This section is where we address behavioral questions that you, our customers, have asked us regarding issues that you've had with your dogs.  The topics have ranged from chewing, biting, housetraining, walking, and barking. We sorted through some of the most common questions and our colleague, Susan Greenbaum from Barking Hills Country Club, has thoughtfully responded.

We hope that these are helpful!

Q: My husband and I rescued a pit bull three years ago. A month after we got her home, she began showing symptoms of separation anxiety. We spent the better part of a year working with her to address the behavior. This summer, we are moving to a new house and are wondering if there are steps we need to take to help our dog adjust to her new home without triggering her old behaviors.

A: It’s hard to answer your question directly without knowing what type of work you did to address the behavior before but let’s look at anxiety behavior in general.

Anxiety behaviors can be one of the tougher training challenges. Separation Anxiety is a term which may be used to describe a variety of behaviors. Many dogs have some level of anxiety when left alone. Some dogs seem genetically predisposed for anxiety behaviors but we should recognize that Separation Anxiety is predominately a created behavior which is substantially more prevalent in the United States than other countries.

Anxiety behaviors can vary tremendously. Some dogs, when left alone, will pant or drool. Others howl or bark excessively. Still others attempt to escape by ripping through doors, breaking windows or tunneling through floors or walls. Some dogs destroy crates and others push air conditioners out of walls and windows. Some urinate, defecate, vomit or even injure themselves accidentally or purposefully.

If the anxiety is mild then behavioral training will often resolve the issue given time and systematic training.

True Separation Anxiety, when a dog is injuring herself tunneling through walls, breaking teeth trying to escape, or self mutilating by chewing her tail or feet, often needs a two level approach. In order for the behavioral training to be effective, pharmacology may be needed to take the edge off the anxiety in order to allow the dog enough relief from the anxiety for training to help. Consulting a Veterinary Behaviorist or a Veterinarian experienced with anxiety medications can be extremely helpful. Pharmacology should always be viewed as a temporary step to help lower the dog’s anxiety so the training has the opportunity to work. Pharmacology should not be used alone but in conjunction with behavioral therapy. In most cases, drugs are discontinued after three or four months once training has taken effect.

There are steps everyone can take to have a dog who is comfortable and secure when left alone.

Use your dog’s ability to back chain to your advantage.

Back chaining is the dog’s ability to anticipate an event by recognizing the events which precede it. For instance your dog may know this sequence:

  • I hear the key in the door – my people are home!

  • I hear the car in the garage, I hear the key in the door – my people are home!

  • I hear the garage door open, the car in the garage, the key in the door – my people are home!

  • I hear the car driving down the street, the garage door open, the car in the garage, the key in the door – my people are home!

  • I hear the children getting off the bus, the car driving down the street, the garage door open, the car in the garage, the key in the door – my people are home!

  • I hear the postal worker deliver the mail, the children getting off the bus, the car driving down the street, the garage door open, the car in the garage, I hear the key in the door – my people are home!

Unfortunately, the postal worker delivers the mail at one in the afternoon and you don’t get home from work until after five! Your dog is getting excited hours before you come home and that long period of anticipation can trigger anxiety.

So let’s take the anxiety temperature down a few degrees.

Step One: The calm and casual goodbye.

  • Ten to fifteen minutes before you leave, put your dog where he is going to be while you are gone (in his crate, the kitchen, living room or wherever he usually stays),

  • If your dog is safe having something to chew, leave her a stuffed Kong™ or marrow bone.

  • Psychologically separate from the dog by not touching or talking to the dog. Try not to even look at the dog.

  • Continue your “getting ready to leave” routine – get your briefcase, find your car keys, pack your lunch or do what you usually do prior to leaving.

  • As you leave, calmly and casually say, “Have a good day” or some other phrase as you walk out the door.

Step Two: The calm and casual hello.

  • Reverse the process on your return home.

  • Walk in the door, casually say “How was your day?” or some other phrase, put your keys away, check the answering machine, sort the mail or whatever else is your routine.

  • After ten minutes, presuming your dog is relaxed, calmly put on your dog’s leash and take him out for a walk.

  • If you approach your dog and he gets very excited, walk away and try again in a few minutes. You should only interact with your dog when he gives a calm, relaxed presentation. Otherwise you will inadvertently reward him for hyped up behavior.

Calm comings and goings help take down the emotional temperature of your dog’s day. Having a routine which occurs after you come home, that is predictable, allows your dog to back chain starting when you come in the door rather than starting a back chain hours prior to your return.

Some other things which can help prevent anxiety behaviors include using a white noise machine to mask outside noise. A radio can be used but it is important to find a classical music station with little or no dialog. Voices may cause agitation in some dogs. Other useful tools include using Dog Appeasing Pheromones (D.A.P.) which come in a plug in and spray. Use the plug in as close as possible to where the dog is kept – certainly the same room. The spray can also be used daily on the dog’s bedding.

DO NOT USE ANY BEDDING if you think your dog may chew or shred the bedding. Ingesting soft goods like bedding can cause intestinal blockage.

Some dogs respond well to herbal supplements like “Rescue Remedy™” but please check with your veterinarian before adding any supplements.

A stuffed Kong™ toy which your dog can chew may help your dog cope with mild anxiety. If your dog is a hard chewer, be certain your dog cannot bite off hunks of the Kong™ prior to leaving your dog alone with any chew toy.

To get back to the original question, some things you can do to help your dog adjust to the move include:

  • Bring your dog to the new house a few times before the move. Feed and play with her there.

  • Don’t wash her bedding prior to the move so it can smell the same in the new house.

  • Sleep in an old T-shirt the night before the move and leave that with your dog in her new house – presuming your dog isn’t tearing and shredding her bedding

  • On moving day, leave your dog with a friend and get the move done while your dog is elsewhere. Watching things being removed from her old home can be stressful.

  • Try not to leave her alone for the first 24-48 hours. When you do leave her the first time, leave for a brief period of time and return. Do that a few times before leaving her for a longer time.

  • Hopefully she is crate trained because having her familiar crate will be helpful for her.

  • If she won’t bite off hunks, leave her with a Kong™ stuffed with her regular dog food, a piece of vegetable and some canned pumpkin. Stuff the Kong™ and freeze it overnight for some chewing relief.

And remember, our dogs are uncannily good at picking up on our anxiety. Moving is stressful for everyone so take good care of yourselves as your dog will respond to your anxiety with anxiety of her own. Congratulations on your move – let us know how it goes! Thanks for sharing your question!

Train your dog - enjoy your dog!

Copyright © Susan D. Greenbaum

Check out some of the other topics that we've addressed:

"Car Travel"
"Rawhide: Friend or Foe?"
"Coming when called"
"Gracie pulls constantly on her leash..."
"My dog goes crazy with the doorbell..."
"I am trying to get my dog from jumping on people..."