Destruction & Separation Issues

How Do I Stop My Dog Chewing when I'm Away?

Dear Pippa,

Please help.

I have an adorable 14months old Welsh Springer spaniel. She's full of fun, energy and love, but she loves to shoes, handbags, children's toys and trainers etc.

I have to work full-time - I was divorced 2 months ago and now leave the house between 8.30 to 5.30. My three daughters are at school all day and Tamar, the spaniel, is left alone in the house on her own all day.

She greets us on our return with a wagging tail and an array of chewed objects at the front door. She is costing me a fortune. How do I stop this?

I've tried smacking her with a rolled up newspaper and saying 'no' very firmly while showing her the destroyed objects, but nothing seems to stop her.

I take her for long walks before work and again in the evening. She has at least an hour's run. Before my divorce I only worked part-time so Tamar was not on her own for so long each day.

Please help, I'm at the end of my tether.


Dear Sue,

Your problem is a common one. You have a very energetic breed and since your divorce two months ago you have been forced to leave your dog for longer periods of time each day. Tamar's destructive behaviour while you are away could be a demonstration of simple boredom or a result of a more serious behavioural problem called separation anxiety.

Have you tried leaving a radio on and leaving her with a toy such as a Kong each day? Investigate puzzle feeders or skittles, sells an array of different activity toys to occupy you dog while you are away. Maybe you could look into getting a dog walker at lunch time. I know this is an extra cost but Tamar is to be costing you money with the items she is destroying at present.

If this does not cure Tamar's behaviour, she may be suffering from Separation Anxiety. Separation anxiety is diagnosed in around 10% of behavioural cases. This disorder can manifest due to genetics or a species predisposition but is often caused at the early learning stage and by owner behaviour. Dogs are a social animal that rely on the others for individual protection by safety in numbers. Dogs are more likely to exhibit behaviours related to separation anxiety when they are left alone. They will become extremely agitated, and prone to chewing, barking, salivating, urinating, defecating, vomiting or trying to escape by chewing through walls, scratching doors or breaking out of cages.

This condition is perfectly treatable, but will require advice from a behaviour counsellor. This is something that can be fixed, you will not have to choose between tolerating this anti-social behaviour or parting with your beloved pet.

Please contact me on 01303 269172 for further advice.

How Can I Stop My Dog Waking us up at 3am?

Dear Pippa,

I have a six-year-old jack russell called Gus, who has always been very well behaved. From a puppy, he has always slept in the kitchen downstairs in the house and this has never been a problem.

But in recent weeks he has developed a habit of scratching the door at around 3am in the morning. Going down and telling him off does not work, nor does trying to calm him down. We have tried putting something on the door to stop him scratching, but he then starts howling. He only settles when he is allowed upstairs in the bedroom.

Nothing else in his behaviour or his routine has changed and I have no idea as to what to do to solve this problem.

It is driving my whole family mad, as he wakes up the whole house, and we are rapidly approaching the end of our collective tether.

Please help!

Donna Smith, Cheriton

Dear Donna,

Thank you for your letter. Initially the first thing I would suggest is to take Gus to the vet for a check over. The fact that his routine has not changed indicates that his behaviour could be due to a medical problem. A urinary infection, for example, might mean that he needs the toilet during the night. If you eliminate a medical reason to be the cause of his recent behaviour, you know that you are dealing with behavioural condition.

Dogs are opportunistic, if they can get away with a certain behaviour they certainly will do - whilst also pushing the boundaries further each time. Gus must have called for you in the first instance and realised that he was able to gain your attention. By going down to him each night this behaviour will continue and he will probably start scratching and howling earlier each night.

Obviously you can't just ignore this as presumably you have neighbours to be concerned about and you require some sleep yourself! Firstly, you need to make sure that nothing is waking him up at that time each night, such as the milkman or neighbours working shifts. If there is a trigger maybe the solution is for him to sleep in another room. If his behaviour is now just a habit you need to make changes to his routine to break this cycle. Look at when you feed him and walk him during the day, could he be waking up due to eating too late or not receiving enough exercise? If you walk him later in the evening, why not try changing the routine to a morning walk and a shorter one in the evening? If you feed him one large meal you could divide this into a morning an evening feed so he is able to better digest his food. What you feed him is also important, his main food and treats should be colouring free as additives and preservatives surging round the body could cause him to be a lighter sleeper.

I would suggest that you leave things to occupy him when he wakes up. Have you tried leaving a radio on quietly or leaving him with a toy such as a Kong filled with pieces of food? It might also be an idea to confine where he sleeps. A crate or a cage acts as a 'secure den' for a dog and might give him some extra comfort or security. This would stop the scratching but might cause the howling to intensify. If this is the case you could place a sheet over his cage to make it darker in order to calm him down.

It really is a case of trying these different suggestions one at a time to see which works. If he is medically fit you know he is not in any pain. Start at a weekend and let your neighbours know what you are doing. You really mustn't go down to him in the night. Buy some earplugs if you have to! Very few dogs continue howling after two or three nights if they are not getting a response from their owners.

How Can I Stop My Dog Causing Damage when I Leave Him?

Dear Pippa,

I have a two year old terrier who, when I leave him in the kitchen and go out, will scratch the door and chew furniture. I leave chews and toys for him to play with but he just causes damage. How can I stop him? I don't leave him for long periods,

John Humphrey

Dear John,

There are many reasons why a dog will chew; an un-balanced diet, anxiety, attention-seeking and boredom to name a few. It is important to explore why your dog is chewing. Given that you have left him with chews and toys and providing that you feed him a well balanced diet, I can only conclude (without seeing him) that he is anxious or attention seeking. At his age, attention seeking might be the more obvious reason. As you don't leave him for prolonged periods of time maybe you should consider getting a crate for him?

Cages or crates provide a lovely environment or 'den' for a dog as long as they are introduced to them gently and positively. The crate must be of the appropriate size for the dog when he is fully grown to allow him room to manoeuvre. In the crate you should place a soft mattress or bed, a toy and water. You could then leave him safely in the knowledge that he couldn't cause any further damage to your kitchen. You could either leave this crate erected for him to sleep in overnight or quickly dismantle it if you would prefer to keep it tucked away. I would advise that you don't leave him in the crate for more than 3/4 hours while you are out.

You could also try leaving a radio on for him in the background. As humans we are responsible for making quite a lot of noise while we are at home and when we leave the silence could be quite distressing. You could try putting the radio on quietly in the kitchen or just outside the room so he thinks you might still be at home.

How Do I Stop My Dog Urinating in the House When Left Alone?

Hi Pippa

We own a five year old German Short Haired Pointer called Alfie. When he is left alone in the house for any period of time he urinates. We have tried both ignoring this behaviour and also chastising him. However this behaviour continues.

When we first got him, we had another dog. They were always shut in the kitchen, if we went out and that was not a problem. When the other dog died (approx. 3 years ago) Alfie tried to chew his way out of the kitchen and according to the neighbours he barked and howled all the time he was alone.

Since then we have tried leaving the television on and he has the run of the house. This seems to make no difference and he continues to urinate and bark when left alone.

Please Help.

Kelly Masters

Dear Kelly

It sounds like Alfie is suffering from Separation Anxiety. Separation anxiety is diagnosed in around 10% of behavioural cases. Dogs are social animals that rely on the others for individual protection through safety in numbers. Alfie has been used to living with another dog and obviously craves for more company now that your previous dog has died. Dogs suffering from separation anxiety are more likely to exhibit behaviour such as extreme agitation, chewing, barking, salivating, urinating, defecating, vomiting or trying to escape by chewing through walls, scratching doors or breaking out of cages, when left alone.

It might help you to asses Alfie's routine. How long is he left alone for? Hyperactivity and destructive tendencies can be reduced with adequate exercise and mental stimulation; the German Shorthaired Pointer needs plenty of vigorous activity and has a natural instinct to hunt, which means appropriate exercise is an absolute necessity! The GSP is also very intelligent, engaging his intelligence with sociable activities such as agility or flyball might help.

Food should also be considered. Foods without additives and colourings are best. Highly coloured food and treats can cause dogs to become hyperactive and/or aggressive. Feed a good quality food, or check my website for further nutritional advice

Getting another dog might help. However, this might just mask the problem for a period of time. Alfie sounds to be under a lot of stress and making your life very hard. If these suggestions don't help, please contact me to explore separation anxiety treatment.