Sharing your house with a dog - what to consider
Dogs can be a wonderful addition to any home. If you are the person in charge of a dog, you are responsible for how it behaves, not only in public, but also at home. Take steps to make sure interactions with other dogs and people, particularly children, are safe.
Dogs are sociable animals that need, and enjoy, company. So most dogs do not like being left alone and may suffer if left without company, or with nothing to do for long periods of time.
Some dogs become distressed if they are left on their own, even for short periods. The length of time individual dogs can be left alone varies, depending on factors such as age, training, previous experience of being left alone, breed or type, lifestyle and housing conditions.
However, no dog should routinely be left on its own for long periods. If the time alone is excessive, you can expect behavioural problems that are distressing for both you and your dog.
Opportunities to develop social behaviour (socialisation)
If dogs are treated well as puppies, they learn to see people as friends. Learning to get on with people, dogs and other animals is an essential part of social development for a puppy.
Puppies that are deprived of opportunities to develop social behaviour can become withdrawn, anxious and aggressive as adults dogs. However, if a dog has appropriate contact with other dogs early in its life it will be more sociable and this can enhance its quality of life.
The ability to socialise is a perishable skill. Owners who make great efforts to socialise their puppies should be aware that reinforcement of this is essential, particularly for the first two years.
Dogs that have not had opportunities to develop socially, or which have bad experiences involving people or other animals, may be frightened or aggressive in normal social situations.
Dogs which are frightened show characteristic signs such as flattening of the ears and lowering the tail or signs of stress such as excessive panting, licking lips, hiding, cowering or aggression.
The majority of pet dogs would benefit from regular high quality social interaction, as early as possible in their lives. Consideration should be given to attending puppy socialisation activities or classes lead by professionals, and providing continued regular socialisation through attending dog play parks and/or daycare in licensed boarding centres.
Dogs usually get on well with other dogs in the same household, but they may still need time to get to know each other when introduced. However, dogs will need to have their own space and places to get away from other dogs if they want to. Dogs get to know the people they regularly interact with. They can become confused and distressed if the behaviour of those people is inconsistent and unpredictable. It is never acceptable to frighten a dog, or encourage it to behave aggressively by tormenting it.
Appropriate contact, including contact with children
Normal child activity - running, shouting and high-energy play - can be overwhelming for dogs. So it’s really important children learn to be considerate of their four-legged friends and know how to safely spend time with them.
A household can be busy and full of activity. Dogs that have had good socialisation and familiarisation experiences should be able to settle and be happy, together with adults and children, in a busy household.
What you should do:
- make sure your dog has opportunities to spend enough time with people and friendly dogs so that it is less likely to become lonely or bored
- make sure that your dog is never left alone long enough for it to become distressed
- encourage your dog to be friendly towards other dogs and allow it to interact with friendly dogs on a regular basis
- puppies should be given regular opportunities to socialise with other dogs and people - you should always check health issues with your vet before allowing your puppy to mix with other dogs
- if you keep more than one dog, you should keep them together for company if possible -they will need to get on with each other, but will also need space to get away from each other when they want to
- when dogs live together you should provide enough extra resources (for example toys, beds, food and water bowls and places where they feel safe) to stop them from becoming competitive and fighting with each other
- if your dog is fearful of, or aggressive towards other dogs, avoid the situations that lead to this behaviour and seek advice from a vet or suitable qualified dog care specialist
- if social encounters distress or frighten your dog, you should seek professional help from a vet or other suitably qualified dog care specialist
- you should make sure that dogs in your care are handled properly and are not stressed or endangered by other adults, children or animals, including people who look after your dog for you when you are away from home
- you should make sure that children are not left alone with your dog
- be consistent in the way you, your family and friends, react to your dog and do not encourage aggressive or other anti-social behaviour
- when you are away, make sure your dog is properly cared for by a responsible person - when someone else is looking after your dog they also have a legal responsibility to make sure it's well cared for, and you should make sure that they understand its needs and any special requirements that it may have
- never leave your dog unsupervised with another animal or person who may deliberately or accidentally harm or frighten it
Make sure you know what your dog is trying to tell you with its behaviour. Here are some examples:
- if your dog walks away, it might want to have some alone time or some rest
If your dog is doing any of the following, it might need space immediately:
- crouching and growling with ears back and tail under
- becoming tense, leaning forward, placing tail outwards/up, staring, snarling, growling
- rolling onto side or back, tail tucked, ears back, tense, one or both back legs raised
If your dog is doing any of the following, it might be stressed:
- leaning away whilst lip-licking
- yawning (unrelated to tiredness), leaning away
- ears back, lip-licking (unrelated to expectation of food)
- pausing with ears back, tail lowered, paw lifted
- leaning back with tail tucked, ears back
- lowered body posture, tail tucked
- approaching with low, wagging tail and ears back
- teeth exposed in ‘smile’ shape, ears back, eyes squinted/ shut tightly
- panting, pacing