Separation Anxiety, Chewing Problem or Something Else?

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Sam Basso
PHOENIX , AZ AREA: (602) 708-4531
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When dogs experience a prolonged and consistent pattern of anxiety when left alone, they are probably suffering from a condition called Separation Anxiety. It is a very serious disorder and requires treatment from a qualified dog behaviorist. Not all destructiveness is Separation Anxiety. Every dog can sometimes be unpredictable. A dog might take your shoes out of the closet and tear them up, pull your glasses off the coffee table, or tear up a room¦ and no one knows quite why it happened. It might have even have resulted in thousands of dollars of damage. However, if it is a one time incident, it can’t be automatically diagnosed as Separation Anxiety. The difference is that in order to determine that it is Separation Anxiety, there must be a prolonged and consistent pattern of the signs, damage and/or behaviors that indicate anxiety when left alone.Example

Hello,

I am writing this evening out of sheer desperation. My wife and I are the proud parents of a 7-month old Boxer whose call name is Chester. He is a purebred, AKC (American Kennel Club) papered dog. Chester is not quite 60 lbs and has an absolutely wonderful disposition and personality. While we are at home with him he is the picture of companionship – he’s playful, energetic and always right on your heels. Unfortunately, when we are not home it is a different situation – most days. Lately we’ve come home to an inordinate amount of damage to our brand new home. Since April first (our move in date) Chester has chewed most of the woodwork in the house (the spindles in the staircase are his favorite, although he isn’t beyond chewing on molding and door frames), he’s torn the lining out of our new couch, ripped up one couch cushion and chewed the corners off of the new coffee table. Bitter Apple and Tabasco are simply condiments to him and in the last 24 hours he’s ripped the lining out of the love seat (he took the cushions off first and then pulled the whole unit out from the wall about three feet), tore open a the above mentioned couch cushion and ripped the power lines out of our air conditioning condenser outside. I will leave out the various shoes and other ancillary damages.

This hasn’t become a daily occurrence until the last few days. He has many chew toys, plenty of food and water and his big cushy bed at his disposal at all times. He has access to the back yard (1000 square feet) 24 hours a day via his pet door and is free to come and go as he pleases. Chester has not yet been to obedience, although it is definitely in the works. However, he is quite willing and able to follow commands and has the basics down pat. He can sit, stay, and lay down either by voice command or hand signal. He is good on the lead and gets a minimum of 45 minutes walk time per day. Lately we’ve switched to a half hour walk in the morning and then another half hour to forty-five minutes in the evening after it cools off. His walks are always at his pace and he often romps in a field by our home on a thirty foot retractable lead.

We just simply don’t know what to do about his chewing, none of which occurs while we are at home. This leads me to believe he is suffering from Separation Anxiety. He is home alone from 8 to 10 hours per day during the week. I’d give anything to lessen that time but it simply isn’t possible at this point. I’ve spoken to our neighbors (both of whom have stay at home mothers in the family). Neither set of neighbors has ever heard him bark or cry and both have stated that Chester is always friendly and happy to visit through the fence during the day but is not desperate for contact and will simply go about his business after a short visit.

We have considered doggy day care but would be financially challenged with it before too long. Do you have any suggestions about what we can do? We are obviously concerned with the condition of our house, but are as equally concerned with Chester’s well being.

While we are loathe to think of the possibility of putting him up for adoption to a Boxer-experienced family who may be better suited to care for him, we cannot ignore what is best for him. We are willing to go to the ends of the Earth for our little one and are willing to whatever we can to have him with us – provided it is an equally suitable relationship for him. Any information or ideas would be greatly appreciated.

With warmest regards,

Analysis

This is a classic case of Separation Anxiety. This dog doesn’t have a destructive chewing problem. This dog has an anxiety problem. Fix the anxiety problem, and the destructiveness will go away.

There are some very important things to note with this situation.

1.) The dog has had some obedience training, but that hasn’t solved the problem. Teaching the dog to Sit/ Down/ etc. won’t make the dog less worried about being left alone. It is also inappropriate and abusive to correct such a dog for the destructiveness; this is a disorder that requires behaviorial modification, not obedience training.

2.) The destructiveness is starting to get bad at 7 months of age. My experience is that Separation Anxiety starts to manifest when the dog starts getting past early puppyhood.

3.) The dog has plenty of chew toys, but is not using them. The dog is frustrated and worried. The dog doesn’t want to chew. It is either trying to escape the enclosure or is frantic and worried and can’t express it any other way.

4.) The owners refer to the dog as our little one. There is a weaning process that you must do with young puppies, otherwise they can bond too closely. Separation Anxiety sometimes manifests in guide dogs for the blind, which are with someone all the time and are never left alone.

5.) The dog is always right on your heels. These types of dogs feel very insecure unless they are right by your side.

6.) The dog gets lots of exercise. Exercise won’t overcome a phobia and it won’t overcome an anxiety disorder.

7.) Bitter Apple and Tabasco don’t prevent the chewing. The dog is worried, so much so that they don’t care if they hurt themselves.

8.) Chewing on molding and door frames.

9.) The destructiveness only happens when the owners are away from home.

Other typical symptoms of Separation Anxiety:

1.) House training problems in the adult dog, especially diarrhea

2.) Excessive salivation only when the dog is alone

3.) Destructive chewing near or around doors, including flooring and walls

4.) Hyperactivity when alone

5.) Barking or whining

6.) Won’t eat when alone

7.) Other worried/ fearful/ anxious attitudes and behaviors

8.) Self mutilation or injury

9.) Desperate escapes; sometimes breaking through windows to escape the enclosure, but oftentimes not running away

10.) Vomiting

11.) Overly excited, almost frantic greetings

I have seen other symptoms manifest themselves with Separation Anxiety, such as:

1.) Biting

2.) Hyper-territoriality

3.) Hiding

4.) Generalized Anxiety

I have also seen dogs that appeared to have Separation Anxiety, but instead, they just were frustrated at being behind a barrier.

I have worked with many dogs that were suffering from Separation Anxiety. Sometimes it is hard to diagnose, so it is helpful to schedule an evaluation. You cannot fix this problem by correcting the dog for the destructiveness. You DEFINITELY can’t fix this problem by sending the dog to a board and train type of facility. This isn’t an issue of disobedience. In fact, corrections will make the problem worse. If you think your dog is suffering from Separation Anxiety, you will need to work with a behaviorist. I have found that most dogs can overcome Separation Anxiety, however, there will be a few that never overcome it. Generally, a Separation Anxiety lesson runs about 45 minutes. The follow up is free.

Sam Basso is a professional dog trainer and behaviorist, in the Phoenix/ Scottsdale metropolitan area. He’s known for being fun, kind, intelligent, and humane. Sam Basso has a unique personal touch. He has appeared on his own TV show, been a guest radio expert, gives seminars, publishes a dog related blog, does rescue volunteering, and is active in promoting animal welfare and fair dog laws.




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