Following Channel 4's programme 'Dogs, Their Secret Lives Part 1' there has been a lot of debate over the issue of leaving dogs on their own. This programme looks at the problems that leaving dogs at home for prolonged periods can cause. It looked at a group of dogs in Bristol and set up hidden cameras in their home to film them when they are out. The results were very interesting. Some dogs were completely unaffected by being left alone, displaying no signs of distress. However, 85% of the dogs studied showed different signs of stress and anxiety. Not all of these signs were obvious, some dogs don't might still be anxious even if their are not active or vocal. Some owners weren't even aware there was a problem.
Our lives have become so hectic in recent years that unfortunately we are increasingly leaving our dogs at home for longer periods. People's hectic schedules and the stresses that surround modern life don't always allow enough time for a dog. The reality is that many people just don't realise just how distressed their dogs get every time they leave the house. Some dogs pace around, others howl, bark and end up going to the toilet. It's doesn't make pleasant viewing seeing your dog in distress. However, it isn't all bad news because separation related disorder can be managed with a lot of time and patience. There are also some things you can do to help your dog out. Here are some basic tips if you are having problems leaving your dog at home.
Find A Dog Sitter
Instead of leaving your dog alone in the house all the time you can always have a pet sitter or take them to doggy day care. In most cases they will be around other dogs and have human company for some of the time. It may be hard to put your dog in someone else's care but they will be happier there than on their own for hours on end. Don't use this all the time if your dog has a separation related problem, you still need to put in the training so that they can occasionally be left on their own.
Give Your Dog Plenty Of Exercise
If you know you are going to have to leave your dog on their own at home then take them for a good walk before you go out. If they don't have enough exercise they are more likely to get bored and become destructive. Take them for a walk when you get home too if you can.
Don't Leave For More Than 4 Hours At A Time
It's just not fair to leave your dog alone for 8 hours a day while you are at work. Try and limit leaving them for only 4 hours, or much less than this if you have a puppy.
Don't Trigger Your Dog's Anxiety Before You Leave
As shown in the programme, dogs can easily pick up on cues just before you leave the house. Don't send them to their bed every time you leave or go through exactly the same routine. Try and mix things up a bit and do things in a different order. If you send your dog to their bed or a small room when you leave they will associate this with you leaving and start to panic.
Train Them To Be Relaxed When You Leave
Get a special play mat and try and get your dog to associate it with positive things. Get them to play on their mat with toys and give them treats when they stay relaxed on their mat. Then gradually build up to leaving the room, walking round different rooms, walking up to the front door, turning the key and eventually you should be able to leave the house with them in a relaxed state. They need to learn that you leaving isn't the worst thing in the world and they can relax in their own company with some fun toys and tasty treats.
Don't Let Them Spend Too Much Time With One Person
True separation anxiety in dogs is usually related to one specific person. The dog becomes over attached to one family member and cannot cope with them leaving. Don't spend 24 hours a day with your dog. Teach them that it's OK for you to be in different rooms and let them spend more time with other members of the family.
Don't Get A Dog If You Won't Be At Home Enough
The most simple solution is just don't get a dog in the first place if you know you are not going to be around much, it's just not fair on the dog.