Q: Anxiety issues in a dog?
I recently re-acquired a rescued 3 year old NM labrador/hound mix with severe anxiety issues from an old ex who could no longer keep him. His behavior is night and day when there are people around and when he is left unattended (this has been a problem since he was about 1 year old and we first got him together as a rescue). It is so severe that he pees on doors, shreds blankets, tears up carpet, and has now broken his second canine on wire crates and fences. He was on Reconcile for his extreme and dangerous anxiety for a while and was much improved, but at the recommendation of our vet we reduced his dosage and he is no longer on it. He has been video-taped when he is left alone; he immediately goes into an anxious state and paces, barks, and becomes destructive of objects and himself. Does anyone have any tips on ways that I can get him to calm down - I am afraid to even go out for a nice dinner because he might try to eat his way out of his plastic crate as well, etc. This is unreasonable for me, but I will not just give up on him. There is a lot more to this story but this is just one of his issues I would like to see fixed. *sigh* I don't want him to be medicated the rest of his life, that can't be good for him, but he is so dangerous to himself I need options. Thanks for any suggestions!
Jun 03, 2010
separation anxiety isn't the easiest to fix, but if you're dedicated, it can be done.
first step: exercise. wear him out so he doesn't have the extra energy to pace, chew, and focus on the negative. i know it's not always feasible to take a long walk before you leave, but do what you can. any bit of exercise helps. a one hour walk is ideal, half an hour is fine if that's what you have to work with. engage him in heavy play on the days you can't walk him. wear him out.
second: get something for him to do that isn't destroying your home. kongs are helpful, fill them w/peanut butter and freeze them. not all dogs take to them, mine don't personally care for them, but most do. get a bottle of duck scent and dab the tiniest bit on it. this is especially appealing to hunting mixes such as yours. it's available at army surplus and sporting goods stores. interactive toys are a must. but the better the toy, the more expensive it is. one thing some people do is hide treats around their home, but you'll have to teach him to look for them.
third: establish that leaving isn't such a big deal. separation anxiety is marked by the fear that they've been abandoned and it starts before you ever walk out the door. break your routine. instead of putting on your shoes, grabbing your purse, telling your dog you'll be back, and then walking out the door, switch it up. put on your shoes, grab your purse, and put the dishes away or sit and watch tv. never tell him it'll be alright or give him hugs to comfort him. there's no reason he needs to be comforted, this only further extends his mind into believing something bad is happening. start going on several short trips. like five minutes, ten, and eventually twenty. several times a day. take some time to smell the roses when you go get your mail or water outdoor plants or just drive around the block, or whatever it is that you do do. you leave, you come back. this helps break the cycle that when you walk out the door, he won't see you again. when you come back, ignore him. nothing happened. this is normal behavior for you and he should consider it normal behavior to accept it w/o blinking.
forth: deter him from chewing on your things. use a combination of bitter apple spray and the "leave it" command. lightly coat his favorite spots w/the bitter apple to make it less appealing. usually this works, but not always. which is why you should do both methods. to teach leave it, sit on the floor in front of him w/a bag of treats. holding one treat behind your back, offer him an object and as he goes for it say "leave it" as you give him the treat. this will connect in his head treat for command so do this several times until he learns that. always follow w/a calm but friendly "good boy". ten times should do it, as i don't know what kind of hound he's mixed with. then repeat, but w/a one second pause between "leave it" and treat. repeat about ten more times and then add a two second pause. don't get discouraged if this doesn't go perfectly. it's takes practice for both you and your dog. once he's learned it w/the two second pause, you can push the lessons into real life. there are collars you can buy that your voice will come through on, but you'd also have to set up a monitor system to watch his every move. instead, just practice this w/a multitude of objects he'd normally chew and practice daily to really send the message home.
breaking separation anxiety can take months to accomplish. try not to get frustrated and remember, a few months here for a lifetime of being able to leave your home. also, don't crate him. it may keep him from chewing outside of the cage, but it will make his anxiety worse. and i agree not to keep him on meds. breaking the behavior is safer and more effective than having a pill alter his state.
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