I was at my pet store this evening, picking up a supply of special treats formy darling Cleo as I will be away for another week, again... sigh.
Anyway as it was raining cats and dogs (he he he), I had quite a long chat with the owner of the store. She loves dogs and has about 5 of her own. However she was surprised that Cleo has free reign of the house while I am out. I guess maybe it's uncommon for Malaysians to allow their dogs indoors in the first place, and even more so to leave their dog free in the house : alone and unsupervised.
Firstly, Cleo is completely realiable in the house on her own. She doesn't chew anything she's not supposed to, she goes to the bathroom on her own (so there are no worries of finding pee or poop anywhere else in the house), and she doesn't even eat any food that we might accidentally leave lying around the house. Of couse we also ensure that we don't leave things lying around.
Was she always this good? The answer is no... When Cleo was little, she was a right monster. We still refer to her as The Monster when we don't want her to know that we're talking about her.
She destroyed all our furniture: she just chewed everything within her reach. And I could never bring myself to punish her or scold her. Why? Because it really was my fault that she was so badly behaved.
The first reason was the fact that she sufferred from severe separation anxiety. She hated being left alone because she was still a baby and didn't understand why all of us disappeared for hours at a time. She hated it when we started to get ready to leave the house.
So if your dog suffers from separation anxiety, it is important that you understand this, and you MUST NOT punish your dog for being "bad"! They already feel really terrible when you are away, they don't need to be scolded or beaten or punished when you get home. This will only make matters worse - as they will associate your coming home with a punishment and therefore stress them out even further, which may result in even more damage to your belongings.
The second reason for her bad behaviour was due to lack of exercise and boredom at the time. Being a rambunctious labrador puppy, she needed ALOT of exercise. And unfortunately, at the time I was unable to do so because my work just did not permit me to take her for walks. (So another point to note - it's very important that you know the breed of dog that you are considering to have as your companion and the amount of exercise they require!)
Once we realised what the problem was - as she never chewed on anything or destroyed anything when we were home - we managed to resolve it. And she really is an angel at home these days! I can even leave my work on the coffee table and it would still be there when I get back... seriously!!!
So how did we solve this problem and turn Cleo into a model Canine Good Citizen?
Firstly we made sure that we exercised and tired her out thoroughly before we went out. So when she was younger, we would always ensure that we played "fetch" with her for a good 30 minutes each time before we left the house. This effectively meant that she would be too tired to damage anything and would sleep for fairly long periods while we were out.
Secondly, we started leaving her lots of yummy treats in Kongs plus a small new toy each time we left. This also helped because then she started associating yummy treats and toys with our going out, so she actually looked forward to the treats and of course with the Kong, it meant that she could spend hours trying to get the snacks out of them. So this gave her something to do and alleviated her boredom when we were out.
We also made her understand that the house was as much hers as it was ours. Cleo is allowed on the furniture, and she often sits with us on the sofa when we watch tele. She sleeps on the bed too. While not everyone would subscribe to having their dogs on the furniture, we found that with Cleo it meant that she would not destroy our furniture because if she did, she wouldn't have a place to sit on or lie on either...
After a fashion, she stopped being anxious when we left her alone. (We also used some herbal remedies in the initial stages to help keep her calm - Bach's Rescue Remedy and St John's Worts - she doesn't need them anymore). She still doesn't like it but she has come to realise that she gets snacks when we go out and that helps a great deal (as she normally does not get snacks).
And the fact that we go for a 5km walk/run every morning also means that she has an outlet for her amazing amount of energy; and something to look forward to everyday. These days we can even leave her alone for an entire day without leaving any snacks or treats. (Of couse we always leave her snacks if we know in advance that we'll be out for a long period - but only a minimal amount.)
Most importantly, when we get home, the first thing we do is spend a good 10-15 minutes playing with and petting her. Alot of people ignore their dogs when they get home because they are too tired and because they think that their dogs don't need the attention. That's where they have it wrong! Dogs want to feel like they matter and that they are part of the family. So when they are ignored, they will try to get your attention in other ways, e.g. chewing something they're not supposed to etc.
"Potty" training is also of incredible importance. You must let your dog know where it can go "potty" while you are away. I do not believe in allowing dogs to only go once or twice a day. I actually think that it really bad for their health. So ensure that you either have a dog flap for them to be able to go and do their business in your garden somewhere (if you have a nice garden - you need to train them to go only to a specific spot); or you can assign a toilet to them. Cleo has her own toilet - and she only goes in there. Bear in mind that dogs also do not like a dirty toilet, so ensure that you clean your dog's toilet on a regular basis!
Dogs like routine, so when trying to train your dog to be alone at home, you need to setup a routine for them and stick to it. They will soon learn to look forward to the times when you come home and reward them.
Cleo has her routine down pat, that I don't even need an alarm or clock anymore. She wakes me at 6.30am every morning so that I let her go to the toilet (as she sleeps in my room), and then she waits for me to get ready and take her for her walk. When we come back, she stands at the garden tap without me telling her to, so that I can wash her feet and face before she goes back into the house. After a half hour or so, she'll sit in the kitchen to tell me it's time for breakfast... I will then work at my computer through the day, and she'll be sleeping at my feet or on my bed. She will wake up at about 6pm and go downstairs to the kitchen to wait for her dinner.
Cleo is really a fantastic doggie now... ;o) and I am so proud to be able to say that shean extremely well behaved dog (better than most children I know) and that she has NEVER been caged or chained!
So can a dog be left indoors alone and unsupervised? I say YES! You just need to have the time and patience, and lots of love and affection to guide your furry companion! So don't give up on them... bring them indoors!