Many of the UK’s 12 million dogs are now being left alone while their owners are at work, with research* revealing 26% of those with owners under 50 are now regularly left alone for at least six hours at a time.
The survey, carried out by Agria Pet Insurance, found that young-middle-aged owners are leaving their dogs the longest. However, across all age groups, 85% of UK dogs are regularly home-alone for up to five hours, with a small percentage left for more than eight hours at a time.
This is a dramatic change in circumstances for the UK’s dogs, who, in most cases, had become used to 24/7 company over lockdown periods. However, more than three-quarters of owners report their dog suffers no issues from being left alone. Those who said their dog is unhappy at being left by themselves noted that the significant problems are barking and noticeable stress and anxiety on their return.
Dog Trainer and Behaviourist for Agria Pet Insurance, Carolyn Menteith, is concerned that owners may not always be aware of the struggles their dog is having: “A big issue is that owners often assume their dog is fine alone as they don’t see any evidence of separation-related behaviour problems. But they are not there to witness them. In many cases, the first time people realise their dog has an issue with being left is when neighbours complain about barking or when they come home to a scene of devastation.
“Dogs are a social species who bond very closely to their human family – that is why they make such great companions. But part of that deep bond means that they need our company and interaction, as we are their security and, quite literally, their world. Few dogs enjoy being left alone, although some learn to tolerate it.
“If you do regularly leave your dog, don’t just assume they are happy about it – find out for sure. Set up a webcam when you leave so you know what your dog does when left home alone. It will either give you the reassurance that your dog is fine when you go, or it might well show you that your dog isn’t as relaxed and happy as you thought.
Symptoms of separation-related behaviour problems vary from the mild to the extreme and include:
- Whining, barking, or howling
- Panting and/or salivation
- Chewing or other destructive behaviours
- Loss of toilet training (and possible diarrhoea)
- Scratching or digging at doors
- Attempts to escape
- Self-mutilation (usually chewing/biting paws)
- Inability to relax or increased reactivity (even at times when not left)
- Aggressive behaviour
“While most of these behaviours only happen when the dog is left, the increased stress levels and the fear of being abandoned without warning can result in unwanted behaviours occurring at other times as well, as the dog no longer feels safe and secure. Being left for long periods also leads to boredom and frustration, which bring their own behaviour issues.
“Once you know what your dog is really doing when left alone, you can either relax or start to look at other options such as a dog walker, doggie day-care, or having a family member or friend look after your dog. In the case of severe separation issues, find an accredited, specialist behaviourist who can teach your dog skills to cope alone.
“The worst thing you can do is ignore it or think your dog will just ‘get used to it’. Separation-related behaviours are problems that get worse, not better, with each exposure, but thankfully there is so much owners can do to help their dog. Separation-related behaviour problems are not your dog being naughty or trying to ‘get back at you’ for having left them. If a dog hasn’t been taught the coping strategies needed to be left alone, they will have no control over their behaviour when they feel unsafe. This creates stress, anxiety and fear of being left alone – resembling a human panic attack.”
This latest research by Agria Pet Insurance follows their report earlier in 2021 that almost half of new dog owners had found that lockdown had given them the opportunity to get a puppy, where previous circumstances had prevented them from owing a dog.
*The research was conducted in October 2021 with data collected from over 500 dog owners.