How to Best Care for Your Dog When You’re Not at Home

Ensure your dog is given the proper attention while you're away from home with these three tips.

Credit: Catherine Roscoe Barr

Keeping up in the rat race leaves little time in the day for other commitments, like canine companions. Try these three simple steps to make your dog’s life better—and your life a little easier


The neighbourhoods of Vancouver’s condo dwelling set are also densely populated with four-legged inhabitants. Cafes have reinforced rings to leash up while you grab a coffee, liquor stores have treats behind the counter and nearly every other business has a water bowl out front. Sounds like a dog’s world, right?


Home alone

Unfortunately, many doggie parents are 20 and 30-somethings with busy professional and social lives, who have no children and who work long hours and spend evenings and weekends out and about. This means that oftentimes their poor pups are being left alone for long periods of time.


Regular isolation is not a positive experience for dogs and may lead to naughty behavior (like eating your shoes) or even psychological distress, as described in a recent National Post article:


“In one of the largest-ever studies of pet well-being, animal welfare experts report that virtually a quarter of dogs are being left alone so long, so often, that they’re at very real risk of loneliness, distress, depression and separation anxiety.”


If your heart is set on adopting a new best friend, or you’ve already taken the plunge, how can you best care for a dog when you’re hardly home? The experts weigh in and stress three key factors: physical exercise, mental exercise and socialization.


Get your dog(s) moving

Not only will your dog’s health flourish with increased physical activity, so will yours. New research shows that people who own dogs are more likely to get the recommended minimum amount of exercise each week, thanks to their furry friends. (Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)


Alice Fisher, certified dog trainer and co-founder and training director, takes a line from Nike and says to just do it: “Sometimes you just have to get yourself out of bed and take your dog for a nice walk first thing in the morning—and if you’re going to be away from home for more than eight to 10 hours, consider hiring a dog walker.”


Just as humans are prone to disease and decreased emotional wellbeing without adequate exercise, so are dogs.


What is an acceptable amount of exercise for your pooch?


“It all depends on the age and health of the dog, the breed, the season, the length of time you’re leaving them alone for and the type of exercise itself,” says Fisher.


Pet lifestyle expert Colleen Paige says, “Dogs that suffer from a lack of daily aerobic exercise are often the same dogs that exhibit behavioural problems.”


Make time for play with your dog

Chewing relieves stress and exercises the brain, says dog trainer Alice Fisher who recommended a favourite summertime treat: stuffing Kongs with wet food and freezing them overnight so they’re much more difficult to chew the next day. (Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)


“It’s amazing how changing the direction or location of your walking route allows your dog to satisfy its sensory needs. Variety is one of the key things for dogs; it’s important to provide them with novelty. Most people tend to go to the same kinds of places all the time.”


In the cleverly titled book The Rosetta Bone, author Cheryl S. Smith says, “Owners have the responsibility for providing an acceptable outlet for natural doggy activities,” and dog behaviourist Jean Donaldson adds that “games based on the predatory sequence—find, chase, grab, kill, dissect, eat—are valuable outlets for canine energy and instincts.”


Fisher recommends ditching your dog’s food dish and replacing it with enrichment toys that you stuff with food like the Kong Classic or the Kong Wobbler. “When dogs are left at home, they need toys,” says Fisher. Chewing relieves stress and provides mental stimulation.


“It satisfies their need for foraging and hunting and keeps them busy while you’re away,” she says.


Before purchasing toys it’s important to assess the chewing category of your dog to make sure that they’re safe. Case in point: my two-year-old Labradoodle has destroyed (and swallowed, with grave results) every plush and plastic toy he’s come across except for Kongs, his Tricky Treat Ball, and Zogoflex toys.


Find other neighbourhood dog lovers

The Dog House, “daycare for the urban dog”, has a “custom-designed water park with jets, sprays, water balls, and pooling water for lots of fun.” (Image: Flickr / The Doghouse Daycare)


Doggie play dates are important, says Fisher, not only for exercise but to provide your dog with a social outlet too. Barrie Balshaw and his wife Karen started The Dog House daycares about 16 years ago (and opened The Rex Dog Hotel and Spa five years ago).


Balshaw says that most dogs enjoy daycare and usually find a buddy, but it’s important to slowly introduce them to situation because “it can be intimidating for some personalities. Starting out with a partial day is a good idea. Most of our clients don’t come every single day; it’s nice to have a break because the energy is quite high at daycare, kind of liking going to the PNE.”


 “As a dog trainer, I see a lot of dogs that are overloaded at daycare and they just want some down time. It’s about finding that happy medium,” says Fisher. She also recommends “varying the days your dog is at daycare so they’re not always with the same dogs, so they can work on different social skills.”

walking the dogs

Walking in a pack helps dogs work on their social skills while getting some exercise. (Image: Flickr / The Doghouse Daycare)


Balshaw says, “It’s usually the puppies and teenagers that need more daycare days, but it really depends on the personality of the dog. Some dogs have been coming here their entire life, from puppies to 16-years-olds.”


The Dog House has two locations: one for dogs of all sizes (with an open-concept indoor/outdoor space for different kinds of fun—including an outdoor water park and playground equipment) and one for small dogs only (with lots of equipment to inspire play too, and beds for a quick nap if need be) and lots of opportunities for novel adventures during one of at least three walks per day.


“Dog sharing is another way keep your dog engaged while you’re away,” says Fisher. She has clients in neighbourhoods and apartment buildings where everyone has different schedules so they often arrange to take each other’s dogs for periods of time for a play date.


“It provides the dogs with a social outlet without any cost to the owner,” says Fisher, “and they get used to going into different homes and hanging out with their friends.”


Taking the proper steps to make sure your dog isn’t left alone

There are many different actions you can take to ensure the best life for your dog—even if you’re always on the go.


I try and bring my dog along on every errand and adventure that I can so he has company and gets as many new experiences as possible. He gets three good walks on most days, even if that means enlisting the help of friends, doggie daycare or a dog walker, and when he’s home alone, I love to leave a little treasure hunt for him to discover.