Dog on the Couch

2016-12-08 06:01

OUR family dog, who was previously a well behaved pet, has become a nightmare since my daughter went away to study. He barks, roams, digs and chews. I am finding it difficult to control him with this new behaviour. Can you help Susan?


It seems to me that your dog is suffering from a type of separation anxiety. Many dogs need consistency, routines and schedules to feel safe and happy. Disruption of this status causes increased stress hormones which result in anxiety. The roaming and barking can be due to an attempt to relocate the missing person. Digging may be a displacement and self-calming behaviour. The jaws hold a lot of tension which is relieved in dogs by chewing. So this may be a self-calming activity.

I presume that your daughter and the family dog had developed a strong bond with shared activity and affection. It has been shown that the loss of a companion, human or another pet, can cause typical grieving behaviour in dogs. Research has also shown the existence of an oxytoxin loop.

Oxytoxin, more commonly known as the “love hormone”, is produced in increased levels in couples in love as well as between mother and child. Withdrawal of the loved one will have the negative consequence of the cessation of the hormone resulting in typical drug-type-withdrawal symptoms.

Understanding this will help you to empathise with the pet. Offering quality time by walking and playing with the dog will produce other “feel-good” hormones and reduce the need to engage in the negative activities.

Offer appropriate chewing items to replace the inappropriate chewing and leave a treat-ball for self-enrichment activity. The barking will also decrease if other mental-stimulation activities are offered. Many calming natural remedies are available including Rescue remedy, Calmeze and pheromone collars. Your vet will best advise on which may be suited to your dog.

Susan Henderson© (accredited animal
behaviour consultant)

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