Divorce is a sad fact of life. These human problems can cause stress to dogs. A dog is a social animal bonded to a family routine and a way of life, that relies on us for their mental, physical and emotional welfare.
Dogs of course are frequently denied consideration when it comes to difficulties in relationships. When couples shout and argue with each other this will indeed affect the dog ( and also the cat). Our blacker mood’s and tantrums will have an adverse effect on our pet dog. Nervous behaviour is often caused by the owners actions.
Whenever I Am called to a home where owners have a howling, barking, destructive, digging house soiling or one showing symptoms of an anxiety related behaviour, where it is apparent that the dog has an inability to cope with life, I always ask if there has been a death, separation or indeed a divorce which could have triggered the problems as this behaviour is a typical expressions of canine anxiety.
Another extreme behaviour pattern I Have observed is dogs going to the bottom of the garden, and staying close to walls which is often seen when a dogs instinct tells it that it is dying. In the wild dogs leave their packs and go away to die. I always ask the owner of the house if there are any known medical problem, if none are known and a separation has taken place then these behaviour patterns must be considered as an expression of extreme canine anxiety.
CREATURES OF HABIT
Dogs are creatures of habit and function to our timetable – wake-up time, meal time, bedtime, playtime, etc. Some dogs find it harder to accept a change of routine than others and especially hard for the older dog, who more often than not will go rapidly downhill when faced with the upheaval that accompanies divorce.
Our pet dog is a social animal, and a silent watcher, who is able to pick up our vibrations, any change in its schedule or environment or change in atmosphere caused by arguments within the family.
Perhaps a member of the family may march out in a huff, slamming doors.
This will cause stress to the pet dog. The dog hears all the shouting and human aggression, and this can be frightening to it. Some owners will even put their dog outside the room when they argue. Now the dog sees this a form of punishment.
Of course, the dog in the household can have a positive influence on what is going on. It is known that divorce can cause behavioural changes in a child, from bursts of angry rebellion to periods of deep brooding silence.
Dogs play a beneficial role, since a child can make the dog his very best friend and confident to be hugged, cried with, and told any secret, knowing his best friend will neither pass judgement nor tell anyone.
When a couple separate or divorce, I Always advise that the best solution is to keep the children and dog (or dogs) together. Divorce is traumatic enough but dogs can, in fact, play a very important roll to cope with, and express, his or her feelings. The other alternative, that of sharing a dog between two households, rarely works, since this causes stress to
the couple, the child and the dog. However, as couples have usually provided, trained and loved the dog together, it is their responsibility to decide what is best for it now.
I was once called to the home of a very nice lady who informed me that her German Shepherd dog, Rex, had started howling and pacing. I asked the usual questions to find that she had recently separated from her husband but they had agreed he could visit their dog every Sunday to take him to his regular agility class. Not being a marriage counsellor I found that I was placed in the position whereby I thought it would be in the interest of Rex to arrange to meet both the lady and her ex husband together! Meeting them was not only a strain for them but also for me.