The Secret Life of Pets hit UK cinemas on Friday (8 July) and tells the tail of Max and his animal friends when their owners aren’t about.
The RSPCA is using the family film to raise awareness of the number of dogs being left alone on a daily basis in England and Wales, and is issuing advice to animal owners on how to help their pets if they think they have separation anxiety.
The RSPCA believes the number of dogs being left alone is increasing due to modern-day lifestyles and a misconception that it is okay to leave them alone all day.
Most dogs like human company and form strong bonds with their owners and other family members so can find it difficult being left alone, especially if they haven’t been taught that it is okay.
Separation related behaviour – most commonly destructive behaviour (often targeted at the door the owner has left through); howling, barking or whining; or defecating and urinating – normally starts within the first 30 minutes of being alone and usually begins almost right away. Dogs can also show more subtle signs of being stressed or unsettled such as salivating excessively, vomiting, self-mutilating or acting in a repetitive way.
Research carried out for the Channel Four’s Dogs: Their Secret Lives found that 85% of the dogs studied showed signs of not coping when left alone. In the UK, where there are thought to be 8.5m pet dogs, that’s more than 7m dogs suffering from stress and anxiety.
“Separation related behaviour and anxiety has the potential to be a significant welfare problem,” Dr Samantha Gaines, RSPCA dog welfare expert, says.
“It is a hidden issue as, by its very nature, it only happens when the owner is absent and unless the dogs is filmed when left alone, it can be difficult to know if your dog is struggling.”
If you are unsure as to what your dog does when on his or her own then filming them can help reassure you that he or she is ok. If they are not then we would encourage owners to seek treatment.
This behaviour is treatable so, if your dog is showing these signs, the RSPCA advises you to speak to a vet or a clinical animal behaviourist.
It is also preventable, and there is lots of information available on the RSPCA website for new owners including a step-by-step guide to teach your dog that it’s all right to be alone.
Some tips for leaving your dog alone include exercising and feeding your dog before you go out, and leaving something to keep him busy so he doesn’t get bored; puzzle toys and feeding devices can be great entertainment. It’s also important to remember not to punish your dog if he has been to the toilet or been destructive while you are out as it could damage your relationship or make him even more anxious.
In the film, dachshund Buddy climbs up onto the kitchen counter and treats himself to a massage from the kitchen mixer while his owners are out. And cat Chloe breaks into the fridge to find her own treats as soon as the door is closed. But some real-life examples of separation-related behaviour are much more worrying