If you asked your dog if she’s happy with the amount of time you spend with her, what would she tell you? Would she say you are the perfect companion or would she complain that you don’t give her enough attention? We all lead busy lives, and our dogs have no choice but to fit into our schedules. This is fine for dogs who have full, enriching lives, but what about the ones who spend most of their days alone while their families aren’t at home?
Dogs are social animals and do not do well in social isolation. They thrive in cooperative social groups and are miserable when they are left alone for long periods of time. How can you tell if she’s happy, and what behaviors do you need to look out for that tell you otherwise?
Dogs are always communicating with us whether we recognize it or not. They do this by using vocal or physical language that directs us to what they want us to see or what they are interested in. They can turn your attention on to something just by looking at it, looking at you and then shifting their gaze to the object or place they want you to look at. Dogs help us understand what they want by using a variety of physical and vocal gestures.
Bowing down on their front legs with their bottoms in the air often means that a dog is soliciting play, and if you respond, your dog has successfully communicated her intention.
If your dog is your shadow and never leaves you alone or demands attention by staring at you for long periods of time, leans against your body, sits on your feet (as small dogs tend to do) or climbs all over you when you sit down, she is either trying to tell you something important or needs to be physically close in order to feel secure. This is called anchoring, and dogs will anchor themselves to people and other dogs for safety and security.
My Chihuahua, Jasmine, would always sit or lie on Sadie my Labrador. The physical closeness made her feel safe, and Sadie loved to have the foot massage that Jasmine provided whenever she climbed onto her back. Everyone is fair game to Jasmine. If you lie on the floor in our house, be prepared for a small dog to climb up and lie down on you as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
If your dog is not getting enough interaction while you are home or is left alone for long periods of time, she might display certain behaviors caused by social isolation. The lonely dog might bark, whine, chew or tear up the home in your absence. She might get very stressed when she sees behavior that signals you are about to leave.
We tend to be ritualistic in our own behavior and often do the same things when getting ready to depart — putting on a coat, picking up a bag and keys, for example. Dogs will become anxious at these departure signals, so if your dog starts to follow you around more or becomes restless before you depart, she might have issues with separation.
Thanks to modern technology it has become a lot easier to see what your dog does while she is home alone. Webcams not only make it easy to watch behavior on departure, but technology now allows you to talk to your dog while you are away and even dispense treats via an app on your smart phone. This might be all your dog needs to help her cope.
If you still see behavior that worries you, contact a certified positive trainer that can help your dog with any separation issues she might have.
Thumbnail: Photography ©vgajic | Getty Images.
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Dogster magazine. Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? Subscribe now to get Dogster magazine delivered straight to you!
Victoria Stilwell, dog trainer, TV personality, author and public speaker, is best known as the star of the TV series It’s Me or the Dog, through which she reaches audiences in more than 100 countries. Appearing frequently in the media, she’s widely recognized as a leader in the field of animal behavior, is editor-in-chief of positively.com, CEO of the VSPDT network of licensed trainers and the founder of the Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training & Behavior — the leader in dog trainer education. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter at @victorias.