Q2. – I have taken on a year old male Labrador from a rescue centre and we recently started having anxiety separation issues. I have 2 other dogs so he is not alone and I only work a couple of days a week but even then I feel really guilty but I don’t know what to do to stop him getting distressed and chewing things when I go out. Do you have any suggestions?
I’m sorry to hear about the problems you are having. Managing behaviours that occur when you are out can be a big challenge. The first thing to consider is the motivation behind your dog’s behaviour. If he is simply chewing things it may be that this is actually a behaviour he enjoys and that he is not distressed – but is having fun! This would not be unusual in a young dog as chewing is a natural behaviour that many dogs like to indulge in given half a chance. If you are able to do so without causing problems between the dogs it may be worth leaving suitable chew toys for him to play with when you are out. To make them more attractive than the furniture stuff them with pieces of food – but remember to adjust his daily ration so he doesn’t put on weight! Plenty of different toys are widely available, but for a young Labrador you need something fairly indestructible. If you cannot safely leave the dogs with food or toys, then allow him to play with them when you are home and he can be supervised or separated from the other dogs. Creating any kind of outlet for him to spend time chewing on things – that you find acceptable – may help satisfy this need and reduce the incidence when you are out. Leaving him tired may also help to stop him looking for his own amusement, so if you can make sure that he has had a good walk before you go.
If your dog is genuinely upset at being left there are often (but not always) other signs such as vocalisation, scratching at doors or windows, digging or toileting in the house. Some people find it useful to set up a sound recording or even a video camera to monitor their dog’s behaviour when they are not there. If you feel that your dog is suffering a true separation anxiety then I would advise you to talk to your vet, who should be able to put you in touch with a qualified behaviour counsellor. I am sorry that there is no quick fix, but there is certainly much that can be done to help. However separation problems are a complex set of problems that require an individual programme tailored not only to your dog but also to your individual circumstances.
Answered by Miss Gemma Clark BVSc, PG(Dip), MRCVS.