Dog (maybe) separation anxiety
February 18, 2022 11:01 AM   Subscribe

Our dog eats anything paper or paper-like that she can get her paws on when we leave the house. She's not food motivated and she's injured herself on a crate in the past. Absolutely no idea what to do about her behavior, thankful it so far has not resulted in a vet visit. Thoughts and ideas?

To give you an idea, she's a 35lb Lab x ?? mix. She is tallish, so she can put her paws on the countertops and pull things down with her teeth.

She was originally my partner's dog, and became extremely nervously attached to him during the pandemic when he was locked down and working at home. Now, I've moved in, and I am the one working from home. She's pretty chill all day -- we usually have a short play session at 2 or 3pm but otherwise she's content to nap. She is very excited when Partner gets home.

When we leave, if we have not scoured the house for everything she might get hold of -- bills, notes, a sheet of stickers, certain boxes -- she will have eaten them when we get home. A photograph was the victim one time; this past time it was a sheet of labels.

She loves these very smelly, very cheap bacon treats, along with a couple other types of treats. Will eat, but does not care about, her kibble. Has shown no interest in a kong, doesn't care for peanut butter. Will attempt to evict treats from a puzzle but it lasts 15 minutes at the most. We give her treats and pets when we leave, but still come home to mayhem if we're not perfectly careful. Thankfully it doesn't include eating the furniture but I'm afraid of it escalating.

Looking for ideas of how to help her feel more secure or just give her something to do that will stop her consuming paper goods. TIA.
posted by Medieval Maven to Pets & Animals (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you don't want to crate her, you might just confine her to a room where she can do the least damage. We use baby gates for this.

I think you do also need to work the problem a little bit, and the first thing a trainer is going to tell you to do is exercise her about half an hour before you leave. The full routine is going to be exercise her a little in advance, run her through several commands (to put her brain in receptive mode) for rewards right before you go, leave with little fanfare and come back a few minutes later. Wait a few hours, repeat. Maybe you just go sit in your car/hide around the corner of the house and watch her on a baby monitor so you can "come home" before she gets restless, and this might also give you insight into whether she's bored or actually anxious. Ideally you establish a routine where you come and go with low fanfare (her excitement when her person comes home may well be reinforcing a confused connection between being excited making the person appear), and make sure that your own personal vibe is pretty chill - not anxious about leaving, not too excited about coming home. You can put her through a set of commands again on return, for rewards, and then let her outside or walk her to get any pent-up energy out.

An exercised dog is much more likely to do what most "good" dogs do when left alone: power down and sleep until there's something to do. But giving her more experience that you do return before she becomes unhappy about anything should extend her resilience for being alone. If this process isn't working, you can usually troubleshoot the entire thing with a trainer in a one-hour session and get a plan in place that better suits your dog's personality.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:30 AM on February 18, 2022 [8 favorites]

When your dog can't be trusted to have free reign of the home when you're gone, you need to reduce the space available to the dog. For some, that's a crate; for others, that's a room. I recommend starting with a bathroom with a nice bed for her. Make it very enticing to go in there, but put her in there when you leave. Eventually, you can work up to a bedroom. Then maybe the whole house. Personally, I still put my dog in the bedroom when I'm gone. I'm 99% certain she wouldn't do anything, but why give her the temptation?
posted by hydra77 at 12:02 PM on February 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Agreed with the idea of a room. A large exercise pen with a roof (and a bed, and toys, and food and water) is another option people use.
posted by eotvos at 12:52 PM on February 18, 2022

If she hurt herself on a wire crate, try resin, or vice versa. Put her in the crate while you're home, in your office with her, and give her kibble. Feed her in a crate, door open. Make the crate a non-punishment zone. Short times, varied times, lengthen the crate time. It's a really good idea for a dog to have a space where they can't cause or be subject to problems.

Pick a room where she is least likely to get hurt/ cause harm, remove paper. Rotate the toys every day. Try again with a kong that has a good treat stuck in it with peanut butter. Get her used to being in that room, alone, again not in a punishing way. Keep her kibble in that room. Spend happy fun time in there with her.

She needs way more exercise than she's getting. Add 2 great long walks every day, not the same routes; dogs need variety. Find a dog park and go a couple times a week. Dog day care is a really good workout for dogs. We had a hound who had tons of energy and tons of problems. 3 x/ week to the dog park, 1 x / week day care, tons of exercise helped him not eat the house. Once she learns to chill out a little, you might be able to reduce the exercise a little, but many dogs need so, so much more exercise than they get. Once she learns that she gets attention for not misbehaving, it gets better.

Start positive training. Leave a newspaper (smells distinctively of ink, and therefore paper) in the room out of reach. When you come back, obviously put the intact paper away in a baggie to reduce smell appeal, and praise/ play/ attention. Every once in a while, give 1 - 3 tiny treats. That kind of training is for the looong game, but can be quite effective if you are diligent. Mostly, way more exercise.
posted by theora55 at 12:59 PM on February 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

I feel you. I have a shredder too. We keep our puppy in the kitchen with his dog bed. I know your pup doesn't like peanut butter, but this toy with cream cheese spread on it and in it has been great. We do buy him toys that he likes to shred (like stuffed animal that has loops he can pull on, rope with knots in it) but I admit I don't really feel great about that. I'll be watching this thread for more ideas. Good luck!
posted by biscuits at 1:56 PM on February 18, 2022

I recently had to take in my mom's dog, who had some separation anxiety before but it worsened with the change. The vet prescribed Prozac and it's been an absolute game changer.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 5:24 PM on February 18, 2022

Vitamin B12 deficiency can induce strange chewing habits in dogs as well as humans, along with lack of interest in foods.

I would try the kind of megadose supplements which work for people who can’t absorb B12.
posted by jamjam at 5:26 PM on February 18, 2022

Response by poster: thanks guys. We are walking her 3-4x / day (Morning, sometimes in the afternoon, 5-6pm, and about 10pm). She's 14 so not the most into EXERCISE per se but we do take her out.

We're working on "go to bed" now with treats and we're going to get a soft/resin crate instead of the wire ones. She managed to find something paper and eat it in the time we were away at the grocery store this afternoon (uhh not long) so it's crate time, I guess. The only good thing is her hearing is kind of going, so she doesn't bark and react to every little thing these days, just apparently gets real mad when we go buy groceries.
posted by Medieval Maven at 2:31 PM on February 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

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