified behaviour professional. I suggest looking at the ABTC register. They will be able to help you decide what is best for your pet, if they would cope with day care or a dog walker, and most importantly help you maximise your pet's welfare.

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