For Dogs, Small Doses of Solitude Can Be Healthy

For better or worse, the holidays are over. Decorations are stuffed back into the closet. Weeks of leftovers strain against our freezer doors and the family diaspora has returned to far-flung homes. We slip back into “normal” life.

After the holidays, many of us find that we need a vacation. The end-of-the-year-bustling that began before Thanksgiving and culminated with New Years can take a toll on everyone, two-legged and four. Sometimes, change, uncertainty and frayed nerves fill the air as much as love does.

Of course, human craziness is not confined to special occasions. Unexpected events at any time of year can ripple the calm. Or, perhaps we’re just worn out and need some down time.

While our pet’s lives are not as complex as ours (aren’t we lucky to be so intelligent and civilized?), our furry and feathered family members can get stressed out by their environment and need a retreat - just like we do.

Cats are generally much better at being alone than dogs. Dogs are naturally social beings who want to soak up as much quality time as possible with the family unit - and they take every opportunity to do so.

But life demands that we go out into the world to bring home those dog bones. A dog’s alone time time can boost their confidence to amuse and soothe themselves as needed, whether or not we are there. Also, because they become less reliant on us to satisfy their every need, we avoid caregiver burnout.  They feel less anxious and we feel less pestered. Everybody wins!

Alone time does not mean that our dog or other social animal companion needs a vacation from us. A few minutes curled up by the window and watching the world go by or some quiet nuzzling with a favorite toy is often enough for them to recharge and reconnect with us in the healthiest way.

Even dogs who happily share households with one or more animal brethren need a break from each other. Many will naturally seek out an established haven they’ve created for themselves or gravitate to a safe place we’ve created for them.

I’m convinced that small doses of solitude have helped our Lilly, the Boston terrier, grow into a better-adjusted and far-less demanding family member than when she first came to us. The serenity in her eyes when she approaches us after a brief separation - initiated by her or us - is as valuable as any behavioral “command” she’s learned. 

Of course, anyone who chronically spends prolonged periods of time away from home - or anticipates spending minimal time at home in the near future - should defer adopting an animal companion at this time.

There’s a difference between temporary solitude and neglect - the latter is never a holiday for social pets whose favorite thing in the world is being with us.