Ever since the move you've changed... asshole
July 30, 2012 7:53 PM   Subscribe

Why is our dog suddenly being an asshole?

We have a 2.5 year old shepherd mix. We did crate training with her, and used to put her in the crate whenever we were gone. After about a year, we started letting her have free range in the apartment while we were gone, for increasing amounts of time. She was always good about this and occasionally got into food if we left it out, but NEVER chewed up or destroyed anything (OK, she did one time when we very first took her home). We were able to comfortably leave her alone for an 8-hour day. She does enjoy mouthing and carrying around objects while we're home, but mostly as an attention-getter, not to destroy them.

We moved about a month ago, a significant distance away. She hasn't shown any (other?) anxious behaviors about being in a new place. She doesn't seem anxious when we leave. But several times now, she has started to chew up and destroy stuff while we're gone - plastic and paper bags, our new shower curtain (asshole), a shoe, and today a CD (seriously, what the hell) and two books, totally destroyed. Some of the things are food-related but most are not, which is a new development.

So I guess we have to go back to crating, but I don't understand why she's backslid so much when she never used to be destructive and we used to be able to leave her out the whole day. Is she acting out moving stress? Why does she seem totally happy otherwise?

Other details:

-She gets pretty regular walks and dog park trips, the same as what she got at our old place, and she wasn't destructive then. So I don't think it's primarily boredom or under-exercising.

- Today my partner got back from being gone for a few days. Dog was thrilled to see her, we were home for a few hours, we went to get some food and the dog destroyed all that stuff in the half hour we were gone.

-At first we thought it was because we had lots of packing materials and tempting things laying around, but we've cleaned up a bit and she seems to go out of her way to find stuff (took the shoe out of the closet, took the CD and books off the nightstand - not just stuff lying on the floor already).

-we still have most of our old furniture and she has her same dog bed and toys, so she seems to get that that is our place now, I thought.

Is this moving-related? Or is it not-uncommon for a dog who previously seemed not to need crating anymore to backslide? Or for a dog to develop destructive behaviors seemingly out of nowhere?
posted by nakedmolerats to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Dogs are still developing and maturing at that age, so there's that. Probably being left alone is not such a great experience for the dog. After that, you just got back from being away, and then left without her again. So, being an intelligent and sensitive dog, she resents that.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:56 PM on July 30, 2012

I don't think it's backsliding and I don't think it is out of nowhere- I think it is your dog feeling uncertain and uncomfortable alone in your new home. This is normal for lots of creatures, including humans. It's just that your dog doesn't have any other way to express it. She's not chewing your shower curtain to spite you. It is unfair to attribute "assholish" behavior to an animal that's not really capable of scheming to mess with your stuff in order to piss you off. You've radically changed your dog's territory and she doesn't know why, only that things are very different in a way she can't control or understand. Crate her so that she's in familiar territory again.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:12 PM on July 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think the word "asshole" also describes a certain dynamic that may exist between you and the dog as well. Dogs are all about attachment, so perhaps work on that?
posted by KokuRyu at 8:18 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Did the previous residents have any pets? Anything nearby that might cause a sustained, possibly high pitched noise that's out of earshot for you? Maybe her uncertainty stems from information she's getting that you can't perceive.
posted by carmicha at 8:24 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not to threadsit but I want to clarify that I and we love our dog very much. I don't actually think she's an asshole. I say that to jokingly convey our frustration at her unusual behavior. We have not punished or otherwise taken it out on her - we know she's a dog and she's not literally doing it to be an asshole.

I was concerned about how she would take the move when we moved, but she's seemed to take it in stride otherwise. She doesn't whine or act any differently than she used to when we leave the house. We had thought about crating her since it was a new place, but she seemed so OK otherwise that we thought everything was good. She doesn't destroy stuff every time we leave - she's been perfectly well-behaved enough times that we kept thinking it was just a fluke when she chewed stuff up.

(My partner and I call each other assholes too. We curse with love).
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:27 PM on July 30, 2012 [7 favorites]

She's not doing it on purpose, she's worried and stressed. I'd go back to crating her for two reasons, if you are understandably getting mad about the damaged items that's not going to help the dog and it also will help the dog feel more secure.

Reasons for the stress besides the obvious you leaving her alone, might also include such things as new dogs in the neighbourhood she can hear barking or smell while you are out which is why she is not stressing when you leave as you going isn't bothering her but something during the day might be. We live out of hearing distance for humans of a train track, took us 6 months to realize our dogs crazed barking sessions co-incided with large freight trains going by. Are there other dogs in the building, road works or a factory nearby? Anyway whatever the cause crating is the best solution, not only will it make your dog feel safe again it will stop the destruction and stop her accidentally hurting herself by chewing up something dangerous.

I'd also suggest if you don't have any getting some toys to keep her brain busy while in there or kongs full of treats. A busy dog is a distracted and happy dog.
posted by wwax at 8:27 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, Nthing that your dog is feeling nervous in the new space.

The giveway for me was that she was super excited to see your partner, but *went nuts after she left again.* Seems like the dog was nervous/uncomfortable with not knowing how long your partner would be gone again, just like the dog might be feeling uncomfortable/not knowing how long she is going to be staying in the house.

I'd go back to crate training and then gradually increase open-space time similar to how you did in your old place.

One other thing to think about: I understand that you exercise your dog often, which is great! But has her time in the house alone increased at all on average? (Like, if your commute is longer?) Even an extra 40 minutes or hour alone in this new house might make your dog start to wonder about things and get nervous. I would guess crate training would help your dog have a *schedule* in the new place that is consistent and comforting.

Good luck to you and your dog!
posted by shortyJBot at 8:31 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

How much is a 'significant distance'? If you've moved far enough that the environment is pretty different (especially if she hasn't travelled much before), consider how much of a dog's experience is driven by scent. Everything probably smells pretty different - all the new flora and fauna of the new location, plus a new house which to her probably still smells of the last tenants (and/or their pets - have the carpets been steam cleaned if they had dogs?). She's smart enough to know that things are different, but not why or how exactly her territory has changed. Even her doggy friends from the park are gone, and you guys as the rest of the pack are adjusting to the new space are probably not giving off the impression that you're totally settled in and comfortable. Only you and your stuff familiar. Plus it sounds like disruption in routine is something of a trigger, So yeah, I'de guess its probably some moving based anxiety. I would probably just try a combination of time, a fixed routine, and crating her for a while so that she doesn't develop the habit further and spends her alone time in a 'safe spot' until the whole place becomes comfortable to her like your last place was(and you mentioned all the exercise and stimulation, yay! Im sure that'll help also).

Also, yeah, she's probably finding comfort in chewing on your stuff not trying to get back at you. It's totally frustrating and I get why it feels like she's been an asshole, and I suspect that's your usage is more of a sarcastic coping mechanism (been there) rather than actual resentment, but I have found that consciously telling myself that the poor puppy is having a hard time and that I need to empathize, damnit, and forcibly put away any annoyance once the clean up is done (totally legit until then if you need it) can really help. Because she'll pick up on your discomfort, anger, and uncertainty as much as your love and empathy.
posted by McSwaggers at 8:32 PM on July 30, 2012

As mentioned above, dogs have few ways to express some things like uncertainty and anxiety and so it can come out sideways sometimes.

Assuming there aren't any other issues (illness or injury), in your position, I'd probably double the exercise. A tired dog is a good dog, and if they have the energy to express their anxiety through destructiveness, then they aren't tired enough.

Anyway, it's easy enough to try for a few days and see if things improve. And spending more time with the do is sure to help her settle in.

Alternatively, you might give her a food puzzle when you leave - frozen peanut butter in a kong is a real favorite around here.

Also, it's an aside, but I would always be crating the dog - It's just better to keep them acclimated to it, and really, it protects them. Imagine what would have happened if your dog ate some of things it chewed on - you could be looking at a seriously injured dog or worse.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:32 PM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

My husband and I moved recently, and our two dogs were anxious at first. Think about it: moving is one of Life's most stressful activities, and we humans understand what's going on, but the dogs don't. They only know that everything changes suddenly and nothing is familiar. What has worked for us is stepping back, re-training certain behaviors, and re-establishing routines. And LOTS of love and treats! :)

In your situation, maybe crating again would be good, or possibly restricting her access inside the home (for example, block stairs with a baby gate to keep her from going up while you're gone). Also, don't leave stuff where your dog could get to it (no books on the nightstand, etc.). When you're home, practice tricks and behaviors that your dog knows well, and reward and praise like crazy. Teach new stuff, and reward that like crazy too. Take the time to explore your home and surroundings with your dog, so that she sees that this is the new Normal for all of you.

Give it a little time. All will be well.
posted by Boogiechild at 9:02 PM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

are you taking her to a new dog park? could be she's missing her buddies from the old one as well...
posted by sexyrobot at 9:08 PM on July 30, 2012

So I know you exercise her when you are home, but are you sure she's not just really bored during the day and this has slowly become her go-to way to cope when she's alone? Shepherds are so smart, maybe try leaving a Kong for her to figure out?
posted by cairdeas at 9:29 PM on July 30, 2012

Also voting for anxiety from leaving the only home she's ever known and her age. 2.5 years old is about 16 in human years, and a LOT of adolescent behavior pops up at that age. She'll mellow out, but she might actually welcome the crate for a while.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:41 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Crates provide security. Go back to crating, and give her more freedom again as you did the first time around, over time as she becomes more secure and well-behaved. Also, this would be a good time to be predictable and perhaps come home for lunch visits if you can.
posted by davejay at 12:13 AM on July 31, 2012

Nthing what everyone above is saying. Just because you're settled in your new place doesn't mean your dog is. Go back to crating, it will make everyone happier.

(And we call our often-obnoxious terrier an "asshole" all the time, although more frequently it's "jerk.")
posted by radioamy at 9:18 AM on July 31, 2012

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