Barking Blondes: Behind closed doors – Leaving your dog home alone
Our two dogs are belligerent bull breeds and always eager for a nap and a bit of peace. Leaving them home alone for a few hours surely served them well. Therefore, we had assumed that their lack of enthusiasm upon our return, was due to their acceptance of our absence.
However, The Secret Lives of Dogs on Channel 4 this week, investigated the issue of leaving dogs alone. By using cleverly hidden cameras, 70 dogs were observed and their behaviour captured whilst ‘home alone’. The first study of its kind, the programme also used thermal imaging equipment to reveal the dogs’ emotional and mental states of mind. These, along with the footage, confirmed the majority of dogs were stressed.
Scientists also analysed saliva samples for a rise or fall in cortisol levels pre and post being left alone. Cortisol is the hormone that’s released when we’re fearful or anxious and it had increased in 85 per cent of the dogs taking part in the study. Based on 8.5 million dogs living in the UK that’s around seven million that are regularly traumatised by being left home alone!
About a third of the dogs seemed so bored they got up to no end of mischief including stealing sweets from kitchen counters. Others turned to wrecking furniture and defecating on expensive rugs. Sometimes dogs even self harm and chew their own paws. Others might chew the skirting board, or ruin a pair of your coveted Laboutins. Whatever the symptom, the cause is the same – anxiety driven.
What was also revealing was that most owners had no idea that their pets were in anyway distressed by their absence. Disturbing footage left some owners reeling and distraught. Dogs have a different sense of time so leaving them for 20 minutes or for 12 hours can be equally as bad. Luckily with expert help it is possible to train your dog to learn that being home alone can be fun and its rewarded by knowing that you will be coming home.
Fifteen per cent of dogs vocalize their angst by howling and barking. As heart-wrenching as this is to hear, its also a sound that can drive neighbours to distraction and file a noise abatement order. With fines up to £5,000 this prompts some owners to get rid of the dog which is why hundreds end up in rescue every year .
Training a dog out of an ingrained habit isn’t easy or quick, so it’s a test of the owner’s commitment and it’s a sorry state that some don’t have the time to bother. Just leaving a radio on with The Archers isn’t going to help. Neither is employing a dog walker to pop in as that is only another separation situation. Maybe they should have got a cat in the first place? As a rule cats like being alone and are more independent.
This study proves that dogs are extremely social creatures with emotions, thought processes and feelings – they like to spend time with their ‘pack’.
‘Barking Blondes’ by Anna Webb & Jo Good, published by Hamlyn, £12.99The Secret Lives of dogs
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