Although Britain sees itself as a nation of animal lovers, up to 85 percent of our huge dog population feel the anxiety of being separated from their human companions. Many dogs are suffering in silence when their owners go out for hours on end oblivious to the misery faced by their pets. Today, the RSPCA is launching its #DogKind campaign to raise awareness of this overlooked but worrying animal welfare issue.
New figures released by the animal welfare charity highlight a worrying disregard for the feelings of intelligent and sensitive pets who can become destructive and fretful when they feel abandoned.
Chewing furniture, scratching doors, howling and messing on carpets are some of the visible displays of angst shown by dogs left on their own.
Increased heart and breathing rates and panting are far less obvious.
Astonishingly, 22 percent of owners admitted to the RSPCA poll that they leave their dogs for four or more hours a day, with more than a half saying their animals are left shut inside the house when they are out.
DogKind poster released with campaign (Image: RSPCA)
Zen is being backed by a Valentine's Day appeal (Image: NAWT) “Either the potential owners have pulled out, or their circumstances have changed and they could no longer give Zen a home.” Despite being feted on social media, coached by top trainers and having sleepovers and days out with animal charity staff, he awaits his forever home.
A quarter of owners went on to confess their working hours make it difficult for them to care for their dog as “they would like” while one in five admitted witnessing signs associated with separation related behaviour.
Some even confessed the stress shown by their pets did not really bother them or their families.
Dog Kind campaign manager Daisy Hopson said: “We know that the love between owners and their dogs is unconditional – the centre of each others lives. So, when you leave your dog for any period of time, it can be incredibly difficult for them.
"It’s nothing to do with their age, breed or where they have come from, it’s because many dogs don’t know how to cope when their owner isn’t at home and are unhappy when left alone.
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“Pioneering research suggested that 85 percent of dogs may be struggling to cope when left alone and with an estimated nine million dogs in the UK and 26 percent of households with a pet dog, it’s shocking to think that more than seven million of our four-legged friends could be feeling frightened, lonely or sad when home alone.
“More worrying is the fact that many dogs won’t show signs that they are struggling so it’s easy for owners to miss. In fact, many owners may have no idea as 75 percent were unaware that their dogs were finding it hard to cope when on their own.”
DogKind poster warns eight out 10 pets do not cope left alone (Image: RSPCA)
The RSPCA has an array of top tips to help owners ally their pets’ separation fears, including:
· Never punish a pet. If a dog misbehaves while you are out, it is vital that you do not react badly when you come home. Separation-related behaviour problems get worse when owners punish their dogs on their return.
· Giving a dog something to occupy themselves while you are out to prevent boredom. Long-lasting treats such as heavy duty toys or chews are perfect.
· Making a dog more relaxed by giving them appropriate amounts of exercise and toileting before going out.
RSPCA dog welfare expert Dr Samantha Gaines said: “Some dogs who find it difficult to cope when on their own bark or destroy things to show their feelings, others will simply sit there suffering in silence.
"Like people, dogs express their emotions in different ways, which means you may not always know if there is a problem."
DogKind poster warns how pets worry when left alone (Image: RSPCA)
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOUR PET: Do you have a dog that experiences separation anxiety? Try leaving some clothing with him that you’ve worn. It’s been proven that the scent you leave behind on your clothes can help ease your dog’s separation anxiety.
Dr Gaines says there are lots of ways to help dogs struggling when left home alone.
She added: "If they need something to occupy them then it can be a great opportunity to provide enrichment and stimulation such as toys stuffed with treats or puzzle games.
“If your dog struggles without company or you are out for longer periods of time then you could ask a neighbour, friend or relative to spend time with your dog or take them out for a walk.
"If relying on friends and family isn’t an option, there are services like DogBuddy which help you find a dog sitter near you for boarding, day care or walking.
“However, if you’re concerned that your pet is displaying signs of separation related behaviour then we would strongly recommend speaking to your vet or a clinical animal behaviourist for some specialist advice tailored to his or her needs.”