Un-crate our dog?
November 17, 2008 8:52 AM   Subscribe

I have a bichon frise/shih tzu mix dog named Beatrix who is a little over 1 year old. She is crate trained and has no problem with going into the crate when my husband leaves for work. She spends no more than 5 hours in the crate a day while we are at work. Next week my husband's work hours will be changing and this will mean that Beatrix will be at home for 8 hours alone while we are at work. Unfortunately we cannot afford to hire a dog walker. We are thinking about leaving her out of the crate since it seems like a significantly longer time to keep her cooped up. Is this the best thing to do? If so, how should we go about it?

When my husband starts to get ready to leave for work, she automatically goes and sits in her crate without being told. She does have slight separation anxiety with me, maybe because I am the one who always lets her out of the crate when I get home from work but hardly ever am the one to leave her in the crate.
posted by traceymariel to Pets & Animals (16 answers total)
Is there a small but still confined space you could use? I keep my bichon enclosed in the office in my apartment during the day when I am at work. His kennel is in there and he spends most of the day (I think) sleeping in there anyway, but he can come out, stretch and walk around if he wants to so he's not quite so cooped up. Think about hiring a dog walking for twice a week, trading favors with a neighbor, or trying to come home from work at lunch at least once or twice a week. My bichon dog had bladder stones last year and the vet thought that having to hold his urine for 8 hours during the day may have contributed to the problem.
posted by bonheur at 9:29 AM on November 17, 2008

Have you priced dog walkers? You might be surprised - there's a woman in our area who for $12 takes our dog for several hours every day. She's very professional, insured, and takes the dogs to the dog park or other play areas. I know she charges some clients $10, too, so there's probably some flexibility in price. Or is there any service you or your husband could provide so you could barter with someone?

I know lots of dogs are left alone for 8 hours, so she'd probably be okay, but I wouldn't leave my dog alone for that amount of time. If you must, make sure she gets a long walk before and after her crate time - especially before.

If you want to leave her in an area larger than her crate but not give her total run of the house, you can either use a dog or baby gate to pen her in one room, or at pet stores they have free standing pens that you could use to make a larger area. She's mostly going to sleep when you're not there, so I'm not sure it will make too much of a difference.
posted by robinpME at 9:32 AM on November 17, 2008

I would cordon her off to a small room in the house, preferably where she can have an accident if it comes to that. Put her crate in that room with the door open so she can stay in it as long as she wants. It is probably a source of security for her at this point. Last, provide toys but make sure there is nothing within reach that she can chew or scratch at that you don't want her to destroy. She will probably be ok for 8 hours but she is likely to act out so expect it. She is also likely to have a potty accident if she is has been on a regular schedule to go out after 5 hours. Don't scold her for it when you get home because she won't know what you are scolding her for. Clean it up completely (meaning all smells) and reward her when she goes outside. She will adjust eventually. You may get lucky though and she will just wait until you get home right from the start. I would suggest that when you are able, to hire a dog walker at least one day a week or try one of those doggy day camps. Bored dogs easily become bad dogs. At least that is what I am blaming my dogs' bad behavior on.
posted by little miss s at 9:38 AM on November 17, 2008

We regularly keep our dog in the crate for 8 hours, and she's fine. She's significantly bigger than yours (70lbs) but I'm not sure how much that would affect it.
posted by sunshinesky at 9:43 AM on November 17, 2008

Thanks so much for your comments. She seems to be able to hold her bladder for quite a long time, because I always let her out as soon as I get home but she often doesn't actually pee until an hour or two later. I was thinking about gating off our downstairs (very small, just the kitchen and living room) so that she can't go upstairs. I was also considering using a potty pad but would that be going backwards with potty training? Also, I think that we could afford a dog-walker once or twice a week but I don't really understand how that would make much of a difference if it's not every day. Does that make sense?
posted by traceymariel at 9:44 AM on November 17, 2008

Getting a dog walker even twice a week (Tuesday and Thursday), would mean that your dog never needs to spend two consecutive days all alone. I think for lots of dogs the boredom of being alone for long periods of time is cumulative, and you'll save her a lot of frustration, and maybe save yourself some undesireable behavior from her.

Think about being in the same boat - would you like to be all alone with no entertainment five days a week? No? And would it make any difference to you if someone came to do something fun with you on two of those days? Of course it would. Just because you can't afford it every day doesn't mean it's not worth it at all.
posted by robinpME at 9:53 AM on November 17, 2008

robinpME, that does make sense. i guess i wasn't thinking about it cumulatively. thanks for the feedback. i think that this week we'll try leaving her at home for a very short time out of the crate (do the same things we normally do when we leave but leave the crate door open) and then build up to leaving her out for the day and also find a realtively inexpensive dog-walker to come twice a week or so. unfortunately at this time we don't have any neighbors who could help us out but that's also a good idea.
posted by traceymariel at 9:57 AM on November 17, 2008

I've always left my dogs alone in the house during the day and never had issues with it. You can confine them to a certain room if you like, leave toys or leave a radio on for company. I telework on day a week and the dogs just sleep all day in their beds, even when I'm here.
posted by fshgrl at 10:25 AM on November 17, 2008

You might also try to exercise her more vigorously in the mornings before you leave her, which will exhaust her and may prevent any sort of boredom-related behaviors while you are gone.
posted by judith at 12:01 PM on November 17, 2008

Back in the olden days, when I was in college, I was terribly lonely for my own dogs who lived with my family in another city. What does this have to do with your dog, you ask? Well, there may just be college students out there who would be willing to walk your dog for the same reason I dogsat/walked gratis while in school: to simply enjoy time with a dog. (Plus, bonus: my poor college self didn't have to worrying about vet bills and pricey dog food.) Of course all of this is contingent upon how geographically convenient your home is to students who may or may not have a car (noting your comment re not having accessible neighbors). Students make easy prey: I recall being particularly helpful to those who could provide me with a homecooked meal once in a while, or even grateful to someone who'd let me use their washer and dryer or cable TV.

2nding robinpME: let today's crappy economy work for you. There may be someone willing to barter with you. Maybe an older person in the area needs help in some capacity, but is mobile enough to walk the dog around the block, etc. and you could work out a deal.

In short, it's amazing what you can find by simply posting an ad. Sometimes people's reasoning for wanting to help can surprise you.
posted by December at 2:06 PM on November 17, 2008

I agree with giving her some short times alone in the house to see how she does. Unless you have other pets who could be confused with prey or tasty plants, she might be just fine as a dog who's home alone.

As far as potty goes, a bichon might be up for litter box training. I know she can hold her bladder, but if she's like the rest of us maybe she'd rather not.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 6:32 PM on November 17, 2008

I would definitely confine her to a relatively small space, like maybe the size of a kitchen, while you're gone. Many dogs have increased anxiety when left uncrated because they seem to feel like they need to be on patrol. You already know that crating is great because dogs are denning animals and like the sense of security it gives them, and you want to maintain that, just on a larger scale that lets her move around more. You can get a baby gate at Wal-Mart for $12.

Also, you need to keep her entertained. I think one of the most awesome things to come along in the doggie world is the Kong Time, which dispenses filled Kongs at preset intervals. Puzzle toys are good, too. My dogs love their Tug-A-Jug and Buster Cube. Don't give her every toy every day--mix it up so she has some variety. Another thing you can do is hide food in various places around the room for her to find after you leave. And if she likes to play tug, you could rig up a rope danging from something secure.

One risk of a bored dog is excessive barking, and if you're worried about this, it will help to leave the TV or the kitchen exhaust on--something that will block out street sounds. Bored dogs often like to go bananas over every little sound coming from outside so anything that creates a kind of white noise effect is helpful.

Last, but I think most important of all, you should get up a little early and take her for a really good, tiring walk, and then do five or ten minutes of training with her. The walk will tire her physically and the training will tire her mentally. It's surprising how tiring the training is, really, and it's such a great way to get a dog in a frame of mind where she's happy to just chill.

Good luck!
posted by HotToddy at 6:36 PM on November 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

HotToddy, thanks- those are some great tips. I've never heard of those toys- they look great! We're definitely going to make sure to take her for a nice long walk in the morning and have just enlisted an unemployed friend to come a few times a week for a very reasonable price. I think that these things along with a Kong Time is really going to help. Last night we left her alone with the crate door open for the first time for just 10 minutes. When we came back it seemed as if she had stayed in the crate the whole time. I was so scared that she was going to cry and freak out when we left but she didn't react at all, so I'm feeling better about it already. Of course it will be different when we're gone for a longer time but we're going to work up to that this week. Thanks again to everyone for all the great advice!
posted by traceymariel at 11:51 AM on November 18, 2008

We made the leap with our mutt not long after we got her, going from crate to confined space to "run of the house" within a couple of months, as she proved able to hold it all day, and not chew people things (except a couple at the beginning, but she understood, apparently, that she was not to do that any more after she was scolded for it). We take her for a two to two-and-half hour walk in the morning, then I leave her with a Kong full of this stuff , then another equally long walk right after work. I've been supplementing her Kong with the occasional carrot or handful of treats hidden here and there, too. I don't know exactly what she does all day, but it doesn't appear to involve eating bad stuff or tormenting the cats. In fact, we suspect that having two cats to keep her company, despite the fact that one doesn't really like her, is helpful.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 4:27 PM on November 18, 2008

Oops - that should have been "two to two-and-a-half mile walk." Not hour!
posted by TochterAusElysium at 4:28 PM on November 18, 2008

We keep our pug in a free-standing pen, with a bed, water, and toys - including Kongs when she needs food. Also, we trained her to use a litter box that is in there. Some people think it's crazy, but she doesn't have a problem and has very few out of box incidents. At one year old, you could probably still get your puppy started on it. Note, these are not puppy pads. It is a dog litter box by Purina, we bought ours when we lived in the city and I don't see them at pet stores in the 'burbs, but I bet you can find one somewhere. We use a non-clumping cat litter made from recycled newspapers called Yesterday's News. Purina makes a litter specially for dogs which is the same thing, except bigger pellets.
posted by MrZero at 8:10 PM on November 18, 2008

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