I got an urgent phonecall from the Mother two nights ago informing me that there was a programme on TV about dogs being left alone and I had to watch it immediately. ‘Is this going to make me feel guilty?’ I asked nonplussed. ‘Just watch it,’ she ordered.
And so I did.
It made me feel guilty. It also made me want to install mini-cameras all over the house. Not to catch the fiancé in some cheating demeanour (you know, stealing biscuits or something) but to find out what happens to the mutt when we are not there.
‘The Secret Lives of Dogs’ programme on Channel 4 revealed that our little canine friends are not happy with being left alone. At all! They don’t want us to go shopping, or to work or to anywhere without them. Separation anxiety is expressed through howling, pacing, or panicking when we leave. Or as my dog prefers; pissing and shitting everywhere.
There were points in this year when I seriously considered giving my furry friend back to the rescue centre whenst she came. These thoughts generally flooded my mind as I struggled to throw our giant sitting room mat over the back garden wall (not designer, the designer rug went in the jumbo bin two carpets ago), flinging bleach, carpet cleaner, washing up liquid and vinegar in various measures at the fibres, hoping that some detergent would remove the revolting stench. Why?! I would cry. What is wrong with your bladder? Didn’t I let you out enough? Are you overwatered? Are you marking your territory you crazy spayed-out female? No. None of the above. Lucy is lonely.
Solving this issue is not an easy one. Dogs get so attached to their owners that they suffer severe stress when separated. Being over-cuddly or attentive when you return is not the answer. In fact, it makes everything worse. So, to retrain our dogs, we basically have to ignore them. In other words; be a bitch to the bitch.
My dog is the type of animal who likes to be in physical contact with you at all times. You’ll find yourself peering at the TV round a furry ear, before finally swatting her away. Before you know it, she’s back, nose to nose, stinking up your face. Guests often exclaim as she lays her chin on their proffered foot and leaves it there. And if you’re lying down, beware. She will land on you.
So with the power of google and those friendly looking vets we see on TV, here are some tips I will be trying to ensure my miserable madra, has an easier life:
1) Don’t make a fuss when you leave or return: dogs get anxious when they read the cues that you are about to leave. Don’t say a big goodbye to the dog or go crazy over them when your return. In fact, ignore them for five minutes.
2) Give your dog some puzzles and toys: keep them occupied with bones and other toys while you are away. Kongs apparently are the business. (Stuffed rubber toys, available from pet stores)
3) Teach them to be alone: this will probably be the hardest one for us. Start separating yourself from the dog in the house. When they calmed down after being alone, come back and praise them. You can also try dog training techniques, such as sit, stay etc. In doing this you are proving you are the alpha owner and can come and go as you please. Similar training techniques are ongoing with the fiancé.
Having a loving doggy is not all bad of course. As a childless 30 year old woman, I often mistake my baby sized canine for… well, a baby. This comforts me somewhat. Don’t judge me. Her love is unconditional. And so is mine, for her.