As I sat down to write, Dakota, my almost 8-year-old Siberian Husky, is doing anything she can to distract me from the computer. She brings me her new favourite toy, a Christmas gift from my (umm . . . her) boyfriend, to toss around a bit. Then her Kong as she stamps her foot and demands peanut butter in it. Finally, when she realises that there is no way to pull me away from writing, she attempts to close the laptop with her paw.
I've been home days, as we're currently social distancing in New York, and I've literally not left her side since the first night when I got home. We've had snuggles, walks, car rides, special treats — even a dance party. Could she really need more attention? The guilt has set in.
And I know I'm not alone. As any dog parent knows, guilt happens. Getting home late from work, going out on weekends — that's all time you can be spending with your furry friend. But your life can't stop, either, or revolve around a pup. I know I struggle with this — I ask Dakota if she's a happy girl at least once a day. I, as do other dog moms and dad, worry if she is getting enough bonding time, play time, and interaction.
But, it turns out if you are spending quality time with your dog, you won't have to worry much about their quality of life and their happiness. We asked the experts to weigh in.
How much time should you spend with your dog every day?
Mary Birch, PhD and director of Canine Good Citizen, says that spending 30 minutes to one hour of active playtime with your dog could be enough to wear them out, but that they should expect more attention from you during the day, whether its a special morning snuggle session or running through your bedtime routine with your dog at your side.
"It is hard to put a number of minutes that we should spend with our dogs each day. We interact with our dogs and feed them and take them outside for breaks. Ideally, there would be at least 30 minutes to an hour a day of exercise for most breeds. This can include brisk walks or an active game of fetch in the back yard. Those are the basics. Add to that play time either indoors or outside, training, and snuggling on the couch in the evening. Having a dog truly is a commitment in time and caring," she says.
Can you spend too much time with your dog?
While it may be impossible to say how much time is the perfect amount of time to spend with your dog every day, it is possible to spend too much time with your pet. In fact, spending too much one-on-one time with your dog could result in separation anxiety when you do have to leave or an unhealthy dependence.
"One of the main concerns regarding spending a lot of time with a dog is whether or not the dog can adequately handle independent time when the owner is away from the house. Pets should be adequately trained and comfortably accept an owner being away from the house," says Rebecca Krimins, DVM, MS; assistant professor; medical director, express radiology research lab; and medical director, veterinary clinical trials network at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Krimins adds that it is actually not healthy for pets to rely on having their owners present all day every day, unless there is an extenuating circumstance. For example, this may be the case with seeing-eye dogs that are trained as guide dogs for visually-impaired people.
Why is it important to spend time with your dog?
The one-on-one time you spend with your dog may be extra special to them, but Krimins says it is actually improving your quality of life as well. Many activities with your dog require moving, exercising, and fresh air, all pluses for owners in addition to feeling good for making your dog's day.
"There are numerous ways to improve your dog's quality of life, and often, these same activities will improve the pet owner's quality of life as well. For example, one-on-one time with a pet can involve activities such as walking, hiking, playing fetch, grooming, bathing, training and more," says Krimins.
How should you spend time with your dog?
The time you spend with your pet has to be focussed on them, explains Birch. Quality time is the most important thing for your dog, especially if you do not have quantity time available for them.
"There is a clear distinction between quality and quantity time for our dogs. Owners who take their dogs to the dog park and sit on a bench at a distance and stay on their cell phones or read a book don't get any credit for quality time. At the most, they get a few points for giving the dog a chance to socialise with other dogs or exercise. Quality time means direct interaction — looking at your dog, talking to him, and taking part in play and exercise," she says.
What should I do if I'm worried I'm not spending enough time with my dog?
If you're worried about the amount of time you can devote to caring for your dog or if you want to do something special for them, Krimins says that finding the right doggie daycare for a few days a week could be a solution.
"I think dog daycare can be wonderful. It's important to make an appointment with your local dog daycare and walk the premises. You should feel content with what you see including the number of employees available per animal, the level of cleanliness of the establishment, the quality of the facilities, and how your dog will be cared for. When your dog is jumping for joy, zealous with excitement, and can't wait to get out of the car upon arriving at the daycare, these are positive signs that your dog has a fantastic time at the facility," she says.