GUEST COLUMN: Leaving your dogs home alone can be hard, by the RSPCA's Rachel Butler
If you're anything like me, you'll wish you could take your dog everywhere with you. My two dogs are so much a part of my family that if we go for a family meal out to celebrate a birthday, it feels a little bit odd leaving them home alone while we all go out and have fun!
It can be difficult leaving your dogs alone for short periods while you go and run some errands.
But what if it is the other way round as well, and your dog finds it difficult when you leave them?
Sadly, separation related behaviour can be common among dogs. Most dogs like human company and form strong bonds with their owners so can find it difficult being left alone, especially if they haven’t been taught that it is ok.
Separation related behaviour can include - destructive behaviour targeted at the door where the owner left; howling, barking or whining; and defecating and urinating. It normally starts within the first 30 minutes of being alone. Dogs can also show more subtle signs of being distressed or unsettled such as trembling, pacing or whining.
This sort of behaviour, if not addressed, has the potential to be a significant welfare problem. It is an easy problem to miss as it only happens when the owner is absent so it can be difficult to know if your dog is struggling.
If you are unsure as to what your dog does when on his or her own then filming them can help reassure you that he or she is OK. If they are not then we would encourage owners to seek treatment.
These behaviours are treatable so, if your dog is showing these signs, the RSPCA advises you to speak to your vet who may refer you to a clinical animal behaviourist.
Some tips for leaving your dog alone include exercising and feeding your dog before you go out, and leaving something to keep him busy so he doesn’t get bored; puzzle toys and feeding devices such as a ‘Kong’ stuffed with food (peanut butter or cheese mixed with dog biscuits are usually popular) can be great entertainment. It’s also important that you never punish your dog if he has been to the toilet or been destructive while you are out as it could damage your relationship or make him even more anxious.
The good news is that all of this can be prevented. The key thing is to help your dog realise that being left alone is a positive thing - maybe even a chance to catch up on some quiet time!
For more information visit http://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/pets/dogs/company/separationrelatedbehaviour/prevention.