Claustrophobia and terror, a dog’s tail

Thanks to Lead Your Dog for the photo

When I was 18, a requirement of marriage was the delivery of a Rottweiler.  We got a gorgeous 6 month old male Rottie to fulfill my dreams.

We brought him home, he loved us, he bonded and then when we left him he broke out 3 windows, ate 4 batteries (among other dangerous items) and shredded 2 sofas.  He cut his nubbin/tail in one escape and he even ate Joseph and the baby Jesus in our nativity scene that had been handed down throughout generations…

He definitely had some separation anxiety issues.  Thankfully most were cured with a secure aluminum K9 crate, a dark room, and a loud radio.

I have been asked a lot lately to help people that have dog’s with separation anxiety, the severe kind of separation anxiety where there is a fear of a dog injuring himself by hurling his body out a 3 story window, or eating through a door to get out!

Most dogs just need to have their confidence built and they need to be taught some self-reliant “alone” skills.  Independence is sometimes a talent that has to be influenced and taught.  And, some people think that the boredom and destruction their dogs show is automatically separation anxiety when really it is probably just boredom.   I will address that in a separate article.

Dogs with severe separation anxiety truly disregard everything including damaging their bodies in an attempt to get out of their confinement.

I would assume for the dog it feels like perilous claustrophobia and terror.

Imagine being buried alive; this is how these dogs act when left alone.  Extreme fear and a phobic response, I can’t imagine how these dogs feel.

It is certainly not normal.

Put yourself in your dog’s paws for a moment.  What kind of fear would cause you to do bodily harm to yourself?  Would cause you to urinate or defecate where you normally wouldn’t or would cause you to damage your things?

It must be horrible to feel this way, but the problem is that most people HAVE to leave their dog at some point…

Why Do Dogs Suffer From this Debilitating Problem

  • Change of owners
  • Relinquishment to a shelter
  • Change in residence
  • Change in schedule
  • Change in family dynamics
  • Medical problems

Recognize the Signs

  • Drooling
  • Pacing
  • Defecating & Urinating
  • Howling, Screaming, or Monotonous Barking
  • Chewing
  • Digging
  • Destruction
  • Escaping

Most of these behaviors start the moment the dog’s owner leaves and often continue until their return.  And are behaviors that are not typical for the dog normally and are extreme.

Is it Medical?

If your dog is not new to you and these behavior problems are new, the best thing to do first is to make sure that your dog has a clean bill of health.

Frequent urination, defecation and even destructive behaviors can be a sign that something is medically wrong.  Do your dog a favor and take him to your vet first!

Helping Your Dog Feel Better 

When treating a dog with separation anxiety the goal is to treat the dog’s underlying anxiety by teaching him it is okay to be left alone.

Counter conditioning can be effective in some mild cases.  Counter conditioning is a process that changes the animal’s fearful or anxious reaction to a calm and relaxed state by associating the sight of the trigger (perhaps you grabbing your keys or walking out the front door) with something good or something that he loves.

For instance you can leave a puzzle toy, a stuffed bone or a stuffed KONG to give him something to do while you are gone.  Make sure to take these toys away when you get home so that he associates your leaving with the appearance of his favorite things.

I recommend leaving the radio on LOUD so your dog can’t hear every little noise and become more panicked.

I also like safe crate training and crate games to keep dogs safe.  Aluminum K9 crates can be safer and almost impossible to break out of.  For more on crate training click here.

Moderate to severe cases need lots of desensitization training (for more on that click here) and short separations that DO NOT induce anxiety.   These sessions will gradually increase over several weeks or months as your dog learns to deal with his anxieties.

Fear must be avoided or it can cause the dog to backslide to his previous state.

I have heard that the “Thunder Shirt” or similar products can also help.

While you are working on desensitizing your dog, a pet sitter, dog walker or even doggy daycare can be invaluable in helping to rehabilitate your dog.

In severe cases where self-injurious behaviors are a problem medications can help give your dog some relief.  Talk to your vet about he or she recommends.

Before you say you would never want to put your dog on meds, imagine for a moment being exposed to your worst fear and having no control…would you want medication?  I am guessing you would, at least until you got a handle on the behavior.

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Comments

  1. carmen Diaz says:

    I WILL APPRECIATE ADVICE WITH MY DOG COFFEE, SOMETIMES HE LISTEN OTHER TIMES HE IGNORES ME WHEN HE IS BUSY SEARCHING FOR BUGS IN THE YARD AND WHILE HIS DOING THAT HE ALSO GOES OVER BOARD AND DIGS BIG HOLES . I HAVE BOUGHT HIM STUFF ANIMALS TO PLAY WITH SOMETIMES I OPEN MY GATE AND LET RUN AROUND THE ARE SO HE CAN GO OUT OF HIS TERRETORY TO SEARCH, SNIFF AND MEET OTHER DOGS BUT THE PROBLEM IS THAT HE FORGETS TO COME HOME HE WANTS TO KEEP PLAYING 24/7 AND I HAVE TO GO OVER NEIGHBOR HOUSE AND GET HIM. I DON’T HAVE THE PLAYING TIME HE NEEDS ALL THE TIME THAT IS WHY I THINK HE TURNS INTO A DESTROYER LIKE THE OTHER DAY I PURCHASE A KIDDIE POOL FOR HIM TO PLAY WITH AND A COUPLE OF FLOATING DUCKS AND A CRYSTAL BALL BUT EVERYTIME HE SEES THE DUCKS IN THE POOL HE NEEDS TO TAKE THEM OUT WHY? AND JUST DROP THEM AND LEAVE THEM THERE EVRYTHING WAS FINE AND THEN ALL OF THE SUDDEN THE POOL WAS ALL CHEW UP…THIS MADE ME UPSET AND I CHAIN HIM UP FOR TWO HOURS….I DONT KNOW IF THIS HELPS. WELL I GOT HIM TO STOP CHEWING MY SHOES,

    HE IS GOOD TO BE AROUND KIDS AND PEOPLE THEY SEEM TO LIKE HIM BUT!!!!!!!!!
    HE IS ONLY SEVEN MONTHS SO I NEED TO GUIDE HIM THE RIGHT WAY OTHERWISE!!!
    THIS WAS APRESENT FROM A FRIEND HE SAID THAT HE WILL GROW UP TO LOOK JUST LIKE A LABRADOR PHYSIC, I DONT KNOW.

    THANKS,

    CD

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    He needs obedience and exercise, but structured exercise. You can’t expect him to exercise himself and listen to you when you are not providing him with the training he needs.

    I suggest you check out our training products at thedogtrainingsecret.com like our hands off program that will help you get started with basic every day obedience training.

    He is shredding and chewing things because he is bored and it is fun for him, instead if you train him and take him for a couple mile run then he won’t feel the need to be as destructive!

    [Reply]

  2. Bill Cheadle says:

    I have a pretty well adjusted, trained and confident 1 year old Dal – Dewey. I walk him two or three miles a day, and while he spent most of his first year attached to me, a door knob in my office or his crate, we are beginning to free him to wander. First around my office, then in the part of the house where we spend our evenings. He is “off lease trained” and I still do occasional sessions with him to make sure he comes when called and will “go through all the paces”, but I only walk him on a lead attached to my belt – and he’s very good on our walks together.

    My question has to do with bringing him along on our boat. When he was very small, I would carry him to the boat an put him on it – probably my mistake, because now that he’s like 60 lbs and I cannot carry him, he will not walk down the finger dock to get on to the boat. Hi’s ok on the main dock (about 4-5′ wide), but the very narrow finger dock (which even slows my wife) is no go. He just digs in and refuses to walk down it.

    Any suggestions for getting him over the fearof the finger dock. After all, he’s Admiral Dewey, and really needs to go out on his boat…

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    String food down the dock so he has to walk on it to get the food.

    Use steak or chicken if you have to in the beginning then his regular kibble 🙂

    [Reply]

    Becky Reply:

    Have him practice on a finger dock that is on flat ground. Also teach him to walk on, over, across, etc. all sorts of different obstacles/surfaces, it will build his confidence.

    [Reply]

  3. Sandi Quinn says:

    I have a year and half old Caton/Miki (7lbs). She has loved going outside and we would walk and play, but one time recently, something scared her at night when I was pottying her, and she yelped. It has happened several times since and she’s afraid to go outside now, and has begun going potty in the house 🙁 She will yelp when a leaf blows the wrong way. She comes up to me and will put her paws on my leg wanting me to pick her up, and she has NEVER done that. I don’t know what to do for her. I want her to want to go out and play again, but I just don’t know what happened outside that scared the wits out of her. Any suggestions?

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Keep taking her out but take toys and treats and food.

    ignore her if she screams or acts frightened… you don’t want to reward that behavior.

    Pay attention to her and reward her for confidence.

    Obedience like sit, down, etc. will help keep her mind off of everything else and help her relax.

    [Reply]

  4. Carole Olson says:

    My 7 month old Shih Tzu is extremely attached to me tot he point that I cannot go out the front door or shut a door behind me to keep him out..He will dig at the doors and bark incessantly until I appear again…I have tried the crate training steps for several months and play a white noise machine LOUDLY as you recommend to drown out sounds when I leave him in the crate to leave home for an hour or two..When I return I wait until he takes a break in barking then go and let him out paying no attention to him and acting like it was nothing any different then if he had never been in the crate…The crate is in my bedroom…Also I have one in the kitchen area and in the evening while I cook I tell him “Crate” and he goes in without a problem and will sit or lay there with the door open with no barking or discomfort at all and while we eat I have been sending him to the kitchen crate and he is fine…It is only when I leave the house the barking problem persists…I am at my wits in. I would like to be able to travel with him and be able to leave him in the motel/hotel room in his crate without the barking and getting kicked out of our room…LOL
    He doesn’t seem to have any fears JUST doesn’t want to let me out of his sight..He follows me to the bathroom and when I do my hair/makeup he lays on my feet..THERE JUST HAS to be something I can do for him…

    [Reply]

  5. Marie Claydon says:

    I have a 7/8 yr old male Collie/Tervuren mix (Scooch)that we rescued as a pup. He is very smart and can learn a trick or command in one day.

    We are temp. living with our daughter. She rescued a Shepherd/Tervuren mix.(Calvin)who is about 2 yrs younger and was about 2 when adoped and was a stray. I have trained Calvin as well and the two dogs are best buds, Scooch the Alpha. Calvin and Scooch are very loveable and wonderful dogs. Scooch is Kramer on TV and Calvin is John Wayne.

    Calvin is a biggg watch dog, looks like a mini bear and sounds scary. When he is home he will only let people on the property with out permission but then he is ok. He is also a barker. Outside the the property Calvin is great with people except on occasion he may not like someone.

    Scooch was never a barker until we moved in here. Scooch is very good with people and has never snapped or growled at any one. RECENTLY he nipped at a couple workers at the house and a couple days ago went after our neighbor(who he sees all the time) while he was leaning on our fence talking to my son-in-law. This reallly amazed me. I have trained my dog and you would swear he knows everything you say and knows when he is being bad. I do not want this behavior to escalate but do not know how to stop this.

    I suggested to my son-in-law that when he is outside talking to the neighbor and Scooch comes up to give him a sudden nudge to his backside with his foot and tell him to go/leave it. (nudge not done to hurt but get his attention).

    Do you have any suggestion on how I may stop this behavior? I would greatly appreciate it.

    [Reply]

  6. Honey Martinez says:

    My German shepherd is 11 weeks old and keeps eating rocks, she finds them everywhere before I do. I have seen rocks in her poop and they are bigger around than the poop. She had a few episodes where she started screaming and acted as if she is in pain as d this is always just before she poops. She is semi house broken, but this happens when she is outside already . How can I stop her from eating rocks? She has lots of chew toys, gets heLthy pets
    Art bones to chew on, but still goes after rocks. Please advise!

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Rocks can kill her. At some point she is likely to swallow a rock and it will get stuck.

    Go out with her and keep her on a leash and teach her leave it (search “leave it” in our search tab 1/4 way down the page on the right.

    Some owners use basket muzzles to keep their dogs from eating things they should not.

    [Reply]

  7. Honey Martinez says:

    I agree, will have to walk her with a leash, plus I’m getting that basket muzzle. Thanks

    [Reply]

  8. Mike says:

    My roommate just got a 1yr old lab-pit mix (toby) who has been rehomed I think 6 times already. Definitely showing signs of separation anxiety and possibly claustrophobia? My roommate tried locking him in the bathroom when nobody’s home since he’s not fully trained yet, but now the toilet and sink are the only things not destroyed in there. I’m trying to test leaving him out in the living room with our cat since they get along and got a new squeaky toy for him. I also plan on setting up a radio out there too. Any other ideas just in case this isn’t enough for toby?

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    I would crate or use doggy day care.

    I had to buy a 700$ crate, but it was cheaper than a whole new bathroom. Now I know my dog is safe.

    [Reply]

  9. Amy Strong says:

    My dog has started howling when he’s left in the kitchen with his sister when I go out. He’s started going toilet in there while I’m out. When I return he’s very excited to see me and crys. He’s not destructive though and he can’t harm himself either. I leave a loud radio on, a soft bed, toys and something with my scent on to try and calm him but doesn’t seem to working. I’m thinking about letting them roam the hallway and giving him CBD oil to help calm him. What else can I Do??

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    I think smaller spaces and crates are better, read this https://thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/sleep-knife-pillow-crates-crucial/

    [Reply]

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