Dogs, like us, are very social animals. They naturally live in family groups and have evolved to "work" and live with us as our companions. Most dogs would choose to spend most of their time with us. Some may prefer the company of their own kind, but what is certain is that being alone is not something that comes naturally to most.
While dogs should never be left alone for too long, they will feel relaxed and comfortable left alone for part of the day once they get used to being left young for short periods of time. Here are some tips to help you feel more confident about leaving your dog at home…
Symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs
If your dog is anxious or agitated about being left home alone, you may see the following:
* Your dog becomes upset as soon as you leave. The first 15 minutes are the worst, during which time your dog becomes extremely upset. All the physiological signs of anxiety can be present – an increase in heart and breathing, panting, drooling, increased activity and, sometimes, a need to go to the toilet. Your dog may try to follow you when you leave, scratching the doors, chewing on door frames, scratching carpets or jumping on windowsills to find a way out. Alternatively, your dog may bark or whine to try and persuade you to come back.
* After this hectic period, your dog may lie down and chew on something you've recently touched that still has your scent. Dogs often chew scented items into small pieces and curl up in the debris so that it forms a 'barrier' to your scent for safety reasons.
* Upon your return, your dog may appear elated and become very irritable. They may be wet, drooling or drinking too much due to stress.
* When you are at home, your dog can try to follow you wherever you are in the house. They may show fearful behavior when they see you getting ready to leave the house (e.g., panting, walking back and forth).
What can you do? It's wise to train a puppy or new dog to get used to being alone for a short time, even if you don't plan on leaving them alone for too long. The idea is to teach him that being alone isn't scary at all; it is actually a time to relax and feel at ease.
First of all, you need to decide where your dog will be left alone. Some people prefer to leave their dogs in a crate or kitchen for the ease of cleaning up possible messes. There's nothing wrong with that - but you don't want to make the mistake of leaving your dog alone in this area if you leave him alone. This is because you want him to feel as comfortable and relaxed as possible, and if they are left alone in a small area, they learn to associate being alone with isolation.
If your dog is used to being in the living room, leave him there too. If you don't want a closed door, you can use a stair gate as an aid. Then he can see that he is not really locked up. Provide a comfortable basket and water in this room and some toys. Leaving the television or radio on is also a good idea, so that the dog does not have to feel so lonely.
At any time during the day, try closing the stair gate and giving him a toy. Do what you usually do, but keep an eye on the dog, especially if he or she is still young or has just moved into your home. After a few minutes you open the stair gate. Your dog can decide at this point what to do, whether to stay in the room or leave.
If you find that your dog is struggling with this, you can make it easier for them by staying in the same room, but it's important that you don't interact with him - just sit there quietly. Once they get used to the idea of being in the room with you (but not interacting with you!), you can start closing the stair gate for a few minutes.
Over a period of days, gradually increase the time your dog is left behind the stair gate until you get to a point where he feels relaxed enough to disappear completely from view. You should gradually build up the time that he or she is alone. Once your dog is comfortable with this, you can start accustoming them to short periods of time alone in the house.