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Hi John

I have a troubled cocker spaniel. H is 2 ½ years old and has been destructive since day one, but only when he is alone. He is a very obedient dog when we are home or outside playing and he is very good natured with other dogs, and very good with kids, but when I leave he becomes very anxious and destroys anything and everything. I can’t even run outside for 30 sec without him getting upset and barking and crying. I have tried crating him and he gets so anxious that he is soaking wet by the time I get home and take him out of the crate, from sweating and licking his paws and ears. Monday when I came home from work he had destroyed my curtains, leather couch, big area rug, 3 pairs of shoes, 2 pillows a bunch of tea towels and his leash and he was in the crate when I left the house. He somehow broke the door of the crate right off. We’re not happy and he is obviously not happy but we don’t know if we can part with him. Is there anything we can do?

Sarah G.

Dear Sarah,

Separation anxiety is the most troubling of all behavior problems. For the average dog owner’s lifestyle, treatment is rarely successful, at least to an extent that brings true relief to either dog or owner.

Separation anxiety is normally the end result of the way a dog is socialized or not socialized before 12 weeks with a genetic influence thrown into the mix. If a dog has continuous on going contact with humans before 12 weeks of age they become imprinted with that expectation and there’s no changing it. It happens with parrots too. People pay all kinds of attention for the first while and then the novelty wears off and the parrot spends the rest of its life plucking its feathers out.

Ways to deal with anxiety, range from giving the dog a few drops of various naturopathic preparations to prescription anti-anxiety medications. I haven’t found one more effective then the other and in fact not that effective at all but it can’t hurt to try. I’ve never had anyone tell me their dog was cured as a result of either approach. Behavior modification treatments include desensitizing the dog with recreating “I’m leaving” behavior, key shaking etc. enough times that the anxiety leading up to departure is extinguished. In true separation anxiety cases dog owners learn this is pretty superficial advice. Even if were to work all it means is that the dog isn’t anxious as you’re going out the door. With true anxiety cases, once you’re gone I’ve never met a dog so dumb that it wanders around the house afterwards going, “I know there still must be a human in here somewhere!”

What can you do? Well I suppose, try the medication and the standard behavior modification strategies which respectively you can get from your veterinarian and some dog trainers, but usually the dog’s best bet is to find it another home where its owners can provide the contact the dog needs to feel secure. It’s hard to do as most households are like yours, people have to leave the house for significant parts of the day. It’s worth consideration as the anguish the dog is in each and every time you must leave is not something I would want to endure were I in its paws.

Pawsitively Yours,

John Wade

[email protected]

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