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 , 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 behavioral 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 judgment 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 counselor 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.
They both loved the dog and they both wanted him. As we could not ask the dog whom it would rather live with. I could see that a battle "Royal" was about to develop. It took me a couple of hours to explain the "Pack" had split and that Rex could not cope with the separation. In this particular case I managed to convince the lady, who was at work all day, that the dog would be more settled with her ex husband since he worked from his new home, and maybe she should consider another pet, possibly a cat.
I have found that when couples split and that one leaves the family, particularly the one that the dog regards as "Alpha" then the consequences can be serious. In another of my cases, the husband, Tony, left his wife and within a week their dog, a Doberman, had attacked Tony's wife so severely that she had to spend three days in hospital to recover from bites to her leg and arm, received after trying to send the dog to bed ! The dog is now with Tony and perfectly well behaved.
At another house that I was called to, a very nice lady explained that she had recently "lost" one of her dogs and since then her three year old Jack Russell was house soiling. It turned out that when her husband had split with her they had decided to take one dog each. After some further questions I learned that her ex husbands dog was also soiling and being destructive. So, now we had two dogs that were brought up together, very attached, trained and fed together, and suddenly separated and both unable to cope with their lives.
After some discussion both the ex husband and ex wife agreed that the dogs should be kept together. All the soiling and howling ceased. Although this ended up in the favour of the dogs, I have also known couples that have separated and would not give up their pet. In these cases one can only advise them that they can expect the related behavioural problems associated with separation.
On yet another occasion I was called to attend a six year old male Yorkshire Terrier, Bobby, who had always been a good pet with a good nature. For no apparent reason Bobby was now showing severe aggression, and marking in the home. When I first took the telephone call I immediately put this down to nt behaviour. However after a further conversation with Helen I was told that she had just divorced her husband, James, and to be fair to Bobby, James was allowed to visit Bobby on weekends to take him out for half a day.
I have heard of visiting rights for children but this was the first for me to learn of visiting rights for a dog! The husband, who I eventually met was a nt person and as far as "Yorkshire Bobby" was concerned was the Alpha of the pack. This little Bobby was not aware of the divorce, he only knew that his "Alpha James" came for him and that he enjoyed himself. The problem was that Bobby did not consider Helen as a superior "animal" and was indeed correcting her, with aggression, and calling (howling) for his Alpha. After many hours I was able to convince Helen that matters would deteriorate and that in Helen and Bobby's best interest, the dog should go to live with James, with Helen visiting Bobby at weekends.
MAKING NEW FRIENDS
Of course, separated or divorced people who have pets can encounter problems when they meet a new partner. I have one particular client Rosalind, with a Maltese called Max, who will not accept her new live in partner. Little Max has always slept on Rosalind's bed and been given every attention. Now an "intruder" has arrived and is sleeping on Max.'s bed. In this case I recommended that Max be fed by her new partner and also that he should gradually, over the period of a few weeks be removed from the bed and placed outside the bedroom. Whilst writing this article I enquired as to Max.'s progress and was told that he is "just about getting used to his new friend"!
Another couple Enid and Barry, needed some help and ideas as to why a one year old, neutered, male Airedale and an eighteen month old female spayed Labrador were unable to get along. The dogs had been together without any problems whilst the couple were engaged but now they were married and living together the dogs had started to fight, both indoors and outdoors. I explained to Barry and Enid that whilst they were not living together and were visiting each others homes (territory) most probably a few silent growls went unnoticed. Now moving into one home, that of the Airedale, he was not going to be put out of place, I could detect many root causes to their problems and I found that jealousy was paramount, and that both Enid and Barry were each showing more love to "their own" pet, and that their current arguments could, in future, lead to divorce!
In cases like this there is no set formula, other than to cool off the relationship by not allowing the dogs the freedom of the house, keeping them away from the bedrooms, or from furniture and most certainly never feeding them from the table. I recommended that the dogs should be fed separately and that no toys be left lying around on the floor as this could cause a fracas, and certainly not to allow any bones or chews in the home. It is important in cases like this to make certain that pets do not have possession to fight over.
It is also important in cases of jealousy that owners of both cats and dogs quickly learn that it is "their" presence that can trigger off a fight. To simply stroke or touch a dog or cat is sufficient to infect that pet with enough of your scent to cause a fight. I also put much emphasis on the fact that when dogs growl or indeed when cats hiss they should be never be corrected, whatever the circumstances. The animal must learn very quickly that this verbal display will cause owners to walk away and ignore them. Any verbal correction on the part of owners can cause more problems. Our voices actually encourages more aggression.
Back to the subject of Divorce itself. Certainly, as far as our dog is concerned, we are a pack and a fracas within our human pack, or a member leaving, will disturb a dog. So if your human relationship is going through a shaky period, or worse, remember that our pet dogs are unable to ask questions or understand what is going on, and that our personal problems can be a direct cause of behavioural problems in our canine friends.
Commitment, Firmness, but kindness.
Divorce- Will Your Dog Come Off Worse?
by David the Dogman
David is a Canine Behaviourist who works and lives in Marbella, Spain. Tel/Fax (00345) 2883388. His web site is located at: www.thedogman.net. David has his own radio and TV shows, and writes for many newspapers and magazines. David has been working with dogs for many years and started his career in Israel, working on the Border Police. He has been involved in all forms of training, including air sea rescue, air scent work, and has trained dogs for finding drugs. David has devoted the past 10 years to studying behaviour and the very passive approach. He does not use choke chains, check chains, or any form of aggression.