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How to Make More Time for Your Dog When Life Gets Busy

Is your dog feeling left out of your life? Here's how to include them even when your to-do list doesn't seem to have an end.

Elizabeth Anderson Lopez  |  Dec 29th 2016


We love our pets and strive to spend time with them, but sometimes it can be a juggling act to balance work, family, and our furry friends. Gail Fisher, a certified dog behavior consultant, author of The Thinking Dog (Dogwise, 2009), and owner of All Dogs Gym in Manchester, New Hampshire, said to remember to spend quality time with your dog.

“It doesn’t mean you can’t ever go out in the evening, but it’s important to give the dog ‘together time,’” she said. “For example, take a few hours on Saturday to do something special with your dog, and then go out Saturday night with a clear conscience!”

Get creative spending time with your dog – both at home and away. “Strive to build the best relationship with your dog possible when you are with them,” said Cathy Bruce, certified professional dog trainer–knowledge assessed and associate certified dog behavior consultant. At home that can mean time cuddling on the couch, talking to your dog, or playing games.

One game Bruce likes maximizes your dog’s sense of smell and love of treats: hide a treat in the room and watch your dog track it down. “Many dogs love to do this because using their nose engages their brain in a mentally stimulating way, said Bruce, who is the owner of Canine Country Academy in Lawrenceville and Athens, Georgia.

If you want to stay close to home but not indoors, take your dog for a walk, but do it with his timing and interests in mind. Let him sniff those exciting hedges and curbs for as long as he likes — no yanking the leash to keep moving.

Want to take it up a notch? “Enrolling in a class with your dog is a great way of increasing the strength of your bond, giving the dog an outlet for his energies, and building good behaviors,” Fisher said.

Dog-friendly patio by massimofusaro.

Dog-friendly patio by massimofusaro.

Finally, arrange outings with your two-legged friends that also include your dog — restaurants with dog-friendly patios, walking trails, and outdoor shopping malls are just a few options.That way you can socialize without leaving your dog home, lonely and bored.

When life happens

Nothing can replace the time spent between a dog and his beloved human, but sometimes life makes it necessary to arrange for someone else to help ensure your dog’s needs are met.

Those needs vary by dog and age. “Puppies need lots of attention so they can bond with their owner, learn how to live as a dog in a human world, and get outside often so there are no potty accidents,” said Liz Palika, certified dog trainer and behavioral consultant based in Oceanside, California, whose 80-plus books include the award-winning Idiot’s Guide: Dog Training (Alpha, 2013). “Some breeds are more likely to be escape artists than others if bored and alone.”

The most common options are taking your dog to doggie day care or hiring a pet sitter or dog walker.

“Some dogs do well with day care, but for other dogs it can be extremely stressful,” Bruce added. “In an ideal world, I like having a dog walker or pet sitter break up a dog’s day. I know they are getting a good amount of necessary sleep during the day and can take a nice calm walk mid-day, which keeps adrenaline levels low.”

Julie Mignery, a pet sitter with Alpha Pet Care in Long Beach, California, has been doing just that for seven years. About 25 percent of her clients hire her to care for their pets while they’re at work.

“Some of my clients’ pets don’t get along well with others, so doggie day care isn’t really an option for them,” Mignery said.“Other clients prefer the one-on-one attention they get by hiring me. I help pets feel safe, loved, comfortable, and well-fed while their people are away from home,” she said.

One solution might not be as helpful as you imagine — getting a second dog. Fisher said this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have multiple dogs (she does) but “the decision to get a second dog should be because you want another dog — and have the time, energy, and financial ability to care for both dogs properly.”

Two dogs playing by Shutterstock.

Two dogs playing by Shutterstock.

Time is finite, but the love for our dogs is infinite. Determine what you and your dog most enjoy doing together to maximize that combination.

Signs o’ the time (spent)

If you’re wondering if your dog is feeling neglected, look no further than your dog himself. “Dogs are very good at communicating a problem as long as you pay attention,” said Liz Palika, certified dog trainer and behavioral consultant based in Oceanside, California. Look for any changes from normal behavior, she said. Specific symptoms of being alone too much include:

  • Destructive chewing
  • Prolonged barking
  • Destroying things
  • Excessive licking and chewing
  • Change in housetraining

One owner’s approach

Yolanda Villalva of Whittier, California, has a lot going on — work, school, volunteering, and she drives her parents to doctor appointments. She has a husband, friends, and additional family who also need her time. Oh, and two cats and a dog. Luckily, Yolanda has figured out ways to ensure those pets get their needs met, particularly her dog Penelope.

Yolanda makes it a point to include Penelope in everyday activities. “If I’m watching TV or reading a book, she’s laying at my feet.When I’m in the bedroom or the garden, I’ll call her to follow me. I talk to her so she’s part of things.”

Why is this important? “I want to give her the best doggy life she can have,” Yolanda said. “She’s a rescue, so we owe that to her or to any pet we bring into the house. Penelope’s a good source of balance in my life so it’s just as important for me to provide that interaction as it is for her.”

Top photo by wavebreakmedia.