By Carol Peter, CPDT-KA, CSAT
I hear it in your voice. I hear it in the deafening silence over the phone. That quiet desperation you feel upon learning that your dog cannot be left alone at any time for longer than she can handle during the training process. You feel the walls closing in around you, trapped in your own home with your dog.
You feel a building resentment – and guilt – toward your beloved dog, who is so completely dependent on you. This challenge is the reason some people feel they cannot commit to the separation anxiety training process. But as my colleague and fellow certified separation anxiety trainer Shelly Keel so eloquently wrote in her blog post, “It Takes a Village.”
Alternatives to leaving your dog alone are plentiful, but you need to do some “crowdsourcing” to find creative options that work for you and your dog. Here are a few ideas to get the creative juices flowing.
If your dog is social with other dogs and/or people . . .
- Enroll her in a dog daycare that understands that she needs her nap time around staff, not isolated in a crate room.
- Work out a dog sitting arrangement with family, friends or neighbors who may also have dog-social dogs and will be able to stay with the dog(s) all day.
- Have your dog stay with a friend or family member who lives in a dog-friendly assisted living facility, or a facility that would welcome having a social dog visit with residents and staff during the day.
- Take your dog to work, if your employer welcomes dogs in the workplace.
- Check with a local shelter or rescue group who may be able to host your dog for a day (for a donation).
If your dog is not social with other dogs or some people, or you just want your dog to stay in your home . . .
- Recruit high school or college students to come study at your home with your dog while they use your free Wi-Fi. Check out QuadJobs, a website where you can post jobs for college students.
- Find local seniors or retirees who would be willing to stay at your home during the day with your dog.
- Hire a positive reinforcement trainer to take your dog for day training on special occasions – which is a great way to help your dog work on some of her obedience behaviors or social skills.
- Work from home if your employer offers that option.
Alternatives for short absences . . .
- Order groceries and other necessities online and have them delivered to your home.
- Hire a dog walker or pet sitter to spell you for periods of time when you have to run errands.
- Take your dog with you and, weather and/or law permitting, leave her in your car while you run quick errands in stores. Many dogs with isolation distress can be just fine alone in the car for short periods.
- Enjoy a night out with your dog at a dog-friendly restaurant.
Keep in mind that anyone you recruit to stay with your dog will have to understand the critical necessity of never leaving your dog alone during their watch. Consider asking recruits to sign a “contract with the dog” to underscore the imperative of this requirement.
So how do you crowdsource to find these recruits? In this era of social media and connectivity, there are a myriad of ways to find your dog’s “village.”
- Post a plea to your friends and family on your Facebook page or send an email.
- If your dog struggles with reactivity, network on reactive dog Facebook pages such as DINOS: Dogs in Need of Space, CARE for Reactive Dogs, Reactive Champion, and Reactive Dogs.
- Talk to your area department on aging or senior center to find dog-loving seniors who would like to get a “dog fix” periodically.
- Start or join your local neighborhood group on Nextdoor.com to connect with neighbors who might be able to help.
- Talk to high school guidance counselors or the local college student services department to find responsible students to sit with your dog.
- Post a notice in your church, community group or professional organization bulletins seeking helpers.
- Find a responsible professional pet sitter through Pet Sitters International or one of the many other online directories for pet sitters. Please interview candidates and check references to ensure the person you hire is truly professional and reliable.
- Find qualified, positive reinforcement trainers through the Association of Professional Dog Trainers’ (APDT.com) Trainer Search.
With nearly one-fifth of the dogs in the United States suffering from separation-related anxiety, chances are pretty decent you will find recruits who have faced similar challenges with their dogs. Your world is filled with compassionate people who just want to help. Get creative and start crowdsourcing. Those walls will start to open back up again and you can begin helping your dog overcome separation anxiety.