Heading back to the office after an extended time at home can be tough at both ends of the leash. Our dogs crave being close to us—we call them companion animals for a reason—and a change in schedule that results in them being home alone for longer periods of time can have an impact on their personality, as well as their mental health.
It doesn’t matter if the change is due to a new job, going back to school, divorce, or the end of a global pandemic. If your daily circumstance is changing, it’s likely your dog will feel the impact of it as well.
Do Dogs Get Lonely?
We like to think that our dogs are nonstop happiness on four paws, but the reality is that dogs experience a variety of emotions. Dogs have the same emotional complexity as human toddlers, which means that they are capable of happiness, sadness, jealousy, anger, and yes, loneliness.
Dogs evolved to be by our side, whether on the hunt, in the field, or by the fire, so it makes sense that they crave our companionship. Add to that the fact that we’re their sole providers of food, exercise, and access to the world, and it’s no wonder that our dogs have a drive to stay close to us.
Being left alone, especially when it’s something a dog hasn’t experienced in a while, can absolutely lead to a dog experiencing loneliness.
9 Signs of Loneliness in Dogs
The following behaviors are potential lonely dog symptoms that might manifest individually, or in a combination of behaviors. Some responses might be an indication of an underlying health problem, like skipping meals, so consider a veterinary check-up to rule out illness if you notice these signs.
Believe it or not, dogs can suffer from depression. It’s likely that lonely dogs also feel depressed. The behaviors that indicate dog loneliness are closely related to depressive behaviors, like withdrawal and lethargy.
If your dog paces or shows other signs of pre-departure stress as you prepare to leave the house, this could be a sign of isolation distress or separation anxiety.
Dogs that are home alone might find ways to keep themselves occupied like chewing up pillows, shoes, and remotes.
You might find that your dog wants to be by your side more than usual, even waking up from a sound sleep to follow if you leave the room.
Change in Play Style
Lonely dogs might be less interested in playing the games they used to love.
Dogs that feel lonely might sleep more than usual, or might choose to sleep in unusual spots, like in a closet.
A lonely dog might not have an appetite and could even skip treats. Not eating can also be a sign of many medical conditions, so make sure to discuss this with your veterinarian if you notice it.
Dogs use their voice to communicate, and a lonely dog might bark, whine, or cry when left alone.
Overall Behavior Shifts
It can be challenging to characterize the exact changes in a dog experiencing loneliness other than the fact that they just seem different from the way they normally act.
How to Prevent Loneliness in Dogs
Pet parents who know that they have a major schedule shift on the horizon, like going back to the office after working from home for an extended period, can help their dogs adjust in a variety of ways.
Practice your new routine. Dog parents should help their canine companion prepare by practicing their upcoming schedule. Go through an abbreviated version of your typical departure routine (get dressed, pack a lunch, grab your bag) then leave the house for 30 minutes to an hour. Continue this preparation and departure process in the weeks prior to going back, gradually increasing the length of time you’re away from the house. Continue to throw a few short-duration departures as well to make it easy on your dog.
Keep your dog active. Increasing your pup’s exercise regime can help put a dent in dog loneliness as well, but it helps to be creative. Sure, your dog will probably welcome more walks, but engaging your dog’s brain can help tire him out and make being left alone less stressful.
Trick training and dog brain games like “hide the toy” will wear out your dog and can make alone time less fraught.
Try interactive toys. Invest in busy toys to give your dog when you have to leave him home alone. Hard rubber toys that can be stuffed with goodies are an excellent way to give your dog something to focus on while you’re gone. Give your dog an opportunity to practice with the toy while you’re home (this also ensures that your dog can’t destroy it and accidentally swallow pieces of the toy), then when it’s time to leave him alone pack the toy full of treats so that it’s tougher for your dog to get the goodies out and will keep him busier longer.
Consider a dog daycare. Some lonely dogs might benefit from going to a well-run dog daycare a few times per week, although this option isn’t a fit for every dog. Make sure that your dog enjoys the excitement of group play, and that the daycare is reputable.
Final Thoughts on Lonely Dog Syndrome
Do dogs need companions? While it might be tempting to add a second dog to your household to “cure” your dog’s loneliness, the success of this solution isn’t guaranteed. Adding a second dog requires an honest evaluation of your resident dog to determine if they’re a fit for a sibling (keep in mind that some dogs like being an “only child”) and if so, finding a buddy that’s the right fit for your household and lifestyle.
Finally, keep in mind that dogs exhibiting behaviors associated with loneliness might be suffering from an undiagnosed health issue, so scheduling a wellness check can help to rule out any more serious problems.