The holidays are here! For many that means travel and the age-old question “what do we do with our dog?” Just having food, water and potty breaks for your dog is not enough to take care of his wellbeing. Your dog needs consistent companionship in the style he is used to and it’s important to understand what that encompasses.
Many owners can take their dog along on family trips, solving the problem of leaving them behind and making Fido extra happy. Others have established relationships with family, friends, neighbors, or pet sitters who can either stay at your home while you are gone or can keep the dog at their home. Those who do not have these resources may have more complicated decisions to make and may not even aware of the potential harm associated with some of those options.
When leaving your dog behind, it’s best to emulate you and your dog’s daily routine as close as possible. This means that if you generally home during the day, your dog needs someone there throughout the day, as you normally would be. If you are generally home in the evenings, away during the day, and have a pet sitter or walker who comes by midday, you’ll try to emulate that.
Leaving your dog alone with a drastically new routine can cause duress and wreak havoc on his mental health, possibly creating a cascade of future problems.
Consider, for example, a family is going out of town and their dog is used to being around people for about 18 hours a day. The family hires a walker or arranges for a neighbor to pop in twice a day to feed their dog and let him out to use the bathroom. Their dog has now been significantly reduced to just one hour a day of human companionship when he is used to eighteen.
Problems can arise from situations like these. First, during your travel, the dog can develop separation anxiety and destructive behaviors such as incessant barking; escape attempts, urinating or defecating indoors, and chewing up your house. Neighbors may also be disturbed by your dog’s behaviors, causing another future venue for tension. Even after you have returned home, the amount of stress your dog has experienced can cause long-term problems, as his security rug has basically been pulled out from underneath him. Feeling safe and secure is the foundation of strong leadership and a healthy relationship with your dog.
If your dog will likely be home alone for long periods of time each day and you are unable to arrange someone to stay with him to maintain his normal daily routine, I recommend you board him.
Dogs have different personalities and will react differently to boarding. Boarding can be a stressful situation for dogs, especially those who do not board frequently however, it is preferable for the dog to be stressed away from his home, where at least he is safe, and receiving adequate supervision and exercise. Additionally, having the stress of your travel occur for your dog away from his home will allow him to return later to his comfortable daily routine, versus having been alone there and developed stressful associations in his own home.
If you do plan on leaving your dog somewhere like a daycare, boarding facility, or vets office, try to give your dog a chance to acclimate before his extended stay by allowing him visit or possibly stay overnight a few times. The more familiar he is with the facility and the staff, the more his chance for a stressful stay will be reduced.
If you are unable to arrange or afford full boarding for your dog while you are away, make every attempt to maintain his regular routine, possibly finding someone who can at least spend the night with him at your home. If he has companionship at night, hiring a dog walker or sending him to doggy daycare are great and affordable alternatives to full-boarding.
Whichever way you choose, make sure you are very comfortable with whoever is taking care of your dog, as you are entrusting them with the welfare of one of your family members.