One of the challenges of dog ownership is that dogs require a lot of time and attention. But this fact is also the source of the vast psychic benefits that come from having dogs, namely that they are devoted and loyal companions who live to serve us and brighten our day. The problem can be that in today’s world, our busy schedules sometimes cause our dogs to be left alone longer than they can reasonably tolerate given their nature as dogs. So often I am asked to address behavior problems that we find are merely the symptoms of the larger problem, i.e., that the dog is being asked to lead a cat lifestyle, and the dog is not doing so well with that.
What is a cat lifestyle? If you know cats, I don’t have to tell you, and fyi I have cats and am a cat lover. if you haven’t had a cat, basically you should know that a cat is kind of a like a roommate, someone whom you share space with, have some good times together, but otherwise you both are quite happy being independent. The cat relationship with mankind is this: you have food and shelter, so I will kill whatever rodents might be on your property in exchange for being allowed to hang around. Now today, we may not use cats for this purpose, but that’s the time-honored deal with cats.
Here’s a fun article about dog versus cat IQs in the Huffington Post by Joan Liebmann-Smith. The salient point for this discussion is that dogs are much more social than cats and need the social interaction of their pack relationships with you and others to thrive.
So if you get a dog, and try to leave it alone for long periods of time, your dog will likely show behaviors that are in protest of this arrangement. A cat, on the other hand, can be left alone with food and water and a litter box while you go away for the weekend. So it’s useful to ask ourselves, are we honoring the canine in our life by enabling them to live a dog lifestyle, or are we trying to put bandages over the problems that arise because we are asking them to live like cats.
So here are two very basic, common-sense tips for enhancing your and your dog’s lifestyle, and thereby avoiding many behavior problems:
1. If you are gone for the day at work, hire a business like Smilin’ Dogs (no affiliation) or a dog walker or some other service to get your dog out and about so they have a social life, get exercise, and of course get to relieve themselves. If you ask for my help, I will suggest you spend your money first on enabling this routine (on a daily basis!) rather than getting my help for a problem that comes from not having your doggie day-care issues addressed. I do half-day obedience and socialization trainings, so some people use me for one of their “day-care” slots, but I must emphasize that finding a daily affordable routine is paramount rather than hiring someone to fix a problem inherent to your living arrangements.
2. When you are not at work, try to take your dog wherever you go. You love your dog, and your dog loves you, so you will both be happier. Of course you need to walk your dog and do all the usual things, but my point is try to rethink and radicalize your own lifestyle to include your dog more. It might be possible to take your dog to work, or commute with your dog and drop him at day-care near your job. When you are off work, run your errands with your dog and include him in your social life. Your dog would rather sit in your car while you go to the store or party then be left at home, period. Ideally you start frequenting businesses that allow you to bring your dog in, or using an outside patio if it’s an eating establishment. But the bottom line is, think of your dog as your shadow, and include him in your life whenever you can. It will transform the both of you, guaranteed.