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Dogs Home Alone!

Most dogs love the peace and quiet of being left at home whilst we go out about our daily business.  However, I come across a lot of situations where this is simply not the case.  A lot of dogs find the whole idea of being home alone extremely stressful.  I would say that along with aggression and problems on the walk this is one of the top reasons I get called out to help dog owners. 

Separation Anxiety as it is referred to, is extremely distressing for both dog and owner.  Not only that, but the results can be dangerous and costly.  I know of dogs who have eaten or dug their way out of the room they were left in, chewed through electric cables, chewed through water pipes, defecated on a very expensive rug, eaten a mobile phone, howled so much they have made themselves hoarse and the neighbours irate.  You name it, a dog has done it. 

Why does it happen?  Firstly let’s debunk some popular urban myths about Separation Anxiety.  It is commonly viewed that the dog is missing ‘mummy & daddy’ or that the dog is bored.  Neither of these are true. 

Dogs do not get bored.  Certainly not in a normal everyday household where they are exercised correctly, fed the right food and aren’t left alone for extensive periods of time.  If any of these areas are not being satisfied then this of course needs looking at.  However, these things in themselves are not the root cause of Separation Anxiety. 

From the dog’s point of view it is actually missing its ‘babies’.  Yes, that’s right.  If a dog is experiencing this kind of stress then the dog feels it is in a position of power in the household.  With status and power comes the responsibility of looking after those they live with.  The humans then go out into the scary outside world, without the dog.  The dog is left at home, locked in the house and unable to protect the members of their pack who have gone out without it.  It is the same as if we had a toddler who had gone out the front door onto the main road and we were unable to be with it and look after our child.  How stressed would we feel?

Now we know the root cause of Separation Anxiety let’s look at what its symptoms are and what we, as dog owners, can do about it.

Symptoms: 

  •  Howling, barking, whining, crying – basically any vocal attempt to call you home.
  •  Defecating or urinating in the house – sending out scent signals to direct you home.
  •  Digging or chewing its way out of the room – attempting to escape to come and find you.
  •  Chewing anything, especially things that belong to you – to try and calm themselves down.
  •  Panting, pacing, spinning, salivating – all expressions of stress and anxiety.
  •  Being wildly overjoyed at your return – this is relief, not happiness.

How to stop it:
For the dog to feel happier that you can look after yourselves when you leave the den (your home) you will need to show the dog you are of higher rank than it.  A dog is NOT responsible for anyone higher in status than itself.  We are only responsible for those of lower rank.  By showing the dog you are the Decision Maker for the group you take on the role of caretaker and the dog can relax.

This is an ongoing process of communication which affects every aspect of your dog’s life.  However, you can make life easier for your dog, and yourself, by following these few tips:

  • When going out put your dog in a small space away from possible threats.  The dog is
    in a quieter environment with less to protect.  The kitchen or utility or any room away from the front of the house is preferable. 
  • Leave your dog with water and somewhere comfortable to sleep.  Not food – this will make the problem worse.
  • When you go out do not make a fuss of the dog.  No telling it that mummy won’t be long, to be a good dog and look after the house etc.  Just calmly get your things and go!
  • On returning to the house do NOT give your dog any attention until your dog has left you alone and gone and settled down.  Come in, greet other humans if they are there, unpack your shopping, get changed, whatever your coming home routine is whilst waiting for the dog to go and lie down waiting for you to call it when you are ready.

Adopting these few elements into your daily life will help but if you are having major problems, which these guidelines are not helping, do seek professional advice.

Here’s a little story about a dog I recently helped.  It has a happy ending, thank goodness.

Billy is a 3 year old Golden Retriever.  I met him when he was 18 months old and his mum and dad were very upset.  Billy suffered from Separation Anxiety to such a degree that they could not leave anything on the floor when they went out or it would be ripped to shreds when they came home.  He had eaten his way round the kitchen units and the final straw was seriously damaging a 200 year old cuckoo clock!  Billy’s owners loved him very much but life was becoming extremely difficult with him.  

I spent a few hours at their home, teaching them why Billy behaved like this and what they could do about it.  After learning the Canine Communication skills I taught them, life became a lot easier.   Very quickly Billy learnt that he no longer had to worry when his mum and dad went out and slowly they started to be able to leave things around.  They could have a new kitchen fitted and even said he’d turned out to be one of the best dogs they’d ever had.

They sent me a wonderful testimonial at Christmas saying the following:  “Just thought I would let you know that Billy has passed the ultimate test.  We have all the presents under the Christmas tree, including pig’s ears and Billy  has been left on his own with the living room door open.  He has not touched a thing, and does not go anywhere near the tree when we are in either.  It’s great when we come home.  No fuss, no damage.  You certainly put us on the right road.  Thank you so much for your help.”

It is feedback like that which makes my job so worthwhile – happy dogs and happy owners!

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