How to keep your only dog happy…

So you’ve decided to live with a single dog. As I said in my blog, “Should I get a second dog?” there are lots of reasons to have just one dog. But having made that decision, how do you keep him socially stimulated and content?

Vera was very content as an only dog. Adding a puppy, Annie, to our family when Vera was 13 years old was successful, but it did require a significant amount of planning.

First of all, it’s important to accept that not all dogs crave social interaction or even want it. There are dogs who would prefer to be the only dog in a household, and helping them feel comfortable around other dogs can take some work. These dogs may benefit from parallel leash walks (at a distance they can handle) with other calm dogs who don’t want to crowd or interact with them. There can be a quiet camaraderie in these relationships, where they eventually choose to sniff the ground together, mirror each other’s movements, and generally feel companionable. For these dogs, taking them to a dog park would be way too much, day care would be overwhelming, and getting a second dog might be challenging, though if handled correctly could work well for both dogs.

Tips for single dogs, including non-social dogs.

  • Daily walks are essential (to areas where there are few dogs if your dog is not well socialized, and where those who are present are leashed so that a comfortable distance can be maintained).
  • Ideally, play, games, and training should be part of each day, along with interactive toys such as stuffed, frozen Kongs and puzzles. Any training or mental stimulation will help to tire your dog and help him to feel more content.
Vera dancing
  • Treiball (your dog learns to herd large, colorful balls back to you) is a fabulous sport for herding dogs, but can be fun and challenging for any dog. You can purchase books and videos on how to get involved in this sport, and work on it at home if there are no classes nearby.
  • Kibble-dispensing toys can offer mental stimulation to your dog.
  • Snuffle Mats can be mentally stimulating, calming, and entertaining all at the same time!
  • To gauge how well your dog is tolerating your absence, you can observe your dog on your phone or computer by using reasonably priced remote cameras.
Annie and her snuffle mat
  • Chew toys can occupy your dog’s time and help to decrease stress. However, talk to your vet first. Finding a safe chew toy for your pet can be very challenging depending on the bite strength of your dog.
  • Calm music can help your dog to relax, and some dogs love to watch animals on television .
  • If your dog is not doing well with your absence, you could hire a neighbor or dog walker to walk your dog at midday.
  • Many dogs do well once they understand your routine– as long as they are exercised before you leave home and when you return, and have things to occupy them. Most dogs will sleep during the day while you’re at work.
  • I used to hide treats in hollow toys throughout the house before I’d go to work. My dog couldn’t wait for me to leave! Searching for the treats helped with her transition from companionship to being alone.

tips for Single dogs who are social butterflies

  • Be friendly with other dog-people on trails, and share contact information when your dog meets a friend he really enjoys.
  • Take your dog to class–agility, obedience, free-style, tricks etc.–to get your dog working around other well-socialized dogs. Again, share contact information and make playdates with compatible dogs.
Annie (left) walks with her good friend, Uki (right), and a new acquaintance, Bella. All are being trained while off leash.
  • Offer to petsit for friends who have dogs your dog likes.
  • Make regular playdates for your dog at your home, at off-leash parks, or on trails. There are lots of single, well-socialized dogs around who need playmates.
  • Take your dog to daycare, but be sure it’s a place with a structured schedule, clear expectations, and constant supervision by staff who are savvy with canine body language. Dogs should be screened carefully before attending and should not be resource guarders.
  • Walk on off-leash friendly trails so your dog can meet and play with new dogs. For safety, leash your dog if approaching dogs who are leashed, even in off-leash areas.
  • Before considering dog parks, read my blog “Dog Parks–Why not?”

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