The following is not a blatant advertisement for my dog-walking services. Honest.
A study this week has revealed that thousands of dogs (and cats) in the UK are now being prescribed anti-depressants by vets because of anxiety disorders.
The chief problem is one of separation – dogs are by nature social animals and many of them are left home alone for hours while their owners are at work.
Howling, chewing (of furniture and even their own paws), loss of appetite and nuisance barking are just some of the manifestations of this anxiety.
The problems can start in puppyhood but also commonly develops in older animals.
There’s no easy solution, though turning to anti-depressants does seem extreme – and I say this as someone who had a dog who suffered such trauma during firework season that he was prescribed diazepam annually.
I also know at first hand about how deep separation anxiety can go – the reason Alfie came to live with us is that his separation anxiety started when he was just 14 or so weeks old and he destroyed his living space so effectively that his poor owner was driven to distraction.
Four years on, he still cannot bear to be left alone, though thankfully he no longer rips apart everything within reach. However, his heartfelt howling is something to hear as he tries to reunite his pack!
In one way, it helps that he spends his day with me. In another, it’s a pain in the proverbial because when I do need to be away from him, it’s a bloody palaver (thank you, lovely Sue next-door and aunties Liz and Cath for your Alfie-sitting duties!).
Most dog owners have to spend time away from their pet, that’s life. When I was a kid, the neighbourhood dogs left the house with their owners in the morning, going off to wander with their furry pals while the family went to school/work.
Muttley would return in the evening, hungry and tired from a day of adventures – usually impregnating unsuspecting bitches (neutering didn’t seem to be big in that era!).
Thankfully those days are long gone – anyone who ever had to run the gauntlet of a ragtag pack of dogs in a 70s housing scheme will join me in rejoicing in that fact.
But the truth remains that a happy dog is a well-exercised dog.
As little as half an hour of quality off-the-lead play and running daily can transform an anxious dog’s life.
I meet cranky dogs and owners at the end of their tether all the time – and I also see the difference in temperament and behaviour that a regular jaunt out does for both.
Not every dog likes to walk in a group or can be trusted around other dogs, but most absolutely love it, and their unbridled joy when the van doors are flung open and they are set free is one of the things I love most about this gig.
So to anyone concerned about leaving a dog home alone, I have one piece of advice – make sure your dog gets a decent walk every single day.
And if that means calling someone like me … well, it’s a dirty job but someone has to do it.