Have you seen the movie trailer for the animated comedy “The Secret Life of Pets”? It shows our dogs partying and living-it-up after we leave the house. Cute and entertaining, for sure, but SO FAR from reality.
Last week I was away for the first time from my rescued fur baby whom I have only had a little over a year. I was only gone 3 days, but even in the comfort of his own home with his “daddy”, he mourned. He moped. He laid on my side of the bed for hours on-end and didn’t move. He lost his enthusiasm for walks and playtimes. Truly he sensed the unusual length of my absence. Did he think I had abandoned him as his previous owner did? What was his doggie mind telling him? Did he suffer a form of doggie depression?
Dogs Behavior When Left Alone
The old adage of “dogs have no sense of time” has been disproven… at least it could be more appropriately worded as “dogs have a minimal sense of time”. Have you ever seen the videos of the returning veterans and their dog’s responses? Those are not the normal, “Oh, hey, back already?” doggie responses. In a recent study by Therese Rehn and Linda Keeling*, they identified the physiological effect on a dog’s behavior when left alone. By studying the intensity of the dog’s greeting when left alone for 30 minutes up to 4 hours, they learned that there was definitely a “higher frequency of physical activity and attentive behaviour” when the owner returned after having been gone for a longer time frame. Unfortunately, we cannot communicate to our dogs that we’ll be back in 3 days or 2 weeks or whatever (although, I must admit, I DID try to explain that to my little guy with the unfounded hope of comforting him). It appears that our lengthy separation becomes a sad and miserable loss to them.
Anxiety Caused by Separation
Never having exhibited any unhealthy signs of separation anxiety, my dog was truly aware that my absence was not the normal day of work or trip to the grocery store… and his little heart was broken. As much as I hated being away from him, he suffered the brunt of our separation. Yes, dogs can suffer from depression, and yes, it can be debilitating for them. Typically, your dog will go through a grieving period that can last anywhere from a couple of days to several weeks, depending on how long you are away.
Your Best Option to Help Your Dog Avoid Any Anxiety
If you must be gone for an extended period of time, your best option is to leave your pet at a boarding facility like Holiday Barn. The change in scenery, smells, and activity will give your pet less time to mourn and focus on your departure. Although he will not forget that you are gone, his mind and his senses will be busy adjusting to the many changes. Doesn’t it make sense that if your dog is not in his normal environment, he will not expect the normal experience…. like you walking through the door at any moment? A new, friendly, and fun environment will challenge his perspective and tendencies. One of the best things you can do for a young pup is expose him to a relationship to a pet resort. After he is old enough for his first rabies vaccination, get him involved in doggie day care in Richmond, VA and begin boarding him a day or two at a time. His resulting comfort with his “home away from home” will be reassuring to him and YOU when you must leave him for any length of time.