Our increasingly busy lifestyles and more and more demands on our time mean that our pets are spending more time alone. As pack animals by nature, dogs need company. Having more than one dog may help them cope without their humans for longer, but in one dog households, too much alone time may cause distress. Common signs of separation anxiety, which only happen when you’re not at home, include:
• Soiling in the house.
• Persistent barking and howling.
• Chewing, digging and destruction: sometimes chewing on objects, door frames or window sills, digging at doors and doorways, or destroying household objects when left alone or separated from their guardians can be an attempt to escape, sometimes just something to do. It can result in self-injury, such as broken teeth, cut and scraped paws and damaged nails.
• Pacing in a fixed pattern.
• Coprophagia (defecating and eating all or some of their excrement).
Crate training is helpful, giving dogs a safe place and training them to spend increasing amounts of time away from you, with rewards for remaining calm and confident. Boredom prevention also helps: toys (some filled with treats) that are only given when you go out and put away when you get back, help them to accept being left alone as different but still normal. Exercise and a toilet break before you go out and having food left will help your dog feel comfortable with the situation. Hiring a dog walker is also useful if you are regularly out for a long time.
Importantly, avoid all punishment!
Separation-related behaviour problems worsen when owners punish their dogs on their return as the dog associates the punishment with your return, rather than the misdemeanour. Positive, reward-based methods are far more effective. Avoid letting your dog see that you are annoyed and let them out before cleaning up. For more advice, call for an appointment on 01453 752555.