Case files: Beau, separation anxiety and chewing

I got the following email, and thought it might be helpful for others! So, with the person’s permission…

My sister got us in touch, this way:

“Hey Jenna!

I’ve copied H on this email as she is the one needing help.
She owns a pit bull named Beau whose story is almost identical to Lily’s. Lots of shelters, new homes and people giving him back because he has separation anxiety and chews everything up when left alone.
H and D (her husband), want to work with Beau to try and get him to stop chewing, but are looking for advice and tips on how to proceed.
Are you able to offer up any advice?”
I sent:

“First, crate training is a MUST. There’s a bunch of entries on how here:

Second, does he chew things up when you aren’t home? Because if not, then start crate training, take him walking daily (the less energy he has the less anxious he’ll be), and wait about six months. It takes time for dogs to settle in; with separation anxiety and destructive behaviors, the big key things are to crate him when you’re not home, and then burn off the energy, and let time heal his emotional wounds! There’s a few other things you can do, too, if you want to email me back with some details. (Does he have crate trauma? Does he destroy things when you’re home? How old is he? How long have you had him?)”

And from H:

“[W]e think Beau’s about 2 or 3 years old.  He seems ok in a crate. We’ve only had him for about 2 weeks. He gets super upset when we leave and he starts chewing on wood, mostly door frames and doors haha.. So it’s not the easiest fix.
He gets lots of exercise! Between me and David, he probably runs about 3 miles every day! 🙂
We got him a crate today and he seems to be doing really well so far! First we put him in there when we were home and gave him his toys in there to get him comfortable, and we give him a little treat whenever he goes in the crate and lays down by himself. Hopefully he keeps doing well with the crate.  If you have any other tips for crate training, let me know!
Thanks again!

“Hi, Haley!

This all sounds fantastic! If he’s that comfortable in his crate, start leaving him in there. (He might say, “Forget it! I’m not going in anymore!” Tell him he has to, feed him in there with the door open to keep it a good place, etc. I often put a dog’s breakfast in their crate just before I have to leave for work, so that they go in to eat, I close the door, and there’s no argument!) Continue to make sure he has toys in his crate so he doesn’t get bored.

That’s the first big step. If he can’t be supervised, crate him. If you’re gone, crate him. Chewing for anxiety reasons has two big aspects to tackle:

First, it becomes a habit. We need to break the habit! That’s what the crate is for: so that he can’t do it. It’s breaking the habit, and teaching him what he should chew on: his toys and bones, which are in the crate! Now, to continue breaking the habit, when you see him SNIFFING the type of thing he would normally chew, give him a scolding and chase him away from it. (A squirt bottle works wonders for this.) This way he learns that wood things are off-limits, and because he’s crated when you’re gone he won’t learn “they’re off limits… until everyone leaves!”

Second: the anxiety. As we break the habit, we also work on the anxiety. He’s getting plenty of exercise: make sure he’s also learning down-time. He’s old enough now that he should be relaxing at night, so if he isn’t — if he paces, checks halls and doors, constantly asks to play, harasses you for attention — then he hasn’t learned how to relax. Put him on a leash with his bed nearby, and tell him he has to stay close. No wandering off. Put a couple of toys he likes within reach. We’re teaching him to stay put; eventually he’ll start getting bored, lay down, and chew on his toys. Soft, soothing pets are fine, then, but otherwise just let him be so he can figure it out. Teaching him to calm down will also help him alleviate his anxiety.

If he’s having trouble calming down after a few days, or if his anxiety is simply bad enough, consider Rescue Remedy. You can get it at Target, Whole Foods, pet stores, and a dozen other places! It’s expensive, but will last forever. A drop or two a day often helps. (Any form — for humans or dogs — is fine.)

Finally, when he is looking stressed out, don’t soothe him. You can praise him — “Good job! I’m so proud of you for staying calmer tonight!” or chide him, “Silly dog, there’s nothing wrong,” but don’t tell him, “Oh, honey, it’s okay.” When we do that our body language collapses, and what we’re really communicating is, “I can’t handle this, either!”

Phew! That’s our two-pronged attacked. Keep crating him when you leave until the anxiety is gone; it will likely take about six months. By that time, the habit should be broken, too! “

The result:
“Thanks again for all the help! He certainly doesn’t need much help calming down.. He is the laziest dog I have ever seen! That’s why we were so surprised at his anxiety problems. The crate has seriously worked wonders. I think it helps him feel safe too, so he really mellows out whenever he’s in there. Your tips were all so helpful! He totally obeys the “go in your crate” command now, and sometimes even walks on there when he sees my grabbing my purse and keys! He’s learning to love it! He’s an awesome dog, he just needed some rules. :)”
HOORAY, H and D! They’re well on their way to having an awesome dog, despite his trauma at being handed around. It looks like he’s found his forever home!

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