Dogs, it seems, can never get used to you leaving. After a while, they recognize certain cues of yours – walking towards the front door, looking for your keys, locking the bathroom, and so on – that notify them that you’re about to disappear, and the panic begins to set in earlier rather than later.
“Dogs are social animals, so it is difficult to know for sure what they’re thinking when they’re left alone,” the CBWT add. Sadly, as they aren’t great conversationalists, we can’t ask them. It’s just not clear if they think we’ve abandoned them forever, or they’re just incredibly needy creatures. Some may not be fearful but merely bored without you providing them with entertainment.
Just like their owners, some are just better at dealing with stress than others. On the extreme end of the spectrum, dogs can develop separation anxiety and depression if they are left alone long enough without any good coping mechanisms.
The CBWT do suggest, however, that some dog individuals or breeds are better able to cope with stress when they have another dog to share the troublesome experience with – although this very much depends on the idiosyncrasies of the dogs themselves.
Meep. Tatyana Domnicheva/Shutterstock
Would an emotionally rigid dog help a far more anxious one ride out the storm of an owner’s disappearance? Possibly, but it depends on whether the latter dog responds to the calmness of the former.
The team at Battersea pointed out that “in some cases, one dog could learn from another about being anxious in that situation,” so a pairing of dogs could sometimes make things worse. It’s really difficult to tell, unfortunately.
It’s almost certain that their experiences of being left alone when they were very young have a huge influence on how they handle isolation when they’re older.
“All individuals are able to learn during the critical socialization period as a puppy, around 3-14 weeks old, that being left alone is okay,” the CBWT adds.
“This is possible by gradually, and positively, building up the time they are left alone so that each time it’s longer and longer.” When they’re young, don’t suddenly throw them into the deep end, so to speak.
It’s trickier to reign in the habits of older dogs, but a similarly “gradual process of desensitization” could prove effective in the long run. Again, results may vary.