One common piece of advice to help dogs be comfortable at home alone is to leave the TV or radio on for your dog when you leave the house.
In this article, we will be exploring if there is evidence that leaving the TV or radio on is helpful for your dog, as well as some additional ways to make your dog feel comfortable and relaxed when you have to leave them home alone.
Does the sound of the TV or radio help a dog relax?
There is some evidence that certain types of sounds can help dogs relax and settle down when they are alone. Many of these studies have been performed on dogs in a shelter or kennel environment, where the amount of time a dog spends barking, pacing, or at the front or back of their kennel is measured.
A study by Wells, Graham, and Hepper found that of the 5 different types of sounds they studied (human conversation, classical music, heavy metal music, pop music, and a control), dogs tended to relax more in the presence of classical music, and bark more when heavy metal music was played.
This study, and several other similar studies, demonstrate that there is a potential positive benefit for leaving on the TV or radio for your pet, especially if it plays relaxing classical music sounds rather than heavy metal.
In addition, leaving music playing when you leave can help your dog by masking other sounds. Sometimes, when the house is too quiet, every small noise can trigger your dog to bark or become anxious.
If you leave the TV or radio on when you leave, this background noise can cover up other sounds so your dog is more comfortable and less hyper focused on the other sounds in their environment.
Is the movement on the TV better than just the sounds from the radio?
Not all dogs watch the TV screen, but for dogs that do, they may enjoy the additional distraction. If your dog doesn’t usually watch the TV screen when you are enjoying a show or movie, your dog isn’t likely to pay any additional attention to the TV when you are gone.
However, if your dog frequently sees something on the TV screen that interests them, and you notice them watching along with you, they may very likely watch TV when you are gone as well.
When deciding what channel to leave on for your dog, consider the sounds that will be played on the TV as well as the image itself. Since we know from studies on music that classical music relaxes dogs, while hard rock music often agitates them, you’ll want to pick a show with calmer sounds.
Dogs are red-green color blind, and only see shades of gray, blue, and yellow. This is another important consideration when determining which channel might be best for your dog. There are some companies, such as DOGTV, making channels geared specifically towards dogs with the sounds and colors ideal for them in mind.
Leaving the TV or radio on isn’t helping my dog, what else can I do?
Not all dogs will benefit from the sight or sound of the TV or radio when you leave, especially in cases of separation anxiety. While it doesn’t hurt to try it, many dogs need something else to be comfortable staying home alone.
Instead of only turning on the TV, you can also try giving your dog a yummy food-filled toy to keep their minds busy while you leave. The Kong brand toys are a great option because they can be stuffed with wet dog food (or a similar substance) and frozen to make a long-lasting treat.
This can work especially well if your dog only gets this special treat when you leave, so they begin to associate the delicious food with your absence. This process is called counter conditioning, and works very well for mild cases of anxiety when you leave.
It’s also best if you can practice leaving for only short periods at a time, or practice having your dog stay separate from you when you are home. If your dog is able to learn to be OK by themselves gradually, you’ll be able to make better progress in the long run.
However, there are many dogs that need additional help beyond a distraction when you leave. These dogs are often suffering from separation anxiety, a behavior condition that is best treated with a rigorous behavior modification plan and sometimes with the addition of medication from your pet’s veterinarian.
One of the best places to start your search for a qualified dog trainer is to look for a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer (CSAT). Trainers with this designation have spent extra time in their careers dedicated to learning the best ways to handle cases of separation anxiety, so you can get the best information from the start.
Many CSAT designated trainers will also be available to do a virtual consultation, so even if you don’t have one local to you, it’s still worth checking out their websites for more information.
In addition to a CSAT trainer, a board certified veterinary behaviorist can be another great team member to help solve your dog’s separation anxiety. Not only are they able to dispense medications as a veterinarian, but they have additional years of schooling specifically in behavior so they can help form a behavior modification plan.