Dogs, the concept of time and separation anxiety

Does your dog seem to know when it’s time to go for walkies? Is his face pressed against the window waiting for you to come home from work each day? Turns out our four legged friends actually have a pretty accurate sense of time. 

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Can dogs understand the concept of time?

Humans use something called episodic memory to perceive time. It’s essentially a conscious recollection of previous experiences in the context of time, place, associated emotions. While dogs don’t have that ability, they do have what’s known as a circadian rhythm.

Our friends over at Purina define circadian rhythms as “the physical, mental and behavioural changes that follow a 24 hour cycle, responding to light and dark in the animal’s environment”. Animals and humans both have these; it’s more commonly referred to as a body clock. 

And considering most dogs are pretty intelligent, they’re more than capable of being taught to anticipate future events based on past experiences.

 


How does this relate to my dog’s separation anxiety?

Not only do dogs become attuned to their environment; there is research which suggests dogs have an understanding of the passing of time. Studies show a positive correlation between the length of time a dog is left by their owner and the amount of affection they show upon being reunited.

For dogs that suffer from separation anxiety, the difference between one and five hours can mean the difference between mild agitation and a massive panic attack. Separation anxiety in dogs is often expressed as barking, howling, whining, chewing digging, pacing, scratching, and/or urinating and defecating in inappropriate places while an owner is away or upon his or her return.

 

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How can I reduce my dog’s separation anxiety?

It’s sometimes unavoidable to leave your dog on its own. There are several ways to help your pooch cope with separation anxiety:

  1. Always leave behind a piece of recently worn clothing, as your scent is likely to have a calming effect on your pet.
  2. Keep them distracted by leaving a few of their favourite toys around.
  3. Arrange for a friend, neighbour or dog walker to drop in on them while you’re out and about.
  4. If your dog has extreme anxiety, getting another pet can be a good, but relatively expensive solution!

If your pup is really struggling, it’s best to call in a behavioural expert who will certainly be able to help. 


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