It’s always the most loving dogs who damage their homes when left alone, causing their people tremendous angst. How could your smart and strongly-bonded best friend, who worships the ground you walk on, wreck your stuff-repeatedly? Something has to change in a hurry-or you could face one of the hardest decisions of your life. How many more days can you come home to demolition of your domicile? Many dogs and their families can overcome this problem, but it’s a challenge.
Why Dogs Become Destructive
Dogs like this may be over-bonded. Many of them stay glued to their human, following from room to room. And they’ll do anything for you. Often these are smart dogs who graduated at the top of their obedience classes.
It’s healthy for dogs to love their leaders. But those with overwhelming separation anxiety and destructiveness are miserable. Videos taken when they’re alone may show frantic, way out-of-control behavior. The havoc they wreak is not spiteful; these dogs simply can’t help themselves.
The pattern is repetitive. Every morning the problem starts anew as the dog watches his person’s ritual of starting the day. With each successive step toward the departure of their most favorite person in the world, she carries an increasing burden of impending isolation and anxiety. By the time she is finally alone the whole dreadful process may culminate with salivating, barking, pacing, pawing, in some cases eliminating, and often with destructiveness.
What Really Happens When You’re Gone
These dogs may get more frantic as they listen to the car drive away. The frenzy that drives the carnage to the home may run its course in about 30 minutes. Exhausted, the dog collapses in a heap. He feels horrible when confronted later. It’s all part of a vicious cycle fed by fear, anxiety, and guilt. Punishing a dog like this only deepens his sense of hopelessness and isolation. The longer separation anxiety rages without treatment the more difficult it is to control. Nobody is having a good time.
We dog lovers know very well why these creatures are man’s and woman’s best friends. A whole host of shared behaviors give us lots of reasons to hug and revel in the unconditional love that only a dog can share. Similar to extended human families, dogs form strong bonds. They are so generous with their affection that they are delighted to join our lives-no questions asked. Your dog just can’t wait to do anything you ask.
The problem for many dogs with separation anxiety is over- bonding to their person. The underlying anxiety (a basic component of many abnormal canine behaviors) causes them to be overcome with fear at the prospect of being “abandoned”.
Making the Diagnosis
Even though your dog may sound like a classic case, a definitive diagnosis is essential. Other behavior disorders can be confused with separation anxiety. Dogs with severe territorial aggression may be loving and gentle with their families but can become holy terrors when left alone to guard the home. And guard it they will-from intruders including dogs walking down the street, deliver people, anybody. Racing between the door and windows, territorial dogs can damage the carpet or tear down the drapes. Evidence may suggest fear of being alone.
Other abnormal behaviors can also be misconstrued. Dogs who are frightened of loud noises are usually fine when home alone but can lose their minds with the sounds of jets, thunder, fireworks, nearby construction, almost anything. Each of these problems is treated differently.
Knowing for sure that your dog is physically healthy is essential right from the get-go. Smoldering liver or kidney disorders, diabetes, thyroid problems, and bladder disease can each result in unhealthy behavior or indoor elimination. A thorough exam and lab profile (blood, urine, and thyroid tests) are necessary. If antianxiety medications may be helpful it will be important to know that your dog can safely handle them.
There are many more parts to this puzzle. Your dog’s cycle of anxiety, loss of control, and destructiveness has reinforced unhealthy pathways in her brain. Her mind drops into these well-worn ruts by default. In order to succeed, she must never again feel that panic-ever. You MUST set her up to succeed by keeping her safe and relaxed during the entire behavior modification process. Take her to the office, or better, to doggy day care at a good kennel when you are away. This is a tough road. Progress will mean some life changes.
It would seem to make sense to confine a destructive dog to a secure crate when you are away. This is a huge mistake in almost all cases. Unable to escape, these already freaked-out dogs fight hard to escape often fracturing their teeth and nails. Close confinement worsens their anxiety.
The tendency for some dogs to develop separation anxiety is genetically built-in. No one causes this problem. With hard work, you and your dog may have a good shot at success. But there will never be a cure. Even when the road ahead looks trouble-free you should monitor by video. You will always need to stay on guard.
Those dedicated dog lovers who reach the Holy Grail of a sane household have not done it alone. Hands-on guidance to custom-tailor a plan for you and your individual dog will be essential to success. For example, some do better if they are prevented from seeing their person prepare to leave home. Many improve if fed exclusively from food-dispensing toys and puzzles. A few have more than one behavior problem. Our job is to help return your lives to normal. We will listen and adjust our guidance in whatever way we must to set the two of you up for success.
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