With lockdowns being lifted in many parts of the world, a large number of dogs left home alone by their owners face psychological problems such as separation anxiety.
While it may seem that dogs who are left home with other canine companions would feel less lonely and anxious, a new study led by the Academy for Animal Naturopathy in Dürnten, Switzerland has found that the opposite is usually true. Dogs appear to be even more anxious when left home with other dogs.
“Many dogs are left alone at home by their owners for several hours on a daily basis. This practice is known to be a possible source of complication in dog keeping. Behaviorists and veterinarians are frequently consulted due to excessive vocalizations, destructive behavior and house-soiling of dogs left alone by their owners,” explained the study authors.
“These observations are thought to be symptoms of a disorder which most authors refer to as separation anxiety or separation related behavior.”
Signs of separation anxiety in dogs include barking, howling, increased physical activity, digging, scratching, disruptive chewing, or excessive urination and defecation.
The scientists videotaped 32 dogs in single-dog households and 45 dogs in multi-dog households that were left alone as part of their usual routine. Surprisingly, intense physical activity was higher in multi-dog households, primarily in the first hours after separation.
“We observed more separation-related behavior in multi-dog households,” reported study lead author Gerrit Stephan, a researcher at the Academy for Animal Naturopathy.
“It’s a common misconception – and often given as poor advice – that a dog with separation-related anxiety will fare better and show fewer stress responses if another dog is added to the household,” said Natalie Waran, a professor of Animal Welfare at the Eastern Institute of Technology in New Zealand.
“This doesn’t address the underlying problem for the dog with separation anxiety, and it often results in another dog showing anxious or excitable behavior. The key is to understand the causes of problem behavior to be able to manage or treat those effectively.”
Further research is needed in order to better understand the reasons why separation anxiety appears to be stronger in multi-dog households and to open therapeutic pathways for pets struggling with emotional issues.
The study is published in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science.