Barking Blondes: Behind closed doors – Leaving your dog home alone

Joanne Good and Anna Webb

photo 225x300 Barking Blondes: Behind closed doors   Leaving your dog home aloneOur 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, £12.99

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  • madgooner1

    There is a webcam you can buy that will spy on your pet

  • theUKnaturalvet

    Hard to know what sense of time dogs have. And even for us humans sense of time varies – sometimes time seems to pass slowly and time ‘drags’, at other times it appears to speed up and things happen ‘in no time at all’

    Dogs certainly have some sense of time – and as far as being left alone goes there is some research which shows they can appreciate the difference between a shorter and a longer time being left.

    Therese Rehn and Lindsay Keeling undertook a study, published in Applied Animal Behavior Science, that attempted to answer the question. (“The Effect of time left alone at home on dog welfare,” Vol 129, 2011) They recorded the behaviour of dogs left by their owners for 30 min, 2 hours and 4 hours, and found that if the dogs had been left alone for 2 or 4 hours they greeted their owners with more ‘intensity,’ and were more active and attentive, than when the duration of separation had only been 30 minutes. However, there was no statistical significance between the dogs behavior if left alone for 2 or 4 hours.
    And – also like humans – dogs vary in their concern, or lack of concern, about being left alone – some get anxious, some don’t. In the end most of these ’surveys’ simply show that dogs are all different and have different reactions to different situations, just like we do,

  • T.A.H.

    I’m not sure what purpose the harsh criticism in the penultimate paragraph serves. These aren’t bad people who deliberately harm an animal. These are people who have and love a pet, but who also have to work or otherwise leave a dog at home. Sad that the animal feels separation anxiety, but better to help the owners train the dogs so that this is lessened than to berate the owners like that. What would you have them do? Give up the dog? Fill up the already over-filled shelters? What about those dogs already in shelters that hope to rehome them? How does telling working owners that they are crap for even thinking of owning a dog that cannot be by their side all day going to help that situation? Is the dog better off in a kennel for life or worse than to live with someone who wants them and loves them but has to go out to work?

  • 5brian5

    Hi Jo, Anna, Molly & Matilda; As interesting a animal psychology, i.e. they’re ability or lack of it to tell time, my major concern is with their happiness and comfort. In this hyper stressful world of ours, patience is at a premium. In 2013, its not just the occasional motorist who tailgates, it’s everyone! In 2002 I decided to quit drinking. In rehab, everything was a wait. Wait wait wait! I thought I’d die of frustration. Somewhere along the road, I had to learn to be accepting of other people’s strange behaviour, and have a lot of tolerance. I never yell at my cat “Tula” or my sons pit-bull Logan. I include them in everything I can. I talk to them, as well as the other animals I come in contact with as though they speak English. As a result, Tula and Logan respond without verbal ques most of the time, and other peoples cats and dogs come over to me. They always get my undivided attention, like a human child does. Like children, they learn by repetition. Both tula and Logan watch me all the time. They have learned the parametres in which they can function. I haven’t had to yell, like I frequently see other pet owners do. If I were to yell at Tula, she would become frightened, as I believe her previous owner abused her. In my opinion, neither the dog nor the cat do anything wrong which would require my getting verbally loud. I have never seen anything disturbed when I come home to either of them after I’ve been out for many hours. No rubbish on the floor, ripped furniture ect. I do however, see the neighbours multiple cats climbing up the curtains in their side windows, as well as tearing down the pull down blinds so they can sit in the sunlight. Science i.e. pet experts can say what they will, but I will always believe that giving my cat multiple kisses every day, and getting on the floor to hug and give my sons dog a “peck” on his head, is the best interactive conditioning. They are two well behaved sweethearts that deserve my best. Great Blog “Girls”! Brian (Detroit Area)xxxx

  • Mike Conrad

    Dogs are pack animals, simple as that. In nature they don’t spend a single moment of their lives alone… in fact solitude means certain death to a dog in nature as they can only hunt productively in groups. Hence their instinctual aversion to being alone.

    If you must leave your dog alone at the very least hire a dog walker to give a break to the poor creature during the day. It is better than nothing… but yes, most people should be less selfish and have a cat or maybe a goldfish. I’ve known people who don’t even go home to their dogs after the workday–they go to the gym, then out to dinner, whilst their poor creature is stuck in a room or even worse, in a cage.

    Finally, don’t let this somewhat misguided article mislead you–leaving a dog alone for 12 hours is far worse than leaving it alone for 20 minutes. For one thing, try ‘holding it’ for six hours much less ten. It’s no more natural for dogs than it is for humans.

  • martin_lowe

    It’s a pack animal that needs company.

    Anyone who can’t provide that level of company simply shouldn’t have a dog.

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