You get home from work or shopping to find your house in shambles and want to stop the problem? Why is your dog destructive when you’re gone? Destructive behavior can have many causes including boredom, medical conditions, lack of exercise, and actual separation anxiety to name a few.
Separation anxiety in dogs is when anxious or distressed behaviors are exhibited when the dog is left alone. Such behaviors are reactions to stress or panic. One way to help your veterinarian identify whether the behaviors are separation anxiety, medical, boredom, or even training issues is to videotape your dog when you leave the house. Together, you and your veterinarian can create a plan to help alleviate the stress and fear. There are many ways to help minimize the effects of separation anxiety and to help calm your dog while you are away. This can be as simple as leaving familiar toys and clothes with your scent near your dog and making your arrivals and departures as low-key as possible. There are also some supplements and medications that may help your pet. Before purchasing what the pet store clerk’s recommendation, check with your veterinarian for suggestions to be sure your pet is healthy and your supplement is safe and effective.
Although anxiety is not a result of poor or insufficient training, working on basic commands can actually help increase your dog’s’ confidence and ability to stay calm in all situations. A confident, mentally and physically exercised dog, is a balanced dog who can handle being left alone. A good goal is for your dog to be able to calmly stay in one room in a sit-stay or a down-stay while you walk into another room and come back. Another thing to consider is where you can safely contain your dog when you are gone. A small room with windows may be a good place to start. This can minimize the dangers to them and your property. Good toys for dogs with separation anxiety are interactive or puzzle toys. These are good to mentally stimulate your dog – distracting them from you leaving and keeping them from boredom.
Many dogs’ anxiety is worsened by cues that the owner is leaving such as putting on shoes, getting your keys, etc. Be careful not to make a big fuss when you arrive/leave and you can train a “cue” whether it’s a word or specific music to signal you will be back. Now these things will take a lot of consistency and time so remember to be patient and start slow with very short trips out of the house. Some dogs may even need medications from your veterinarian to reduce their anxiety during the beginning training period. If your dog is friendly with other dogs, you may want to consider trying doggie day care while you work on their anxiety. While a destroyed house is horrible, remember to avoid punishment following destructive behaviors as this can make anxiety worse. Your dog does not remember doing the action and does not know why you are upset. Do not “punish” your dog by putting them in crate. If they are already comfortable and settled in a crate, that is where they should be when you’re gone. However, most anxiety dogs have not been crate trained and without other strategies to minimize anxiety, a crate could increase their stress by trapping them in a smaller area. If they are not crate trained, start with a small room or an exercise pen to help soften the feel of being enclosed.
Many owners try to fix separation anxiety by adding another dog to the household, thinking their pet is lonely for companionship of any kind. While some dogs may benefit from a friend most will still need treatment since their panic stems from separation from their owner specifically. As always, please seek advice from your veterinarian for your specific situation. They can help you develop a treatment strategy as animal behavior is one of their areas of expertise and some anxiety has medical causes as well. A good visit to the veterinarian may help your days away from home end in a much more pleasant fashion!