WHAT TO DO IF YOUR ANIMAL HAS DESTRUCTIVE BEHAVIORS WHILE AWAY (AND HOW TO PREVENT THEM)
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Destruction is one of the most commonly reported signs of separation disorders, and it is easy to see why. Unless your home shares walls with others, you may not be aware of barking or whining. It is tough to miss damaged furniture, though.
Chewing and scratching may be focused on exit points, like doors or windows. In some cases the target is only the door where the family leaves and returns. Destruction can vary from minor to severe. The actual damage and cost to repair it is a major concern, but it can also be dangerous for your pet. Some common injuries include broken nails and teeth, cuts, and ingestion of furniture or building materials.
- Take a deep breath. It is normal to be dismayed, frustrated, and even angry when you come home to damage. Keep in mind that your pet absolutely has not done this because they are angry, or out of spite. Pets often seek out items that smell like family members, but this is not retaliation. Punishing your pet will not make the situation any better and in fact can make things considerably worse.
- Get a video camera. Actually seeing what your dog’s body language is like when they are alone can help figure out whether the reason for the behavior is distress at being alone, reacting to things outside the house, or even a housetraining issue. Each of these problems requires a different treatment approach, so this is invaluable information. It does not need to be longer than 30 minutes. If you already know that your pet’s distress is severe, either skip this step or keep your departure <10 minutes.
- Providing plenty of activities to keep your pet busy while you are gone is always a great idea. There are endless possibilities available, from challenging puzzle toys found online to do-it-yourself options. Destructive pets can respond well to having something appropriate to tear up, like a box stuffed with crumpled paper with tiny treats sprinkled inside. Giving your pet somewhere to focus their energy can be a game changer.
- Sometimes pets need to be confined to ensure their safety. If your pet is already crate trained and really loves their crate, using that may be a good option. For many pets, however, being confined to a crate or a room increases their stress levels. Use the camera to see how your pet tolerates this. If they are distressed or attempt to escape, reach out for help (see next tip). If your dog enjoys daycare, taking your pet there when you leave can prevent damage while you work on a treatment plan.
Speak to your vet. Describe what you are seeing and share any videos you have when your pet is alone. Depending on your pet’s signs, they can make recommendations for pheromones, supplements such as Zylkene, or pharmaceutical options if appropriate. They may recommend a referral to a veterinary behaviorist, who specializes in these types of problems.