Chatham Animal Rescue and Education, Inc.
Nine to Five Dog
by Ann Smalley

For most of us, it's difficult to do two things at once-pat one's head and rub one's stomach, for example, or stand on one's head and whistle "Dixie". But while, with a little concentration and practice, these tricks can be mastered, no one has yet figured out how to be in two places at one time. In the 1990s, this is what dog owners who work full time would probably like to be able to do more than anything else. As more people work full time, more pet dogs are also becoming nine-to-fivers-dogs that are left alone from 9:00 (or earlier) in the morning to 5:00 (or later) in the evening every weekday and whose time with their owners is limited to weekday evenings and weekends. Owners who love their dogs and want the best for them find themselves struggling to fit it all in: feeding, grooming, exercising, and just spending time together, strengthening the bonds of companionship that are so rewarding and make owning a dog such a joyous experience. Sometimes it seems as if it would be impossible to do everything recommended by manuals, magazine article, animal behaviorists, and dog trainers to produce a happy, well-adjusted pet even if one devoted twenty-four hours a day to it.

Where once a household may have had someone at home all day, now it's likely that the house will be empty, except for the dog, from early morning to evening. Although many dogs, fortunately, can adjust to a life alone during the day, others may be lonely, bored, or frustrated. They may turn, as a result, to destructive or undesirable behavior: digging craters in the garden; barking incessantly; or chewing up the new oriental rug. The dog's behavior, in such cases, creates an unhappy owner who dreads unlocking the door each evening and viewing the latest disaster but who isn't home enough to cope with the problem. Frustrated by an apparently unsolvable dilemma, the owner may decide he cannot keep the dog and give it up to a shelter.

Aside for problems such as barking, digging, and chewing, other problems may arise for the nine-to-five dog. The dog may have housebreaking problems or be so full of energy by the time its owner get home that it's rambunctious and uncontrollable. It's not surprising that such problems cause dog/owner relationships to sour.

Does this mean a person who works full time should not own a dog? Not all all. It is possible to have a mutually satisfying, rewarding relationship with a nine-to-five dog. One way is to recognize how the dog is going to behave and then arrange things so that its behavior will not upset you.

Choosing the right dog can start you off with an important advantage. Since your time with your dog will be limited, don't choose a dog that will force you to spend that time doing things you'd rather not. If you dislike grooming, for example, choose a pet with a short coat that requires a minimum of care. If you dislike vacuuming up after dogs that are heavy shedders, choose a dog that will have minimum shedding.

Dogs should not be nine-to-fivers until they are a least six months old. Puppies less than six months of age need to be fed four times a day and have not yet developed the muscle strength for urinary control. They should not be left alone for extended periods. If you are already working full time when you decide to get a dog, take advantage of the opportunity to adopt an older dog from a shelter.

Some dogs need more exercise than others, so only think about a high-energy breed if you can meet its needs. The point is to choose a dog that has a good chance of fitting in with your lifestyle from the start.

Training a nine-to-five dog is a must. Dogs are happier and more relaxed when their behavior is directed rather than left up to them. They can be very anxious if they feel that they must make all the decisions. Training can strengthen the pet/owner bond and help each understand the other better. Basic training can also improve the quality of your time together. You will not be frustrated-and perhaps angered-by your dog running away, not coming when called, or pulling your arm out of its socket when walked on a leash. Although your time together may be limited, investing fifteen or twenty minutes, four or five day a week, will help you get the most out of every minute you do spend together. You may be encouraged to take your dog out for a long, leisurely walk in the park or a run by the river if you know it will be a pleasant experience.

One crucial element in a nine-to-five dog/owner relationship is how the dog behaves when it is alone and how the owner reacts to this behavior. "Eighty percent of the people who turn dogs in at shelters are doing it because they didn't think things through when they got the dog," says Phyllis Wright, HSUS vice president for companion animals. "You cannot expect a dog to be able to do things you cannot do." For example, it's unfair to expect every dog to be able to control its habits of elimination all day. If you have a dog that cannot be confined alone all day, you need to arrange things so that it's OK for the dog to do what it has to do.