No one knows exactly how a dog feels when home alone. But while science has yet to develop a device that can encode a dog’s thoughts so that we can translate them into our language, we can interpret them.
Of course, we intuitively and rightly believe that our pets feel abandoned when left alone. To understand how our companions feel when we close the door and lock it, we speak with Ixone Capataz, veterinarian at the AniCura San Fermín Veterinary Hospital. The expert also gives us clues about which behaviors we may consider more alarming and need veterinary attention, as well as what we can do to reduce the anxiety caused by our absence.
How Do Dogs Feel When Left Home Alone?
The dogs (and animals in general) are not able to distinguish time as such, they distinguish day from night, but not the concept of “time”. When we leave the house, they don’t know if it’s for a minute or forever. In general, over time, they get used to the fact that we always come home. There are dogs who are more attached than others to the company of humans, and who manage less well the fact of being separated from them and not knowing when their master will return. This can lead to separation anxiety.
Anxiety causes in dogs “nervous breakdowns” when their owners leave the house, which can result in urination and defecation anywhere (except in puppies), vomiting, sialorrhea (excessive drooling), destruction of the house, continuous barking that disturbs neighbors, etc.
Is it normal for them to have this separation anxiety?
Feeling fear and anxiety can be normal, but when we talk about actual anxiety, it is something that the animal cannot control and must be dealt with if it does not go away in a reasonable time, because the animal is suffering. If an owner detects that their pet is suffering from anxiety or thinks they might be suffering from it, they should contact their veterinarian for a consultation.
The “treatment” is sometimes simpler than others, but you should always try to eliminate the anxiety, because it goes against the well-being of the animal.
Is there anything we can do to reduce their anxiety?
It depends a lot on each case and each animal, and the most important thing is to detect that there is a problem so that we can go to the veterinarian so that he can help us. One very important thing, which is often overlooked, is that anxiety doesn’t start the moment we leave the house, but long before. The dogs are able to understand the “anticipatory signals”. These are things we do unconsciously before leaving the house (put on our shoes, take our keys, pack our bag, put on our coat…). When a dog has already detected these signals that we emit, his anxiety begins to increase. When we leave, the animal has therefore been anxious for some time. Working on these anticipatory signals is usually a fundamental step in eliminating separation anxiety. It is therefore wise to observe the signals that we emit, to note them and to emit them at other times of the day, when we are not going to leave the house. For example, putting on our shoes and sitting on the couch. Making noise with the keys and not leaving the house, etc.
What are the most alarming behaviors?
Damage to the home is often a source of great anxiety for the owner, for example, if the dog barks so loudly that the neighbors complain. When thinking about animal health and realizing that any behavior induced by anxiety is bad, vomiting and self-harm are often the most worrisome.
Indeed, vomiting can lead to chronic digestive disorders and self-mutilation in the long run, such as constantly biting their limbs, pulling out their hair, biting their tails until they hurt… must we react before your dog is irreversibly injured.