If you were to ask someone from the 1700’s if a dog could feel loneliness, you might have been met with a scoff or laugh. Woofers were not considered thinking creatures back then, as they were thought to be incapable of feeling such a human emotion.
Well, dogs are finally having their day with studies showcasing their innate ability to feel sadness, happiness, and even love. Experts have been sussing out the canine mind and have come to the conclusions that dogs can feel loneliness. Yes a furry, floppy eared Afghan hound can at times feel deserted by their human buddies and wish they were there.
Signs a Dog is Feeling Lonely
Since the time they were wolves hanging out with their moms, dads, and siblings, our dogs have walked the earth in a pack, or by the side of a person. To understand how they negotiate time on their own, you only have to think of a toddler and how they would react if mom shut the front door and left for the day.
Dogs are thought to have the thinking power of a 2-3-year-old, so when that same door shuts on a pooch, their youthful brain may see it as abandonment and start acting out. Feeling stressed, your Boston Terrier might start terrorizing the home. They call this "separation anxiety" and dogs can get really messed up when their pet mom or dad has left them to go to work. Loneliness kicks in and instead of enjoying some personal space or time away from the humans, your pupper unleashes a frenzy of rejected behavior on your curtains, sofa pillows or bedding.
This forlorn woofer can bark and whine all day, causing plenty of neighborly knocks at the door, as your Terrier jumps up and down, thinking their owner has forgotten the house keys. While you were away, this chaotic Terrier has been digging at the new hardwood floors and trying to take off the new paint in the bathroom.
Once you get home, your heart sinks at the mess and you wonder where your little Terrier is. You find them in the bathroom whimpering, their sad eyes reflecting their time alone.
Our pet-kids love company and feel secure when we are around. Shelter dogs that have been exposed to a life of misery or neglect are top candidates for feeling separation anxiety, as they come with baggage that needs doggy therapy.
You might have noticed your rescue Labrador looks worried when you get ready to go to the mall. If they could speak, they might say “please don’t go - take me with you,” as our wonderful woofers can’t get enough of our time. As you say goodbye, their tail drops low between their back legs and they pant with their tongue hanging out, ready to bark in protest.
- Tail tucking
- Tongue hanging
- Destructive behaviour
- Jumping up up at the door
- Causing problems with neighbors
- Having a panic attack
History of Dogs Feeling Lonely
The life of a wolf is supremely social as they roam in packs with the custodian Alpha mom and dad keeping a close eye on their wolfy-kids. Step into the life of their doggy descendants and you’ll see a similar structure with human guardians and wolf-like pet-kids, strolling around a suburban home.
The super fast evolution of wolf to family-friend has intrigued experts who need to know how a cute little pug cam from a fierce-looking wolf. Genetics provide the proof and although the Siberian Husky and Samoyed have the distinct wolf look - Japanese Chins and Chihuahua's, inspire us to think the mother ship landed and left behind a few cousins of E.T!
Massive interbreeding has given us a variety of dog breeds which seem far removed from the grey wolf - believed to have fathered domestic dogs. One thing our woofers have in common with their forefathers is a social nature that prefers company. Dogs are possibly the only animal on the planet fully infused into human life. We’ve pulled them close and made them an official family member.
Wolves are also a family affair, although a lone wolf can live an autonomous life if they have left or been kicked out of the pack. An older, alpha male might lose out to a younger rival or the young wolf trying to make his mark is ostracized from the pack.
Loukavar Blog points out that most lone wolves have short lives as this is not the norm for this gregarious creature. With no territory of their own and having to hunt without the support of the pack, many don't survive. Perhaps we could liken the lone wolf to the Mastiff left home alone for too long. Ironically, people living alone have expressed bringing a dog into their life repressed all feelings of loneliness. Perhaps it is the pack mentality of both dogs and people that make this union so successful.
The Daily Mail featured a tear-jerker story of a stray dog sleeping on a teddy bear for comfort. This is the plight of so many discarded dogs. Like the lone wolf, no longer part of their pack, a street dog faces a lonely life.
Dogs share a need for companionship with just about every animal on the planet including elephants, monkeys, orcas, lions, dolphins that all enjoy, enduring family ties.
The Science of Dog Loneliness
The investigative women and men of science are checking out how dogs relate to loneliness and the results are unexpected. The Independent, UK tells how an animal welfare lecturer put pup-arazzi cameras in the homes of dogs left alone and found they were lonely and bored. Studies show animals kept in this kind of environment ultimately lose brain function. If you have to work, now might be time to consider getting a play pal for your lonely dog.
Leaving your pooch for hours on end at least five working days a week is going to be tough, even for easy going mutts. In their child-like mind, the humans have left and now the normally busy, happy home feels desolate and empty.
The Daily Mail featured a story about what pets get up to when you’re not at home. It seems our woofers can’t relax. They whine, howl, and can get into all kinds of mischief - depending on the dog and how they deal with separation.
A pet scientist at the RSPCA explains the triggers that set the dog up for anxiety are the rustling of keys and you putting on your coat as you prepare for work. This sets a frenzy in motion as a pup realizes soon they will be alone.
Training Tips For Lonely Dogs
How do you help a lonely pooch feel good about being left alone?
If finances permit, doggy daycare is a stylish idea where your pooch gets to interact with other dogs while you are away. You could get a dog sitter to babysit your fur-baby or enlist the services of a dog walker to take them out.
The wide range of puzzle and treat toys can give a restless pup plenty to do as they try to figure out how to get that mouth-watering morsel out of the weird object. Being aware that boredom can be detrimental to the canine mind, these thinking toys are perfect for keeping them occupied.
International dog trainer, Victoria Stilwell, recommends leaving your dog in a space where they can see outside and to work on the triggers that get your dog all hyped up. She also suggests getting your pup to sit or lie down while you go into another room and shut the door. Repeat this exercise until your dog feels comfortable about the separation. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but many a home has been torn apart by a super-lonely woofer while their owner was at the mall.
Work on the cues your dog takes as the lead up to you going out. Your Rottweiler knows that putting on make-up means their pet mom will soon be leaving and the sound of the hairdryer is a dead cert she’s meeting friends at the local café.
Leave a t-shirt that has your scent on it in their pet bed. It’s been proven that dogs are attached to their owners, with a study at the Emory University where pooches were willingly put through an MRI scanner, to see how much they care. When the scent of their guardian was offered, the reward areas in their brain lit up like the 4th of July.
Another pet soother is to turn on the television or have music playing. Try putting drops of calming (eucalyptus, lavender) oils on their pet-bed. If your pup suffers from phobias or former life issues, talk to your vet or a trainer, sympathetic to dogs with extreme separation anxiety.
Safety Tips for Lonely Dogs:
Give your pooch plenty of treat-games and toys to keep them occupied.
Play music or leave the TV on.
Have a dog-walker take them out.
Check your home is pooch-proof.
Read great articles about dogs feeling loneliness.
Get advice from your vet.
Talk to a dog trainer.