Dog guardians grapple with both a dog’s emotions and their own when it comes to leaving their best friend home alone. Not only to quell the symptoms dogs suffer but also to relieve their own guilt over leaving them for 10-hour stretches, dog lovers are jumping through hoops to give their companions a fuller and more stimulating dog lifestyle. They are hiring pet sitters or dog walkers and arranging play dates at dog parks.
In the past, efforts to keep a dog occupied during the day were undertaken in response to the bored and anxious animal’s destructive behavior or to neighbors’ complaints about his unrelenting barking or howling. Today, however, we just as often labor to create a more enriched social world for our dogs—many of whom show no signs of suffering—because we’re more sensitive to their need for company and stimulation. According to a 2000 study by the Lakewood, Colorado-based American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), 75 percent of surveyed pet owners feel guilty about leaving their animals at home while they go to work, and 38 percent admit to calling home to talk to those animals. A primary source of companionship, especially for millions of singles, today’s dog is truly a member of the family.
Because we see our dogs as family members, many of us are reluctant to give them “latchkey treatment.” This generation knows some of the ills of being left home alone during its youth as well as the guilt involved in relegating the care of their children to others. Such pathos may explain why many dog lovers take pains to consider what dogs need from us rather than focusing solely on what we want from them.
Experts stress the importance of socializing a dog during her puppy years. “If you deprive a puppy of social experiences in the well-intentioned goal of protecting her from [negative] experience and disease, the net result is damaged social capacity,” says Dr. Rolan Tripp, an animal behaviorist, author and veterinarian at VCA-La Mirada Animal Hospital in La Mirada, California. “The point of pet sitting and puppy class and the dog park is that they are part of developing emotional stability and flexibility.”
Many of the symptoms of separation are obvious and painful for dog owners who need to go out and earn a living. An estimated four percent of America’s 55 million dogs supposedly have separation anxiety, and many dogs are relinquished to animal shelters every year for behavior problems. While some owners will try independence training, exercise and drug therapy, many experts say early and frequent socialization with other animals or living in a multi-animal home may produce a healthier dog.
“The worst mental punishment a dog can be given is to be kept alone in a tightly confined space where nothing varies,” writes biologist Desmond Morris in his book Dogwatching. Experts agree that dogs get lonely when they spend much of their time alone because they are pack animals. Descended from wolves, who live and work in groups, dogs are social beings, and we have become their pack members. If they are deprived of companions—both canine and human—they suffer.
Animal behaviorists agree that dogs need environmental stimulation, just as humans do. Dogs will work to see dogs by pushing a panel with their muzzles. They find activity rewarding. To remove a dog from her own pack without providing a substitute pack can cause great distress to the animal. Those who suffer from separation anxiety demonstrate despair by tearing up furniture or other household items, urinating or defecating, vocalizing, digging, running away or even self-mutilation, which is behavior that provides some sort of distraction. Of all the behaviors that demonstrate despair, incessant barking tops the list.
-by Tina Traster Petfinder.com