20 tips to help minimize your dog’s destructive behavior

Barking, whining, escaping, destructive behavior or, in severe cases, self-mutilation can be your dog’s way of expressing anxiety over your absence.

By Laura Pakis, Certified Dog Trainer and Professional Blogger,

What can you do? Here are 20 great tips to help minimize your dog’s anxiety:

  1. Consult your veterinarian to get a correct diagnosis of separation anxiety.
  2. Practice leaving your dog alone for short periods of time. Pick up your keys and leave for 1 minute.
  3. Gradually increase the amount of time you stay away. This will accustom your dog to your absence.
  4. Avoid overly emotional good-byes and greetings. Instead, pat your dog on the head and offer a quick good-bye or hello.  Give your dog a treat when you put her in the crate but not when you let her out.
  5. Keep your dog confined in a safe area while you are away. Be sure to leave a bowl of water and plenty of interactive toys.
  6. Exercise your dog for an hour each day in places other than your yard or home. This helps your dog feel comfortable in other locations and lets her blow off steam.
  7. Praise your dog often to build self-confidence, rather than punishing her for exhibiting frightened behaviors. Punishment only increases anxiety and makes the situation worse.
  8. Obedience helps to structure your dog’s life.  Practice a minimum of 15 minutes a day strictly on obedience and enforce any command you give your dog so it’s world remains black and white and knowing its boundaries.
  9. Practice long down stays and sit stays and the place command with your dog so it learns to control itself while you leave the room.
  10. Put your dog in its crate for 5-10 minutes several times a day while you are home.  Correct for barking with a spray bottle or the earthquake crate technique.
  11. Break up your “leaving home” routine so your dog learns that just because you grab the keys doesn’t mean you are leaving.
  12. Set up situations where your dog thinks you’re gone but hide in the house.  Do your normal “leaving home” routine but stay in the home without your dog knowing you are.  Have someone drive your car down the driveway.  When your dog acts out run in the room and correct it.  If your dog behaves, wait until the person drives your car back up the driveway, do your normal “return home” routine and praise your dog.
  13. Don’t coddle your dog or allow your dog to get attention when they want it.  Rather act like you don’t like them and only give attention when you initiate it.
  14. Your dog is more concerned about you than itself so DON’T FEEL GUILTY FOR LEAVING YOUR DOG.  Your sadness and guilt is released through scents in your skin which your dog picks up and responds to.
  15. Leave the tv and radio on.  Animal Planet is a great station for dogs.  Also video tape yourself and play that when you’re gone from your dog.
  16. Give a favorite toy to your dog only when you leave, even something special like a Nylabone food treat it can chew on and destroy.
  17. Give a treat in the crate and praise when you leave and don’t acknowledge that you are leaving the home.  On returning wait 5-10 minutes before opening the crate and allowing your dog out.  No matter how excited to see you ignore your dog.  When it calms down call it to you for praise and affection.
  18. Some dogs prefer to be in a room next to a window so they can see out.  Others prefer the window closed.  Find out what works best for your dog.
  19. Some dogs feel safer in a plastic walled crate than a wire crate.
  20. Don’t give up on your dog.  Patience and consistency will either correct or improve the situation.  Dogs over 5 years of age may need medication to help alleviate separation anxiety.