We need to train our dogs to cope with being alone, otherwise we are consigning them to a lifetime of misery due to dogs separation anxiety. So says the documentary feature Dogs – Their Secret Life, broadcast on UK Channel 4 and now available online. Historically, dogs served purposes – hunting companion, herding, guarding – and in those cases were physically accompanying us 24/7. Now their “jobs” are mere companionship. Our modern lives include being places and doing things where they can not come with us. And yet we have not dedicated the amount of time, resources, training and behavioural adaption to that fact in the amounts we did when we were breeding them to perform those very jobs we no longer require of them.
Separation Anxiety Responsible for Dog Abandonment
One could say that dogs alone are a modern anomaly. Its also the cause for a huge number of dogs surrendered to rescue and animal shelters, simply because dog owners are not aware of the cause and effect between separation anxiety and bad behaviour, the kind of behaviour that loses a dog their home. 21% of dogs were handed in to rescue organizations because they had displayed behaviours perceived as problematic to their owners. Of dogs rehomed by the RSPCA, 16% are returned; 68% of which are returned due to problem behaviour.
In October 2013, Channel 4 in the UK broadcast a documentary film called Dogs: Their Secret Lives. The program is hosted by Mark Evans, a veterinary surgeon and former chief veterinary advisor of the RSPCA. He has a special interest in the welfare of dogs and is well known for his campaigning work to end irresponsible dog breeding. It included film footage of select dogs captured through hidden cameras. In service to the film and the overwhelming public response, the production team commissioned an update for the film, and a study from the University of Bristol, UK. Together the film and the science revealed what our dogs get up to while their owners were out, and the physical and emotional impacts on dogs alone at home.
Dogs – Their Secret Lives Full Film Available for Viewing Online
The results are fascinating. and the entire film can be viewed online. This in itself is a bold move (typically a TV film of this nature would be geo-blocked and made available only through paid channels).
40 Dogs Study of Dogs Separation Anxiety
When the production team started the film and study project, no one knew how many of the 8 million dogs in the UK are affected by dogs separation anxiety problems. Over the six weeks of the study period, a research team headed by Dr Rachel Casey recruited 40 dogs randomly from the community’s pet owners. The dogs were filmed they were home alone, and took saliva samples for analysis of a stress indicator, Cortisol. The results of the study were fascinating:
- 5 of the dogs were absolutely fine.
- 5 of the dogs showed active signs of separation anxiety. The owners of these 5 dogs were aware their dog might have a problem. These dogs vocalized, toileted or chewed up furniture.
- 10 dogs showed active signs of separation anxiety but their owners were completely unaware that their dogs were stressed. Again they vocalized, toileted, chewed up furniture, all classic symptoms of separation related disorders.
- 19 dogs were not showing active signs of separation anxiety but the Cortisol results show that although they were sitting down, apparently quiet, they are still feeling some kind of anxiety and are worried about being left on their own.
- 1 dog seemed to have a problem with the noisy parrot it was left with.
It’s clear this is a problem that can affect dogs from any walk of life but it can be easily prevented and can be cured. It is possible to teach a dog that it’s ok to be on its own.
We Can Help – Take Part in the Study
The 40 Dog study is just the beginning. Following the first broadcast of the show in November 2013, the producers asked viewers to fill out a survey to tell us about their own dogs. They received a great response, with over 3,500 submissions. The science team are currently analyzing the results and are due to publish a full report. Now the team wants to discover the scope of this problem in dogs beyond their Bristol borders. Please help us find out more about separation problems by filling out our questionnaire and telling us about your dog and whether you think he/she has a problem or not.
Symptoms of Dogs Separation Anxiety
85% of owners in Dogs – Their Secret Lives were unaware of the extent of their dogs home alone misery. Here are some common symptoms that may indicate your dog is less than content: vocalizations (howling, barking, whining); destructive behaviour often targeted at the door the owner leaves through; defecating and urinating; and abnormal repetitive behaviour including self-harming. A dog with separation problems may also lose its appetite when left alone, lick excessively, drool and pace a room or the whole property. Often dogs show signs of anxiety before the owner leaves them and in some cases may attempt to prevent them from leaving by sitting or lying across the doorway or becoming aggressive towards them as they attempt to go out.
Getting Help for Dogs Separation Anxiety
Your dog’s actions are not a result of bad behaviour so it is vital that you never punish your dog for any destruction, barking or mess that they make in your absence. This will simply increase their worries about being left, make it more likely to happen again and may damage your relationship with each other. It is possible to teach a dog that it’s ok to be on its own. If you want to find out more about how to help your dog, check out the program’s Health and Support “Top Tips.”
- 20% of dogs are left at home for over 5 hours per days
- Women are significantly more likely to leave their pets alone, and for longer periods of time
- In the UK, the top 3 dog breeds admitted to Blue Cross in 2012 were Jack Russells, Staffordshire Bull Terriers (Staffies) and Border Collies
- By mid-afternoon, over 35% of dogs left alone at home will have chewed or scratched something, been howling, or defecated in their own home.
- Destructive behaviour usually involved chewing or scratching fixtures and often occurs near the site of the owner’s most recent departure
- 21% of dogs were handed in to rescue organizations because they had displayed behaviours perceived as problematic to their owners
- Of dogs rehomed by the RSPCA, 16% are returned; 68% of which are returned due to problem behaviour.
If you have a suspicion your dog has a separation problem seek advice and support from a qualified clinical animal behaviourist or dog trainer in your area. Furever Network Partners like Lisa Marshall ; Dahlia Ayoub, Mighty Mutts and Lucinda Glenny, Canine Campus are available to work with you and your dogs to ensure the best possible happy, healthy lifestyle. Did you watch the film? Need help from Furever’s community? Comments welcome below!