Dog on the Couch

2016-07-07 06:00

Dear Susan,

I ADOPTED a dog six months ago and all went well until last week. Sam, a rescued dog, has started chewing up my six-year-old’s story books and my clothes. We are in the process of moving house and the added stress of the dog problem is more than I can cope with. Please help.

Pat

Dear Pat,

Firstly, it often takes time for a rescued dog to settle into a new home. The adaption period may unfold in various stages, the first of which is often referred to as the ‘honeymoon.’ Generally I’d have suggested that in this case the ‘honeymoon’ is over and you’re experiencing a different phase in the settling-in process. This is because previously unseen behaviour issues might surface once the dog feels securely “at home”. However, in your case it is much more likely that Sam is sensing and reacting to the tensions in your home brought about by the moving process.

In a stressful situation all family members, including pets, experience the tensions and react in their own ways. Tension alters the way we speak and behave and smell. All this will be picked up by the dog. The items chosen by Sam and the method of destructive venting strongly indicate a need to re-sample the once-familiar you. I don’t know how other family members are reacting, but the same probably applies there. Sam most likely wonders what became of the original Pat, so is experiencing separation anxiety. Coping mechanisms such as chewing are a symptom of this. The chewing, for instance, releases endorphins which are “feel-good” chemicals that make the sufferer feel better. The items Sam has chosen will be imbued with your scent. That’s why dogs in such situations often chew up things like books and remote control devices.

It has been established that moving house is among the most high-stress undertakings one is likely to experience in life. Unfortunately when caught up in the activities that moving house entails, not only are we frazzled, but our normal routine is disrupted. Sam, who has been through a homeless period, understandably needs the reassurance of sensing safety and security in established routine and consistency in all the aspects of family life that recently became familiar.

The solution to this lies in understanding the dog’s anxiety and then working out ways to reassure him that you and your family have not changed, and that you are still together with him. For example, if you are rushing about frantically, packing things and trying to work out what to put where, take a moment to reassure him that he is still part of the family. Try to find a voice that betrays no tension; give him a pat and a hug. You and your family should find this therapeutic too. Giving him things to relieve his chewing needs when you are distracted or too busy will also be of relief. A Kong toy can be stuffed with tasty treats and will keep him occupied while boxes are packed. - Susan Henderson© accredited animal behaviourist.

Send questions to Susan at info@dogbox trainingschool.co.za

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