This week my partner has been away at a work conference and I have been holding things down with the menagerie at home in Brooklyn. There’s nothing like a week of solo cat and dog wrangling to remind me just how much work two dogs and two cats really are! My partner and I have been together almost 10 years and so it’s easy for me to forget what it’s like to be taking care of the dogs on my own. This week I have a renewed appreciation for how hard all of you single canine parents work to take care of your dogs and provide them with an enriching home
In some ways the dogs, while very labor intensive to care for, are less work than the cats because they don’t punish me. One of our cats, Nuachat, is somewhat antisocial most of the time and sulks when my partner is traveling, but the other cat Sierra finds new ways to punish me. She usually starts the minute my partner walks out the door by following me from room to room screaming — that lasts about half of the first day — and after that she ignores me, finds strange places to hide (thus making me worry she’s gotten out), and finally after three days will wake me up in the middle of the night crying because she’s made herself so lonely. Usually by the fourth day she will crawl into bed with me and the dogs.
My little old dog Mercury is very attuned to my general mood and how I’m doing and that focus always intensifies when my partner is traveling — always sleeping in bed with me, curling up on the couch next to me, etc. Charlotte, our youngest dog, who we rescued two years ago, is the worrier of the bunch, and so in a lot of ways when one of us travels she becomes a primary focus to ensure that her routines are kept as regular as possible and that we aren’t doing anything to feed into her anxiety.
I know I’m spoiled that I have a partner who loves the dogs as much as I do and who in a normal week clocks lots of hours caring for them –- we work staggered schedules so most days our dogs don’t have to be home alone for very long.
A general day for us involves me walking the dogs in the morning and spending time with them, and then my partner is home just a few hours later to walk them again. On a normal week there’s usually one day where the dogs are home alone for a full eight hours, but when one of us is traveling that becomes the norm. Thankfully neither of our dogs are destructive, have separation anxiety or are particularly high energy, meaning while they don’t love these long days there isn’t much lasting damage (to them or our house). My partner is flying home on a red-eye flight tonight and I know the dogs, cats and I are all very eager for that flight’s morning arrival!
The dogs and I have had a fun week together. Here are a few of my favorite tips for solo canine parenting when you aren’t used to it:
As hard as it is to keep things running normally when you’re missing your co-parent, for dogs it’s really important to maintain as much consistency as possible. It will help you and your dog stay calm. For me this means sticking to routines about when/where we walk (as much as possible), what time we go to bed and get up, etc. I’ve noticed that Charlotte really latches onto routines and it helps everything be more smooth when we’re able to maintain them.
This might be anything from the emotional support of a fellow dog person to come and hang out with you and your dogs to just having a doggie-focused conversation. I also like to make sure my partner gets lots of pictures of the critters while traveling.
Before your partner goes on a trip, interview dog walkers or daycares and think about having someone on backup to provide support and extra attention to your dog. For me this week asking for help meant getting permission from my day job to work from home one day in the middle of the week.
Stock up on your favorite comfort foods, or treat yourself to ordering in. Caring for the dogs alone can be a lot of work and I think it’s a great excuse to treat yourself. I’m really lucky that my partner and I split a lot of the daily animal care, and so I forget just how long everything — walks, litter boxes, feeding, playing, training, grooming — takes when there’s only one doing it! I’ve been having ice cream for desert all week long.
Dogs, especially some more sensitive ones, are very susceptible to change in routine. In our house Charlotte has a tendency to get a little worried when things aren’t running as normal. While keeping routines is my No. 1 tip, I also think solo time can be a great opportunity to do something extra fun together. I like to use the time when the dogs and I are home alone to delve into a new training project. This week we’ve been playing around more with some of the foundation skills for the Rally-O and looking at the Cyber Rally-O organization as something Charlotte and I might compete in within the next year, since it’s so compatible to working with a reactive dog. I like to set fun goals of teaching the dogs something new, it gives us time to bond. This week we were sharpening up some of our foundation skills like “finish,” “side,” “come to front,” and so on.
About the author: Sassafras Lowrey is a dog-obsessed author based in Brooklyn. She is the winner of the 2013 Berzon Emerging Writer Award from the Lambda Literary Foundation, and the editor of two anthologies and one novel. Sassafras is a Certified Trick Dog Instructor, and she assists with dog agility classes. She lives with her partner, two dogs of dramatically different sizes, and two bossy cats. She is always on the lookout for adventures with her canine pack. Learn more at her website.
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