Dogs are pack animals. You and your family, and any other pets in the family, are his pack. When everyone leaves for work and school, some dogs get highly upset and may become destructive or aggravate the neighbors with constant barking and whining. What causes this behavior and is there anything that you can do about it?
Long ago, I had a dog named Pepper. She was part Australian Sheppard, and was a very sweet dog, although she was also really…ahem….active. I had her for 11 years, and for the first 9, she was a great dog. Even as a pup, she never chewed on furniture, shoes, or clothes. Each day, everyone left for work and school, and Pepper caused no problems. After 9 years, she suddenly became very destructive. It started when she got left in the basement one day, and it stormed. Being deathly afraid of storms, she wanted access to her usual hiding place – under a bed. So, she dug her way through the basement/kitchen hollow-core door. I came home to find the poor thing hiding under the bed, along with a big hole in the door.
But this was merely the beginning. In the next 24 months, Pepper dug through doors, walls, and even the front door. She crashed through windows screens and shredded upholstered furniture. We bought her a sizable crate, and on her first day inside it, she broke the thick plastic floor lining, and her even-thicker plastic water dish, into shards. She also broke both of her upper eye teeth off along the gum line attempting to chew her way out. We took her to the vet to have her teeth fixed, and I asked for a prescription for doggy Valium. The vet told me that, without a doggy psychiatrist’s treatment, doggy Valium only works in about 5% of cases. And in many cases even with a psychiatrist, they just help in about 15% of cases. I have since heard better numbers than that, but at the time, it left us feeling pretty hopeless.
In the last few months that Pepper lived with us, we moved into a big, brand-new home. In the beginning, she seemed as happy as we were with our new digs. But before long, she started her destructiveness again. She chewed on woodwork, shredded the carpet in several places, and destroyed some window screens. We finally came to the heart-breaking decision that we were going to have to find her a different home, before she totally ruined ours. At 11 years of age, we weren’t sure that anyone would want her. But we did find her a great home, with a lot of room to run, and someone who is home for her the whole day.
We never could determine what caused Pepper’s sudden separation anxiety. Looking back, I think it may have started about the time we purchased a new box springs and mattress. Up till then, Pepper had always slept on the bed – not at the foot of the bed, but right up there on the pillows. It had gotten to the stage that when I rolled over onto my stomach or side at night, I’d get a mouthful of her shed hair. So when we got the new mattresses, I stopped letting Pepper sleep on it. Maybe being alone all day was ok, so long as she got her cuddle time during the night, and all of the destructiveness was her means of letting me know she didn’t appreciate being exiled from sleeping on the bed.
I believe Pepper’s case was somewhat unusual, but there are actually steps that can help with more “normal” cases of separation anxiety. Here are a few things that can help:
Food and Exercise
Give your dog sufficient exercise. An exercised dog is a happy dog, and is also a tired dog. Plus a full belly is a happy belly. A dog that has been on a nice run and gotten his belly full is more likely to take a nap and sleep much of the day away. Ah, the life of a dog And of course, you should also be sure that there’s fresh water and food readily available for your canine friend.
Sights, Smells, and Sounds
Leave the television or even a radio on. It can be reassuring to your dog if he can hear human voices. Leave a window open. Dogs like the fresh air plus the outside smells, plus they are able to see and hear people and other animals that are outside. You might have to leave it open only a crack, though, depending on your dog’s behavior. Pepper would go right through a screen that was open wide enough.
Something to Do
Leave your dog some favorite toys. It will give him something to do. Toys that both you and your dog have played with, and therefore have your smell on, can reassure. Ropes, nylon bones (not real ones, they could splinter and cause all kinds of problems or worse), squeaky toys, and balls are all good. The dog I have now goes out in the front yard on a 20-foot lead. I’ve seen him play with the lead, as though it were a live person or animal, when there was nothing else to do.
Answering Machines and Web Cams
Set your answering machine to screen calls, so the caller’s voice can be heard, and call your dog once or twice during the day and let him hear your voice. If at all possible, set up a web cam at home and at work so that you can look in on your pup and see what he is up to. If he’s misbehaving, call the answering machine and reprimand him. If he appears to be getting anxious, call and speak to him in a soothing voice.
Put Your Dog in a Crate
Although it didn’t work with Pepper, it may work for you. It might sound mean to confine your dog to this type of small space each day, but it can actually be reassuring to him. A dog often comes to think of his crate as his own familiar “bedroom”. One Fourth of July, when my current dog, Bo, was just a pup, he ventured outside and heard a huge firecracker boom. He ran back inside, cowering. He came out again, and it happened again. His third time out, several loud fireworks went off at once, and Bo ran back inside, down the steps, into his crate, and curled up and hid in there. It was his safe place to go. Crating works best if your dog is used to it, or is raised from a pup using a crate.
When you leave, and when you initially get home, stay calm. Your dog will detect your vibes, and if you become nervous because he is likely to be nervous or upset, your dog will detect it. Make coming and going no big deal.
Leave the house for just a couple of seconds, then come back in. Go out again, and wait a few minutes and then come back in. Vary the amounts of time that you are gone. Get your dog used to being separated for small amounts of time, and gradually increase the time. Go in or out different doors. Take your keys with you one time, but not another. Go when your dog is looking, and when he isn’t. And stay calm. Eventually, your dog is not going to know if you will leave for a long or short time. But he will begin to realize that you always return.
I’m hoping these tips will help you and your best friend to live in harmony. Love My Dog Blog would love to hear any stories you have about your dog and separation anxiety, or any stories about your dog. You can also visit Love My Dog Blog for information and facts, tips, and human dog interest stories.