Christmas and New Year holidays often mean more time out and about at parties, shopping, or visiting friends or family.
While it’s great fun for us, it may mean more time at home alone for your dog, which can increase their risk of experiencing separation anxiety, and make it worse for those who already struggle with it.
A recent survey worryingly showed that 21% of owners would leave their dog alone for over 24 hours as an occasional maximum, and the holidays may increase the likelihood of owners leaving dogs alone for long periods.
Separation anxiety can be displayed in many ways, but as it usually only occurs when the owner is out and stops when they return, it often goes unnoticed. Especially when your dog may seem completely happy when you next see them.
But there are some basic rules of thumb that you can try to keep anxiety at bay. That’s why, with the help of the RSPCA, we’ve put together our top five tips for how you can be #DogKind.
1. Your routine might change, your dog’s needs won't. So make sure you arrange appropriate care for your dog when you’re out and about.
Whether getting a dog sitter to come and give your dog company, inviting a dog walker to give them some exercise, or asking a friend or neighbour to pop in to let them out for the toilet and spend some time with them, it’s important to remember that even if our routine changes, our pet's needs won’t.
Daisy Hopson at the RSPCA says, “Experts recommend never leaving your dog alone for more than four hours at a time, so if you know you’ll be out for longer than this, it’s important to make sure you’ve already arranged the right care for your pooch so they’re not left sad, bored, lonely, and desperate for the toilet! It’s important to remember though that if your dog has separation anxiety, this can start within 30 minutes of the owner leaving, and often, within the first few minutes."
2. Look for the signs that your dog is struggling without you.
Research shows that 8 out of 10 dogs struggle to cope when left at home alone, but half of these dogs won’t show any obvious signs, so it can be easy to miss.
Daisy shares some of the most visible signs a dog will exhibit if they’re struggling with anxiety.
“Some of the obvious signs that dogs are feeling stressed include barking, destroying things in the house, and weeing or pooing on the floor, but there may also be hidden signs of anxiety, such as pacing, excessive licking or self-mutilation.
“That’s why it’s important to monitor your dog’s behaviour on a regular basis by filming them when you’re out to ensure you aren’t missing any signs, particularly if you’re out more than normal.”
3. Teach your dog that it’s okay to be left alone.
There are many positive things you can try at home if your dog is showing obvious signs of being stressed, or even if you don't know whether there's a problem but want to help your dog feel better when left alone.
Daisy explains why this will help to teach a dog it’s okay to be left alone.
“These activities will also help you to determine whether problems are being caused by other factors, such as lack of mental stimulation, leading to destructive behaviour, or perhaps noise disturbances leading to barking.
“If you’ve just welcomed a new puppy or dog into the family it’s important to include this as part of their training to prevent them from becoming anxious in the first place. There’s a simple five-step programme you can follow to help make this happen. However, if at-home treatments and training don’t work it’s important to seek the help of a behaviourist.”
4. Plan for the unexpected.
Unfortunately, even the best-laid plans don’t guarantee there won’t be bumps in the road, particularly during the holidays!
While it’s important to consider how long your dog is left at all times of the year, it is especially key during the holidays when it’s easy to get caught up in the festive rush, stay for one more mince pie or simply get stuck in the ‘driving home for Christmas’ race.
Daisy adds, “If you know you’re running late and will be leaving your dog longer than four hours, it helps to make sure you have a back-up plan for emergencies. This could be an agreement with a neighbour that they’ll pop in if needed or an emergency list of dog walkers or pet sitters your dog may already know and you feel comfortable with.”
5. Make it your New Year’s resolution to be even more #DogKind in 2020.
Practice makes perfect, so before the clock strikes midnight on the 31st December, why not kick off the holidays by promising to follow and share the first four tips in this article!
Daisy adds, "Being #DogKind means knowing your dog's individual needs and differences, and spending time to support their mental, as well as physical, wellbeing.
“While you’re at it, why not whip up a festive batch of tasty dogs treats to use as part of your dogs positive, reward-based training or as an occasional treat this holidays.
“And remember, Christmas might give us an excuse to indulge in chocolate, mince pies, and second (and third) helpings of Christmas leftovers covered in gravy, but our furry friends can’t eat these and other seasonal treats, so be careful what you give them.”