by Laurie Raymond
Ask most people what they need most to keep a dog safe and happy and they’ll answer: a fenced yard. They reason that this gives the dog a comfortable place to play and rest during the day while no one is home; it protects him from escaping and getting hit by a car or lost; it allows him to relieve himself when he needs to without spoiling his house-training; and it gives him the opportunity to enjoy freedom of movement and fresh air all day long. They expect that the dog who greets them at the end of the day will be a comfortable, relaxed and happy one.
In fact, what they really need most is a way to prevent the dog’s suffering from boredom and loneliness! These days, suburban neighborhoods are deserted from early morning until evening. Adults are working and commuting 10 hours a day, or more. The solutions to the needs of kids - day care, after school programs, sports and summer activities – keep kids away from home, too. How about the impacts of this on the faithful family dog, who is increasingly alone?
Dogs are, by nature, the most social beings on the planet. It is just not realistic to expect a dog to endure 8 – 10 hours a day of boredom and loneliness without showing signs of stress. These usually take the form of “behavior problems,” which are not abnormal behaviors, but a dog’s natural stress and anxiety-reducing activities, such as barking, digging and chewing.
In our ever more tightly scheduled lives, making time for the dog’s need for companionship requires more deliberate action from us. We have to find dog-friendly places, learn the rules, and (usually) drive there. We have to take the dog to training classes, to the dog park for regular exercise, and to the groomer’s. If we’re gone long hours every day, we may have to enrich his environment, enroll him in day care, hire a dog walker, or come home for lunch to take him for a run. To have a happy, well-behaved dog we can enjoy without guilt, we have to dedicate more of our resources – our own time, or the paid services of others – to meeting his needs.
This isn’t spoiling a dog. It’s recognizing and respecting what he is. Presumably, we got a dog for the canine qualities that make them so satisfying and fun to be with. If we really wanted a surfboard, a bicycle, or a potted plant, we made a big mistake! The Longmont Humane Society can help with specific suggestions for helping you and your dog enjoy life more despite the rigors of a demanding work schedule and long hours commuting. Our dog and puppy training classes are a good place to start! Call 772-1232 for information.