Around Australia every day, tens of thousands of pet dogs are left alone from dawn to dusk, confined in yards attached to empty houses – ‘latch key canines’. Long, routine periods of isolation can trigger problem behaviours for the dog, the family and the community such as barking, digging, chewing, escape tactics and even self-mutilation.

This ‘modern malaise’ is probably the single biggest problem facing pet dogs and owners today. How can well-intentioned owners raise a contented dog in the time impoverished 21st century?

The Problem

What we love most about dogs – their desire to belong, to be a part of our pack – is now working against them as our modern working lives take us out of our homes, away from our dogs. Being alone, without a job to do is completely unnatural for dogs. ‘Workaholic’ breeds such as the cattle dog, kelpie and border collie react most destructively to ‘unemployment’ however all dogs like to have a job to do be it hunting, retrieving or simply being a companion.

Legal obligations to keep dogs on-property for their own safety and the safety of others mean that dogs can no longer roam the neighbourhood freely socialising and exercising to their own natural requirements.

Satisfying this need for exercise, exploration and socialisation therefore becomes the responsibility of already too-busy owners.

In order to perform these responsibilities with any degree of enjoyment and success, your dog will need to learn to walk on a lead without pulling, play nicely with other dogs in the off leash park and come when called. Acquiring these skills takes the one thing owners are most reluctant or unable to give – time.

The typical time deprived dog.

  • Is overly excited when you arrive home – jumping and nipping or rolling over and submissively urinating.
  • Pulls your arms out when you try to walk him on a lead
  • Doesn’t come when called if let run in an off leash area.
  • Is too wild to be allowed in the house.
  • Doesn’t obey any commands except maybe ‘sit’ sometimes.
  • Scares children and visitors because of uninhibited excitement behaviours.
  • Destroys the back garden by digging and chewing.
  • Barks excessively at any minor disturbances.
The Solution – effective time management and planning.

The good news is that with a bit of thought, planning and constructive time management you and your dog can live happily ever after even in the fast lane.


The way to a happy dog’s heart is not through his stomach but through his lead! Whoever walks the dog regularly will soon be the favoured member of the family. Admit it, a little bit more exercise probably won’t do you any harm either and there is nothing like those big brown eyes looking longingly into yours to make you stick to that early morning walk. Dogs are most active at dawn and dusk which fits in well with most work schedules. A good brisk walk in the morning (minimum 30 minutes) and a short walk in the evening is the ideal exercise regime for most dogs leaving the middle of the day (while you are at work) for a good sleep.


When you are at home bring your dog in. (See ‘How to Bring your Outdoor Dog Inside’ in Dogs’ Life September, 2000). Allowing your dog to join you indoors will go a long way to meeting your dog’s need for social interaction. Curling up together in front of the TV is one of the joys of pet ownership for both humans and dogs. Canines did not evolve as a solitary species they need to feel a part of your pack.

Basic Training

Allocating time in the first year of your dog’s life to basic training is well worth the investment and will be rewarded immeasurably throughout your dog’s life. Training opens up the door to successful communication. Dogs already know how to sit, stand and down, what they need to learn is our words for these behaviours and why they should do it. Contrary to what some people think this does not come ‘hard wired’ in dogs – like children they must be taught human etiquette if they are to become a valued member of our family. A dog that is a pleasure to walk on the lead, socialises well with others and who comes when called is a pleasure to own and live with.

Training need not be laborious, there are lots of things you can train your dog to do sitting on the couch (see ‘Armchair Training’ Dogs Life August 2000 issue). It is more a mental commitment on your part to have consistent expectations of your dog whenever you are together. Obviously the more time you spend together the more chances your dog has to learn – another good reason for allowing your dog into the home. And because mental exercise is more tiring than physical exercise you’ll produce not only a better behaved dog but a quieter one as well.

Leave a key!

Most dogs would rather be inside the den (house) rather than outside – especially if that is where good times are spent with you. A doggy door providing access to both inside and out is ideal. The dog feels he has some degree of control over his environment which is a great stress reliever. Leaving the radio or TV on if your dog is the type to fret or bark at the slightest noise is also a good idea. A radio will dull out some of the neighbourhood distractions and make home sound the same as when you are there.

Be Food Smart

There is no reason why your dog should get its entire daily food intake in one sitting. In fact most dogs are happier if fed several times a day rather than just once. More and more behaviourists such as world renowned veterinary Dr Ian Dunbar, are recommending taking your dog’s daily calorie requirement, dividing it up and making your dog work for it in various ways. Put one third into a ‘Kong’ or smoked marrow bone and make your dog struggle to get the tasty treats rather than simply vacuuming them out of a food bowl! Scatter kibble around your garden so your dog has to use his nose and hunt for food. Take another third and put it in a treat bag for training purposes. Using food in this way gives your dog a job to do and makes him ‘work’ for his pay packet just as he would in nature.

Home Alone Toys & Activities

‘Home alone’ toys such as treat balls and buster cubes which dispense food when your dog pushes them around with nose or paw, are a great way to keep dogs constructively busy and happy. A sand pit or designated digging area in the back garden laced with goodies to attract your dog is another great way to keep your dog amused – hopefully leaving the rest of the garden unscathed! A Kong filled with food and hung upside down from a tree branch can also keep a dog amused for ages – especially for dogs that love to grab and tug. In summer small plastic wading pools can provide hours of entertainment and relief for home alone pooches. Let your imagination run wild and try to find independent activities that suit your dog.

Article courtesy of ©Karin Larsen Bridge – other than for personal use, no part of this article may be reproduced without permission of the author.