Dogs and other pets are often affected by family breakups, an animal behaviourist has claimed.
Australian Kate Mornement holds a BSC in zoology and a PHD in canine behaviour. Speaking to ABC News, she said:
“I do see quite a few cases of pets with behaviour problems following separation or divorce… most commonly separation anxiety in dogs.”
As highly social, hierarchically-minded pack animals, dogs are very sensitive to the body language and emotions of the people around them. They form strong bonds with individuals and can be very aware if that person suddenly disappears.
Dogs and other pets such as cats are also very focused on their daily routines and deviations from this can be a source of stress, Mornement explained.
“Any big disruption to their normal routine or breaking of attachment bonds affects them a lot.”
However, their sensitivity to their surroundings means that family breakups can also benefit pets, the behaviourist continued.
“When couples do separate it’s often a positive if there’s been any sort of verbal or physical abuse pets witness, like kids, that can cause some stress and anxiety.”
Tracey Jackson from Australian law firm firm Couper Geysen said she had seen examples of acrimoniously divorcing couples using pets as objects to fight over.
“One client came to us and the dog had spent all the work days with him while he was outdoors — the dog had a ball socialising with other animals and people. After the break-up there was issues and arguments and …the ex-wife ended up keeping the dog and the dog didn’t get to enjoy his quality of life he was used to.”
Separating dogs in particular from known individuals, whether human or animal, can cause enormous stress, Jackson added.
“When dogs are part of a pack, no matter how small, separation from that pack means death to them — you take away their sense of security.”