As every responsible dog owner knows, canines can become incredibly distressed if they are left alone for long periods of time.
Metro reports that dogs don’t know the difference between you going to work and you abandoning them, even if this routine has been repeated many times.
As soon as the front door closes, dogs can start howling in dismay that their human companion has disappeared, flop down on their beds (or your bed) in a funk and even start destroying things around the house – soft furnishings are popular – because they feel so anxious.
Dogs are social animals and they need love and companionship, just like humans do. They would naturally live in packs or family units and because they have evolved to live alongside humans, a dog will crave the company of its human owner.
If you dog hasn’t been trained to cope with short periods of separation since they were a puppy, or if you have a naturally anxious rescue dog who needs plenty of attention, they are more likely to experience extreme distress.
Some owners say they wouldn’t even consider getting a dog until they had retired or had a home-based working situation, so they could give their dog all the time they needed. However, if you do work away from home, there might be a product that can help.
The ‘Lickimat’ is an Australian invention, and has caught the attention of dog owners around the world. It’s basically a plastic mat with little ridges, grooves and squares in it, perfect for owners to fill with treats and foods like peanut butter. Dogs will spend between 20 and 90 minutes licking every trace of food out of the mat, and while they’re concentrating on eating, they won’t be getting upset.
Each mat costs a budget-friendly £4.90 (AU$8.95) and the grooved shape of the mats means that dogs spend longer trying to get the food out, rather than just inhaling their biscuits in a couple of minutes.
In the summer, you can freeze the mat and make it into a cooling treat challenge.
Owners Joe and Hazel Clarke have sold more than 160,000 mats in one month and hundreds of social media users are posting pictures of dogs with their mats. Amazon have bought 24,000 Lickimats to sell on their site and are predicting that the tool will become even more popular in the UK.
Lickimats even have a royal fan – Prince Andrew, Duke of York and son of the Queen, has bought several mats for his own dogs.
The maximum estimated time the mat can distract your dog is 90 minutes, so it won’t keep them busy if you’re at work all day, but it could prevent extreme distress in the crucial early periods of your absence.
It’s important to remember that as good as a treat-filled mat can be as a distraction tool for your pup, it’s no substitute for your company.
Symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs
• Your dog will become upset as soon as you leave the house, particularly during the first 15 minutes. Your pup might follow you and try to stop you leaving by barking, whining or howling. It’s common for dogs to scratch at doors or carpets, chew on doorframes or jump up to the window to see if they can follow you. They will exhibit signs of being frightened, including panting, salivating, needing to go to the toilet and an increased heart and breathing rate.
• Then your pup might settle down to chew something that holds your scent to feel close to you and protected. Some dogs curl up in the shredded bits of what they’ve chewed so they can feel safe.
• When you come home, your dog may follow you around the house and seem overexcited to see you.
• If they notice you preparing to leave again, anxiety symptoms will manifest themselves, including pacing, panting, high-pitched whining or scratching.