For many of us, we have no choice but to leave our pets home alone while we head out to work – and most of us don’t exactly enjoy saying goodbye to them every morning – and without cameras to record their activity while we’re away, we have no clue how they cope in our absence.
Recent research, however, has shown that many pets spend up to half an hour whining, howling and barking after we’ve left, and for some, their torment continues for a lot longer; this is often referred to as ‘separation anxiety’.
What the experts say happens to our pets when we leave them alone:
According to scientific research, the most stressful time for pets occurs during the first few minutes of our absence. Their reaction to being left alone usually begins either as soon as their owner leaves the home, or some minutes after. Reactions are characterised by destructive behaviour, such as scratching at the closed door, and vocalisations like howling, barking and whining, some may even poop and pee, drool excessively, or vomit due to the stress they are experiencing.
The reason dogs’ reactions to your departure occur so soon after you’ve left, is because they have learnt to respond to signs that you are leaving. In time, they begin to connect you picking up your keys or putting on your coat and shoes, with you leaving them, and these actions will usually induce the same stressed behaviour and feelings of anxiety.
How your pet goes on to behave once the initial realisation that you’ve gone and aren’t about to return any time soon sets in, is very much dependant on their personality. An anxious pet will doubtless continue to show signs of stress until you return, while a more independent animal may eventually begin to amuse themselves and become calm. Anxious pets may tire themselves out with their behaviour, and so will likely settle down and fall asleep as soon as you return.
What can pet owners do to help prevent separation anxiety:
Thankfully, there are some very simple steps that you can follow to help your dog cope better when they are left home alone:
- Be understanding
You must never punish your dog for destructive behaviour in your absence, as this may only add to their anxiety and make them even more nervous, uncomfortable and stressed the next time you leave them alone. Try to feed them and stimulate them with exercise and games before you leave the home, which should encourage them to feel more relaxed.
- Try to repeat the following steps:
- Encourage your pet to go and lie or sit on their bed while you are there with them, and if they can do this calmly, then reward them with a toy or treat.
- Instruct your dog to remain calmly on the bed as you slowly move away. If they stay, then return to them and give them a reward.
- Repeat this short activity while continuing to increase the distance between you and your dog, or the time that you are not with them on the bed. Every time your pet reacts or leaves the bed, then start the procedure again and keep repeating until they can follow your instruction as you want them to. Only reward good behaviour; rewarding them for not following your instruction will serve only to confuse them.
- Progress to moving out through the door while your pet remains on his bed, then coming back in. Keep repeating the exercise until your dog remains calmly on the bed each time.
With these tips, patience is the key, the minute you crack and lose your temper or get frustrated, the entire process will be wasted, and you will have to go back to the beginning. You must make time to feed and exercise your pet before you leave them alone, and you must dedicate enough time to helping them cope in your absence with the simple exercises shown above.