More than 80% of pandemic pup owners are worried about leaving their dogs home alone. Leaving the TV, radio and lights on are the most common techniques used by owners to comfort their dogs when they are left alone.
The research, by smart lighting brand 4lite, discovered that nearly half of dog owners (44%) bought a new dog during the pandemic with a quarter (26%) becoming dog owners for the first time. However, those who took advantage of the pandemic to welcome their first dog are struggling more to adapt to leaving their pups home alone. 82% of first-time dog owners say they are concerned or worried about leaving their pet at home when they go out, compared to 66% of all dog owners. And 83% of first-timers believe lockdown has made it harder for their dog to be left home alone, compared to 60% overall.
When it comes to techniques to help their pups when they are left home alone, more than a third of total dog owners (34%) leave the light on, nearly 40% leave the TV or radio on, and 14% put the heating on to make them more comfortable. Just under one in five (17%) report using a smart device to monitor or talk to their pet while other tactics include hiring a dog walker, asking a friend or neighbour to visit, and using dog sitters or day care. Nearly one in 10 dog owners (9%) have sought extra training, 4% have made alterations to their home while one in 100 report having to medicate their dog.
A hefty three-quarters of dog owners (75%) went on to say their dog exhibits negative behaviours when they are left home alone; but this rises to 91% among first-time dog owners. This includes whining (50%), barking or howling (25%), pacing (17%) and appearing sad or dejected (24%). More extreme behaviours include dogs destroying items in the home (14%), urinating or soiling (11%), producing excess saliva (6%) and vomiting (5%). Worryingly, nearly one in 30 first-time dog owners (3.4%) report their dogs self-mutilate.
Leaving the lights on…
Experts believe the pandemic has disrupted usual home habits with dogs even inadvertently being conditioned to be scared of the dark. By associating darkness to absence of their owner, the dark can become a trigger for anxiety. As a result, 4lite has experienced more demand for smart lights being used for pets as they can be automatically scheduled to switch on at set times, for example when the sun sets, or by motion, as well as offering adjustable lighting levels and hues.
Kate Baker, lighting and wellness advisor at 4lite, commented, “With the nation spending more time at home, the pandemic created the perfect opportunity for people to bring home a pup. However, the consequence has seen pets get so used to constant company that when people do have to return to work, it’s a new experience which can cause problems. Alongside the right behavioural training, smart lights can work for owners who don’t want their dog to be home alone in the dark without needing to waste energy by leaving their lights on all day.”
To coincide with the launch of the new research, 4lite partnered with clinical animal behaviourist and trainer Hanne Grice, founder of Hanne Grice Pet Training & Behaviour, to provide some top tips for owners when leaving their dog home.
- Act now
Isolation distress is a common issue as dogs are social creatures. Never just leave your dog without training and expect them to deal with it; learning this behaviour takes time, patience and consistency. As many are working from home at the moment, now is the time to start this in advance of returning to the office.
- Planned departure training
Encourage your dog to settle in their bed while you work from home. Initially you might need to put their bed by your feet but gradually move it further away and reward them for staying in it. Eventually, the bed can be positioned the other side of a baby gate and then a closed door.
Your dog will learn your routine whether it’s picking up keys or putting on your coat. Moving these trigger objects regularly will help break the association between your departure cues and their fear. Repetition and consistency are key.
- Gesture leaving
Spend time in another room or outside away from your dog for very short periods of time, videoing to check whether they settle. If they can’t, you’ll need to help them get used to you disappearing for just a few seconds and build this time up very slowly over weeks and months. Rushing this process can create setbacks.
- Alone time
Help your dog get used to not being your constant shadow by using a baby gate and shutting this momentarily if you get up to make a cuppa or leave the room, enabling them to build confidence.
If your curtains are closed or the room gets dark before you get home, consider lighting which can be calming for dogs particularly if they’ve associated the dark with your absence and become anxious. Lights spontaneously turning on brightly could trigger a startle response so consider a lighting schedule that mimics your dog’s circadian rhythm and brighten slowly. Keep it natural with soft daylight hues by day, transitioning to warmer hues in the evening. Dim light is best and helps promotes relaxation.
- Be mindful
Most modern lighting fluctuates or flickers but avoid lights with a high-frequency or intensity flicker which can have a detrimental effect on pets. Try not to cast shadows or reflections on surfaces. These could elicit unwanted behaviours such as fear or shadow chasing, which may be more prevalent in particular breeds such as Border Collies and Spaniels.
If you can, aim to leave your dog on their own every day, even if it’s just for 10 minutes and even if your dog has always tolerated being home alone. You can place an old t-shirt you’ve worn into your dog’s bed and try giving them a toy filled with treats they have to work at to get into, enabling you to slip out quietly. Music or television can be comforting if they’re used to constant noise. Try closing the curtains to reduce visual stimulation – if you do this, you may want to turn on dim lighting.
- Getting it right
There isn’t a quick fix to leaving your dog alone. Treat these tips as little nuggets which can all help but be aware of other factors that can contribute to distress when left, including any medical issues or learned associations you’ll need to overcome and you may need to seek individual guidance from a certified behaviourist. Starting the learning process early is essential as prevention is always better than cure.
|Techniques while out of the home||All dog owners||First-time dog owners|
|Leaving the TV / radio on||39%||36%|
|Leaving a light on||34%||31%|
|Use a smart device||17%||27%|
|Come home during the day||16%||14%|
|Working from home more||15%||14%|
|Friend / neighbour visits||14%||16%|
|Putting the heating on||14%||12%|
|Hire a dog walker||8%||7%|
|Put up stair gates / baby gates / pen||7%||9%|
|Put them in a dog box / kennel||6%||6%|
|Changed working hours||6%||8%|
|Taking shifts to mind the dog||5%||5%|
|Prepared games in advance||4%||6%|
|Send to dog sitter / doggy day care||4%||5%|
|Making alterations to home||4%||5%|
|Sought professional behaviour advice||4%||6%|
|Bought a 2nd pet for company||4%||2%|
|Take them to work||3%||3%|
For more information on seeking help from certified and assessed practitioners, visit the Animal Behaviour & Training Council
Before discovering 4lite’s smart lighting, Beth Robinson and partner Aiden Jordan would leave their lights on all day whenever they had to leave their dog home alone.
The pair became dog owners during the pandemic, adopting seven-year-old Arlo on Boxing Day 2020 from a charity sanctuary. Arlo, a Labrador-hound cross, was rescued from Spain where he had living in a shelter for over a year. While his past is unknown, he bears scars to his face and a slit in his ear, suggesting he could have been used for hunting.
Beth said, “I’ve always had dogs growing up and we talked about adopting to give a dog a better life than they’d otherwise have. As soon as we saw Arlo, we just loved him. The silver lining of the pandemic was that we worked from home and didn’t have to go into the office as much. He did settle in well but, as he has no back story, we’re unsure what he’s been exposed to and were nervous about having to leave him when I went back to work in London, which is quite a long commute.
“The first time we left Arlo, my parents went over to walk him at lunchtime and he rushed over to them and was very excitable, so we think he might have been unsettled throughout the day. I’d heard that leaving the light on may make dogs feel more comfortable so we thought we’d give that a try and got a camera so we could check in on him. We also closed the living room curtains so he didn’t get distracted by people walking by and he has free reign of the house. It definitely made a difference and now he’s in the routine, he relaxes a lot more.
“Of course, leaving three lights on all day does lead to higher energy bills, so I was interested in smart lighting. Now we can turn the lights on and off when we need to.”