Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Dealing with a Destructive Dog

Brown eyes, big ears, a long tongue, a black nose, and a look of pleading, "Will you please love me?" That's what I saw when I first met her. She was found dumped at a local university. She had scars on her neck and stomach telling that she had lived a hard life. She was underweight, you could feel her spine when you touched her back.
I had walked around and seen most of them, the homeless animals that crowded the city pound, and I knew she was the one for me. It would be my first time living on my own, and I knew I needed a companion. She stood out to me as the answer.
That day, the nameless stray dubbed "Ariel" became Lily Cannard. But as I drove her to her new home, I had no idea what I was in for.

Lily going home for the first time

Have you ever adopted a rescued dog? Have you found just how awful separation anxiety can be with your furry friend? Does your pet destroy everything in sight? Well you are not alone.

I thought I was the only one. That I had adopted this dog that had something seriously wrong. But I soon learned that she had a problem very common among abandoned pets. She had separation anxiety, and it caused her to be very destructive.
It was a very long, and expensive journey to learning how to deal with her behavior. Lots of people would have given up, taken her back to the pound, or sent her somewhere else. But for all the trouble she created, she was still a big help to me. She went on long cross-country road trips with me, helped me feel safe when I slept at night, she warned me when I was crossing paths with a dangerous snake, gave me a warm body to hug and feel comforted when I ran out of money and got stranded 500 miles from home, she scared off a man sneaking up behind me, and alerted me once when I was being followed.

If you feel like giving up on your destructive dog, keep in mind that there is a lot of good, that in time will out weigh the bad. Lily is still a work in progress, but I hope to offer a little advice to others going through the same struggle.

The Chronicles of Lily

This was our first night in the apartment. I hadn't unpacked hardly anything, so there was nothing for her to destroy, yet she managed to find something. I assured myself that she had done it because I didn't leave any toys out for her so she was bored.

The next mishap was a surprise to me. She had been peacefully sleeping next to me when I dozed off to sleep.When I woke up, she had ripped up this cushion.

The next day I was folding laundry in the other room and when I came out to check on her, I found this mess.

I had cleaned up the mess from her half way destroying the cushion, then let her have it as a resting spot. I thought if she had a comfortable place to rest, then she wouldn't be as prone to destroying things. Later on I laid down on my bed talking on the phone. I could tell she was jealous that I was not giving my full attention to her, but I just pushed her off of me when she got up in my face to try and grab my focus. She then started anxiously pacing around the whole apartment, and finally got quiet. When I got off the phone I found out why. She had brought a roll of toilet paper from the bathroom, and a tennis ball from the living room, and destroyed them both right at my feet.

After that I started seeking advice on what to do with her, and someone told me to get a crate to keep her in when I couldn't keep an eye on her. I did that, but felt so bad about keeping her cooped up. So one night when I went to pick up a friend, and rationed I'd only be gone for a few minutes, I left her out. I came back home 15 minutes later, to this:
She had destroyed my blinds, and a gift I was planning on giving to a friend.

I was working diligently to get her behavior under control. I would yell "No!" when she went for something she's not allowed to have, then I would put something she was allowed to chew in her mouth and pet her and say "Yes." I made sure she had lots of exercise, and lots of bones.
After a few weeks, she had stopped destroying things while I was present, and was getting better at recognizing what was bad and what was good to chew on. I began letting her out of her crate for short amounts of time unsupervised, and she was doing good at only chewing things that I had shown her were ok.

Then I worked a double for the first time since adopting her. I felt horrible for keeping her in her crate for 16 hours, with only getting let out on my 2 30 minute breaks. So on my 2nd break, I decided to test her training and see if she could go 3 hours without destroying things.

This was a huge mistake on my part, first because I didn't leave adequate things to keep her occupied, but also because she had way too much energy from being cooped up all day, to expect her to be on her best behavior.

And boy did I pay for it!

10 Helpful Tips I Learned The Hard Way

That was the last major fiasco with Lily. But that's mostly because I learned how to deal with her. She is still very much a work in progress and is no where near where I'd like, which is to leave her out of her crate all day without any problems. But what I have learned has cut costs and stress in half, so I will share with anyone needing help.

1. A tired dog is a good dog.This can't be said enough. Any creature is less likely to get into mischievous if they are worn out. They will be less attention seeking, and won't be as hyper. Being hyper causes one to find something to do. Finding something to do can mean finding something bad to do.

2. Find a dog park. Not all cities are lucky enough to have a dog park, but finding a place for your dog to play with other dogs will be good both for exercise and reducing anxiety.

3. Bones, bones, and more bones! This helps with training the dog what is good to chew on, and makes them less likely to chew on other things. It keeps them distracted too.

4. Doggy Daycare. If you are going to be gone all day, chances are you will be too tired to take the dog out for adequate exercise when you get home. On top of getting hyper, your pet can get lonely which is not good for an animal with separation anxiety. If our pets see us leaving them alone all day then ignoring them by going asleep when we get home, they will have a high anxiety level and very likely to get destructive. Where as, if we send them to play with other dogs all day, they will be worn out when they get home, and only be aware that they had a fun day, verses us being gone all day. Doggy daycare isn't generally too expensive. I use a great one where Lily comes home completely pooped from playing all day long and it's only $16 for the entire day, from 7am to 8pm.

5. Get a crate. I felt like a horrible mommy when I first started using it, but found out it can actually be very therapeutic for a dog with anxiety. AND it will save you a lot of money from letting your dog be free to roam and destroy your belongings. When I began using a crate, I would offer Lily a treat and say, "Go to bed" then put the treat in the crate. When she would start to get very rowdy or anxious, I would make her "go to bed" and being in the crate would actually calm her. After a couple months she started going into her crate without me telling her to, and I would give her a treat as a reward and lock her in for a few minutes. Now she takes self time outs, and goes into her crate when she's getting too worked up.

6. Leave and come back. I came up with this idea and tried it out. It worked tremendously well. Times that I was home all day, I would through out the day step outside for a few minutes and then come back in to show her that I would always come back when I left. The first couple days I did this she would whine at the door in a panicked way and then start finding things to mess up. She never barked, just whined like she was hurt that I left her. After a few days she stopped looking for something to chew up when I left. Then a week or two later she stopped whining when I left. She understood that I was leaving her, but not leaving forever.

7. Have a full stomach. When I first got Lily, I would feed her at certain times twice a day. I had heard the tip to leave food out for the dog to eat through out the day, but it seemed she was a bottomless pit and I imagined she would eat an entire bag in a day if allowed to. But after a couple months I tried this and found she was way less tempted to chew on things if she had a full stomach. The first day she ate way too much, but after that she slowed dramatically down in her consumption and began eating the same amount through out the day that I had been feeding her before at only certain times. A dog expert told me that not having food easily accessed can raise anxiety from remembering a time when they didn't know how or where they would get to eat next prior to their rescue.

8. Take a training class. Lots of places have free training classes for pets adopted from the pound. It can help a lot just to get the basics down of what your dog needs to know. Trainers can also give you good advice on your specific problem with the pet.

9. Give them something that smells like you. Doing this will create a sense of you still being there. Lily always whined at first when I put her in the crate and left. I've heard I was lucky that she only whined, because lots of dogs get very loud. Either way, putting something that smells like you can reduce their stress and has worked to stop louder dogs from barking so much.

10. Remember they are worth it. There were times when I asked Lily, "Why did I ever get you?!" but there have been so many great moments that have made up for all the struggles. Your mischievous mess will become your best friend.

Those are the few things I have learned in my time with my pretty pooch. If you have any more tips please share in the comments.


  1. our pet store sells beef femurs, and they've been great for keeping our lab occupied. also, there's a maze bowl that you can get for feeding time to slow them down. kongs with frozen peanut butter as a special treat or before crate time bribe. good luck!

  2. Labs are puppies for at least four years... your doing a good job. I work 12 hr shifts. Before work we go to park,after work back to park....exercises not negotiabl. Crate is a must....must be big enough for growth,getting up and standing etc . No raw hide bones please. Quality food, salmon and sweet potatoe ...Pennical and "in the raw" good choices. Weekly brushing a must. You have a child there mom! Awesome breed,loyal and great temperment.

  3. Crate helps anxiety a lot.