Many of us are now back at work after months of Covid-19 lockdown. You might be concerned that your dog is alone at home. 

A new study shows that even though you may be tempted to get another dog to keep your dog company at all costs, this could actually cause more harm than good.   

Academics in Switzerland fitted dog-owning homes with cameras to monitor canine behaviour when their owners were away.

They found that barking – an indicator of separation anxiety – was more common in multi-dog households compared to single-dog households.

Physical activity – another potential indicator that can lead to destructive behaviour – was also higher in multi-dog households, primarily in the first hour of separation. 

Dogs with separation anxiety can bark, howl, dig and scratch, disruptive chewing and urination/defecation even if they are house-trained.  

Separation anxiety is the feeling of panic when an animal is separated from a family member. Signs of separation anxiety in dogs include barking, howling, digging and scratching, disruptive chewing and urination or defecation - even in house-trained dogs

Separation anxiety refers to panic that an animal feels when it is separated from its family member. Dogs with separation anxiety may exhibit signs such as barking and howling, digging and scratching and disruptive chewing. This is even true for house-trained dogs.


Separation anxiety is triggered when dogs become upset because of separation from their guardians, the people they’re attached to. 

Dogs suffering from separation anxiety often attempt to escape. This can cause self-injury and household destruction. 

Dr Joanna Woodnutt, a veterinarian specialist, says that separation anxiety is the feeling of panic that an animal has when it is separated from an important resource – usually a member of the family. 

“It was an evolutionary advantage for dogs to be able to stick together in a group or pack, so fear of being alone was useful to the canine ancestral. Modern-day dogs need to be relaxed when they are left alone for a short time.

“This is not always the case. Signs of separation anxiety are howling, whining, and panicking when you leave your house. Bad cases may result in your dog pacing backwards and forth and destructive behaviour like chewing.

Source: ASPCA 

The new study has been led by researchers at the Academy for Animal Naturopathy in Dürnten, Switzerland. 

According to them, many dogs are left home alone for hours every day by their owners. This is a common problem in dog-keeping.

Due to excessive vocalisations, destructive behavior and the soiled house of dogs left alone, veterinarians and behaviourists are often consulted.

“These observations are thought by most to be symptoms of a disorder, which most authors refers to as separation anxiety.

“Dogs living in single-dog situations show more resting and less vocalizations, so we cannot support the idea that familiar conspecifics might help with separation stress. 

Researchers videotaped 32 dogs in single dog households and 45 dogs left alone in multi-dog households. 

Before leaving their dog or dogs alone, owners were instructed to align the cameras at the locations where they would most likely stay during separation (like the sofa and the exit-door). 

Regardless of how much time they spend alone at home, most dogs displayed low vocal and physical activity.

Dogs were seen doing minor activities for 22 percent of the filming time. This included lying on their backs, standing, or sitting.

They were only able to do activities like running or walking for 1.9 percent of the time. 

But there was no destructive behaviour – like ripping furniture – on show, nor soiling, and lengthy vocal activity was ‘very rare’. 

However, there were notable differences between the single-dog and multidog conditions.

Physical activity was higher among multi-dog households, particularly in the first hour of separation.  

Gerrit Stephan, lead author of the study, told New Scientist that there was more separation-related behavior in multi-dog households. 

Escape attempts by dogs with separation anxiety are often extreme and can result in self-injury and household destruction, especially around exit points like windows and doors (stock image)

Dogs with separation anxiety often attempt to escape. This can lead to self-injury or household destruction, especially around exit points like doors and windows.


Dogs that were adopted as puppies after March 2020, when Covid lockdown in the UK began, have only ever known what a family is like.

Separation anxiety can be caused by sudden changes in owners’ commutes to the office.

‘This could come as a shock and lead to more stressed out pets and behaviour issues if the signs aren’t spotted early and handled correctly,’ said Claire Haynes, animal behaviourist at Blue Cross.

“In the most serious cases, stress can lead to unwelcome behaviours such as aggression or health problems.”     

Stephan admitted that dogs may benefit from canine company if they are separated from their human attachment figures in certain cases.

He said that the study does not support the common belief that dogs can be ‘not that alone’ when they live with other dogs of the same breed. 

‘It’s a common misconception – and often given as poor advice – that a dog with separation-related anxiety will fare better and show fewer stress responses if another dog is added to the household,’ added Natalie Waran at Eastern Institute of Technology in New Zealand, who wasn’t involved in the study. 

“This doesn’t address the underlying cause of separation anxiety in the dog and can often lead to anxious or excitable behavior in the other dog.

“The key is to understand the root causes of problem behavior to be able treat or manage them effectively.”  

The research team also investigated the effects of sex and neuter status – factors that are thought to have an influence on the onset of separation anxiety.  

After comparing vocal activity between the sexes, we found that male dogs in multi-dog households were more vocal. 

Another difference was that male dogs were more likely stay at the exit door. 

This behaviour decreased in females when the owner was not home, while it increased in male dogs. There were no significant effects of neuter status.

According to the study authors, further research is needed in order to determine if dogs of similar breeds can be separated from their owners.

‘Our data suggest rather the opposite,’ they conclude in their paper, published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science.         


The Queen’s corgi trainer claimed that dogs will experience severe separation anxiety when lockdown is lifted after their owners have become accustomed to having them at home.

Dr Roger Mugford is an animal psychologist who was used by the royals. He advised that owners start preparing their pets to return to their normal routines to avoid any problems.

The specialist from Chertsey in Surrey told The Times that dogs can become ‘huge reservoirs’ of over-dependency while they are working from home. This could lead to them suffering later.

Dogs can chew the house if left alone. They can also annoy neighbours by barking, urinating and sometimes even self-harming. 

He said, “Put a camera on your dog and it will show howling, pacing, and other distress signs.”

He advises owners to take 30 minutes breaks from their pets at least once a day to allow them to be alone after the lockdown ends.

The coronavirus pandemic has caused anxiety in humans to rise. It has claimed more than 16,000 lives in Britain and infected over 125,000 people.

Dr Mugford explained that many people have relied on their pets to provide emotional support.    

He stated that pets will experience a ‘huge shock’ when the lockdown is lifted and that they need to be trained in short sessions. 

The trainer has been a support to the royal family for many years and was instrumental in training Princess Anne’s dog Dotty in 2002 after it bit two children at Windsor Great Park.

He also visited Windsor Castle, where he assisted the Queen in controlling her corgis (Corgis-corgi crosses) and dorgis.    

Dr Mugford also trains the dogs of celebrities, rockstars and stars. He was called in when the monarch had eight to nine dogs and there were ‘quite dangerous’ fighting between them. 

The trainer helped to solve that particular issue, but said the Queen is an ‘amazing dog owner and trainer’, adding that she could have easily done his job in her younger days.

He said, “She is very methodical and uses rule-based processes.”