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 Seperation Anxiety | Boredom | Digging | Barking | General Q & As

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Arrow Destructive behaviour when left alone – Separation Anxiety

Dogs that  never got to practice being alone  when they were puppies may find it difficult to cope with being left. The best thing you can do is try to prevent this problem by exposing your puppy to periods of solitude,  starting with just a few seconds and building up slowly, going back a few steps if they start to become distressed. Always give them something to stay busy that makes them feel good, such as a chew toy or an interactive toy so they do not get bored.  But as a general rule, even adult dogs should not be left alone for more than 4 hours.

If your dog already has a separation anxiety problem there are things you can do to improve the situation and, as with a puppy, again slowly build the time he can be left. You’ll know this is your problem if the destruction only happens when you are away, it is largely concentrated around the exit, the dog might bark a lot, try to dig itself out or break out. In some cases the dog may also toilet near the door. All this will usually happen in the first 15 minutes after you leave so rigging a camera to see what happens can tell you a lot about the problem. Punishing when you arrive will only increase the anxiety and make him worse next time, and the dog will think you’re angry for him being happy to see you again.

It is important to recognise that anxiety doesn’t go away when you’re home because he will constantly be looking out for signs that you’re leaving. So the first thing to do is to reduce anxiety in general. Not only because it will reduce the problem behaviour but also because prolonged anxiety can have an adverse effect of the dog’s health, including a weakened immune system. Feed your dog cooked turkey, and then cooked pasta with vitamin B half an hour later, for a couple of weeks and then slowly introduce other proteins, fruit and veg. This will increase the feel good hormone production in our dog and reduce stress. His anxiety can also be improving by giving many things to chew and gnaw.

Make a list of actions you usually do before you go out because your dog already knows them all. This may include closing certain parts of the house, grabbing the keys, putting shoes on, putting a jacket on amongst others. Do them at random times during the day without actually going out to reduce their meaning. Leave the house without doing these things and return before your dog starts showing signs of stress. This may be after 2 minutes or after 2 seconds. As the anxiety eases and the meaning of being alone becomes less scary, you may start increasing the time he is left very slowly making sure it’s as long as the dog is comfortable. You will be able to do this faster of you provide appropriate activities for the dog to do when he is alone but teach him what to do before assuming he already knows.

Finally there is also the option of not leaving him alone and we don’t mean you should never go out. Some dogs just do better if you get another dog and this may be a good and quick long term solution for some cases.

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Arrow Destructive behaviour when left alone for long time or even when owner is home – Boredom

There is only so much time that any social animal, including humans can tolerate being alone before they start getting restless and try to get some amusement. That’s when your dog decides to start looking for something to chew or try to get into rooms they are not allowed in. They get creative and redecorate your house, and you may or may not walk in to find the work in progress, while the dog wags its tail proud of his achievement. Your first reaction is to put on a very cross face and tell him off. You are convinced he knows he has done wrong because he looks guilty but in fact he is simply reacting to your body language because it is threatening. Being cross and punishing your dog in this situation could make it much worse, as you then add anxiety to his boredom and that’s when separation anxiety could set in and provide even more pressure to be destructive as a form of stress relief.

The answer to this is simply to keep the dog busy and provide a lot of physical exercise and mental stimulation. This will greatly reduce boredom. First of all you need to know that dogs need to be walked 2 to 3 times a day to provide enough exercise, and some breeds may need longer walks than others. You can keep their mind busy by doing some clicker training around the house or play a game of fetch or find. Provide appropriate chews and stuffed Kong toys so the dog has something to do even when he is left alone. Do anything you can to prevent him from getting bored. If you have just got the shopping delivered in a cardboard box, you can put a few layers of scrunched up paper with some treats inside and close the box. The dog will keep busy with getting his valued nibbles. But as a general rule, you should realise that 4 hours is the maximum a dog should ever be left alone.

Interactive Toys

DIY Interactive Toys

Click here to DOWNLOAD a Fact Sheet on how to Beat your Dog’s Boredom

 

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Arrow Destructive Behaviour – Digging

There are times, after you’ve just planted a new flower bed, when you want to show off the new garden landscape to your friends or you just got a new plant in the corner of the sitting room by the TV and you find to your horror that the dog has found the bottom of it. Your flowers are shredded and the plant is dead and Lassie’s the one responsible. Why on earth would your dog do something so spiteful?

He wouldn’t really. He is only doing what nature built him to do. He needs to dig because it’s a survival mechanism left over from their wild days that allowed them to hide and retrieve stored food or prey below ground. Indeed we’ve used this natural behaviour to our advantage by breeding dogs that were good at it to control vermin but also to flush out certain animals from their burrows so we could catch them. This is not really a problem behaviour, it is actually a natural behaviour that we’ve failed to acknowledge before.

Accept that you have a dog, and that dogs dig, and you’ll be much happier. Now that we know that the dog needs to dig to feel good, and that it feels bad if he can’t, we can make plans to set aside an area in the garden that he can dig into to find a nice prize, or build a sand pit that he can dig at will. Do not expect the dog to stop digging altogether because this will just create frustration and confusion and he’ll just look for another behaviour to relieve these negative feelings that you may like even less.

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Arrow Barking

What is your dog telling you?

A lot of dogs like to bark and most of the time they’re trying to tell us something! Sometimes, however, a dog may bark a lot, disturbing neighbours, keeping you awake at night or frightening visitors to your home. You don’t want to get into trouble because of your dog’s barking – so what can you do?

The first thing to do is to try to work out why your dog is barking. If you can remove the cause, he should stop, although perhaps a bit of training may also be needed.

As each case is different, we can only make suggestions and some guidelines which we hope will be useful, however, for accurate advice you may need to contact a reputable behaviour specialist.

Your dog could be barking because he is excited, frustrated, guarding, bored, trying to get your attention, scared or because he cannot cope with being on his own.

If he is excited he will probably bark when visitors call, when you get his lead to go for a walk and when you make his dinner. He may also jump around and act like a ‘hooligan’!

  • If he is excited because the rest of his day is so boring and quiet, try introducing some interesting activities into his routine. Try clicker training and simple puzzle-solving games (i.e. find the treat under a cup) and take him out more often during the day for calm walks with plenty of sniffing allowed. Keep interactions calm with plenty of gentle praise and rewards – the idea is to exercise his mind, more so than his body.
  • Brush up on his obedience training and train him to go and fetch a rubber ball or soft toy in his mouth. If you command him to do this every time he starts barking, he’ll soon automatically do this – barking is a lot harder and quieter if a dog already has something in his mouth! Remember that asking a dog to do an alternative acceptable behaviour is far easier than asking him to completely stop an unwanted behaviour.
  • You could try exposing him to the barking ‘triggers’ repeatedly over a few days, ignoring his reaction and then praising/rewarding him as soon as he quietens down – but this can be a long and annoying process that may not work very well!
  • Remember – don’t shout at him to stop barking as he may think that you are excited too and are joining in! This could make him bark even more loudly.

If he is frustrated he will be barking because he can’t get to something that he finds exciting. Perhaps he’s seen a cat in the garden, children playing on the street or can hear another dog barking next door. He may also scratch at the door or garden gate, or jump up at the windows in an effort to get closer.

  • Find out what is making him bark and then, if you can, prevent him from seeing, hearing or smelling it. If you’re going out, close the curtains and put the radio or television on to drown out offending noises.
  • Don’t leave your dog alone for long periods in the garden, if this is where he does most of his barking. Play more games with him, so he’ll be too busy to bark.
  • You could try getting him used to the sounds by recording them and playing them back at low volumes during times when he is already quiet and relaxed. Give him treats and lots of praise if when he stays relaxed.
  • Alternatively brush up on your basic training and have sessions where you ask for sits, downs and stands in a random manner, using lots of treats and praise, at times when the triggers are present. This will help train your dog to be focussed on you, rather than the distractions.
  • Unneutered male dogs can smell a bitch in season up to 6 miles away. If this is contributing to the problem, consider talking to your vet about the possibility of castration.
  • If your dog is hungry (i.e. if he only has one meal a day), frustration and guarding behaviour (see below) can become worse. Make sure your dog has plenty to eat throughout the day – several smaller meals are far better than one large meal.

If he is guarding he will be barking to protect himself and his family, or to alert you to potential threats. He may also wag his tail and appear to be excited. Guarding behaviour should stop once the ‘threat’ has gone – e.g. once you have answered the doorbell and he recognises the visitor as a friend. Your dog may be a guarding ‘breed’ or crossbreed, or he may have been encouraged to bark at the doorbell from an early age.

  • Provide your dog with a mat or a bed and place it near the door – but out of the way. At quiet times, teach your dog to lay down on his mat, using a new command word, e.g. “mat!” and using lots of really tasty treats. Repeat this often until you are able to use the command word from another room, and he’ll run to his mat to wait for his treat.
  • Now ask a friend to help by ringing the doorbell. Send your dog to the mat and give him lots of praise and rewards when he lies in the correct place. Repeat this several times until he gets the idea. You’ll know when this is, when he goes to his mat and lays down without being told, when the doorbell rings.
  • Keep a pot of treats by the door, so that visitors can toss him a treat as they enter and he is quiet and relaxed on his mat.
  • As is the case for frustration (see above) – unwanted guarding behaviour can become worse if your dog is hungry. Make sure your dog has plenty to eat throughout the day – several smaller meals are far better than one large meal.
  • If you are worried that your dog’s guarding behaviour may become aggressive please seek the advice of a behaviour specialist.

If he is bored he may bark when he has nothing to do. He may also be destructive in an effort to amuse himself. Bored dogs will bark or be destructive when you are in the house as well as when they’re left alone.

  • Start by introducing some interesting activities into his routine. Try clicker training and simple puzzle-solving games (i.e. find the treat under a cup) and take him out more often during the day for calm walks with plenty of sniffing allowed. Keep interactions calm with plenty of gentle praise and rewards – the idea is to exercise his mind, more so than his body. A really good book full of ideas is ‘Playtime for your dog – keep him busy throughout the day’ by Christina Sondermann.
  • Don’t leave him alone for long periods of time and try to get a dog walker if you are out at work all day.
  • Consider getting him a companion dog, if your situation is suitable – he’ll be too busy playing to be bored! If not, at least try to arrange regular ‘play-dates’ with the well-behaved dogs of friends and family.

If he is scared he may bark at strangers, dogs or in certain situations. When he barks his ears may be back and his tail held low and he will stand away from whatever is frightening him. Even small movements or eye contact from the fear object may start your dog barking, although this should stop when he is ignored.

  • Dogs that are scared bark to tell us that they are not happy and this is a good thing because it gives us a warning that they cannot cope. Frightened dogs may eventually bite to get the ‘scary’ thing to go away and so it is important that you don’t ignore the warning.
  • If your dog is scared of certain things or situations, making him face his fears is the worse thing to do. Instead, try to avoid them and ask your vet to refer you to a behaviourist who can help your dog to safely get over his fears.

 

If he can’t cope with being left alone he’ll seem anxious before you leave him and then start barking as soon as you walk out of sight. He may also be destructive and/or soil the home.

  • This type of problem can be serious and difficult to fix so start by reading our ‘Beating boredom and Coping alone’ factsheet and consider contacting a behaviour specialist for help.
  • If this only happens at night when he is shut away to sleep by himself, consider letting him sleep in sight and sound of the family (e.g. on the landing with a baby gate) or in the bedroom with a family member.

If you suspect your dog is barking all day because he just can’t cope with being alone then he may be suffering from separation anxiety. Go to the relevant section.

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Arrow General Questions & Answers

 

Is my dog being spiteful when he pees in the house or chews the furniture ?

Dogs are not capable of being spiteful. That is a human characteristic never observed in other animals. However there is probably something you are or are not doing that is causing the dog to misbehave. Go to our toilet training video and advice on why dogs soil the house and how to help them learn an appropriate place to toilet, and our FAQ on destructive behaviour for better information on why dogs chew furniture.

I rub my dog’s nose in his faeces when he toilets inside but he still does it again. Why?

Rubbing your dog’s nose in faeces when he toilets in the house doesn’t teach him anything useful about where he should do it. Contrary to what you want, he may learn to be frightened of doing it in front of you or to simply be afraid of you. This will not only stop him from learning where to toilet but also stop him from doing it in front of you, which means he’ll probably always do it when you’re out of the house and he’s alone. If you want to help your dog to learn to toilet in the right place go to our toilet training video and advice.

Why does my dog always use his mouth to play with me and how to I stop it?

Your dog may have been removed from his litter mates too early and never learned that play biting can be offensive to others. One way you can solve this problem is to teach your dog to play in a different way that doesn’t involve biting, like fetching and carrying a toy. Avoid rough and tumble play as this will encourage play biting. If the biting starts, stop playing and walk away for a few seconds. This not punishment but a time out to give some time for the dog to calm down. Your dog will very soon start to prefer other forms of playing.

There are two main behaviours that a puppy learns in the nest and they are to use their paws (pressing against the teats) and using their mouths (suckling) – getting a puppy to hold a toy (especially a soft toy) when it makes contact with the roof of the mouth will release endorphins – therefore it is a ‘game’ that the pup/dog will benefit from

Why does my dog always bite my trousers when I am leaving?

This can be because of many things. It can be a sign of frustration because he doesn’t know what to do in this situation that us usually followed by you leaving. If you see signs that your dog can’t cope with being left alone go to our FAQ on destructive behaviour for how to help your dog cope.

My dog looks away, puts his head down and rolls his eyes to the side sometimes. What does it mean?

These are all signals that dogs use with us and other dogs to signal that they are uneasy or afraid in certain situations. Being afraid is not only a problem for the dog but it also can lead to fear aggression if whatever is causing this fear does not go away in response to these polite signs for ‘I am anxious’. Avoid the situations or stimuli that make your dog do this and if this is not possible try to make these situations or stimuli more positive and less scary for your dog.

How can I improve my dog’s mood?

There are many things you can do to improve your dog’s mood. Walking and exercise makes them healthier, increases oxygen levels in the blood and also releases the feel good hormone into the blood thus giving them a positive mental boost. The right diet for your dog will greatly improve his outlook. Give appropriate amounts of the right food split into several meals a day. This will make your dog feel fuller for longer so he won’t be cranky on an empty stomach. Playing is something most dogs carry on doing for life and its fun for both of you so get him a new toy every so often and rotate the ones he has so he never gets bored with them. Do positive reinforcement training as we describe in this website so the dog builds his self-confidence and learns he can positively affect his environment. Make sure your dog has opportunity to make choices about his environment, such as a choice of beds to sleep on, plenty of space so he can pick both sunny and shaded areas to rest in and a choice of surfaces to toilet on.

Why is my dog obsessed about food?

Dogs all love food and they usually prefer it if someone else is eating it. They are social animals that prefer to eat together so if he wants your food it’s just him performing a natural behaviour. If you suspect that there is a true obsession with food, speak to your vet to rule out any medical conditions that would cause him to be always hungry. Don’t allow free access to food if you know your dog won’t stop eating. This can be dangerous and can lead to health problems. You may need to dog proof your kitchen cupboards for your dog’s safety if he likes to help himself when you are not around.

 

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