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Canine Behavior/dog tearing be up


QUESTION: We have had our female dog Madison (about 6 years old), for 1 1/2 years. We got her and our female Australian Shepherd at the same time from a rescue. She is a probably a hunting type spaniel/terrier mix.  She is a great dog, very mellow over all, no house breaking issues or any other destructive issues so far. We had a problem keeping her in a crate when we were gone, so let her and the other one out of it and they have been loose in the house all year.  About 2 weeks ago she started tearing up her bed when we are gone. There are 2 identical dog beds and so far she only tore up one of them. I got a job a month ago and have been gone most of 3 days a week about 14-15 hours a day, but my husband has been with them. He takes them for walks and pretty much does the same stuff I did. I quit the job but will probably be getting another one. She did make a few small holes in the bed cover before, months ago, but the first time she tore her bed up, cover, foam and all, was when I shut her out of our bedroom when I went to work so my husband could sleep in.  They sleep in the room with us. (The Aussie whines to get us up if not on her time schedule.)  Now Madison tears her bed up up if we are gone more than a couple of hours. She broke her tooth and had to have it removed so unfortunately we had to take their white hard bones away and she goes through quite a few rope toys. The vet said not to give her anything hard anymore. I don't think this destruction is related to lack of chewing though. What is going on and what do we need to do about it?

ANSWER: First "gut" reaction: stress, frustration, anxiety.
Second, definitely associated with your absence
Third, possible upset in social hierarchy

Please answer following questions:
*  What sort of training have these dogs received, when/how
*  Who greets you first when you return home
*  Has there ever been even a subtle "power struggle" during this greeting (between the dogs, one tries harder than the other or shoulders the other out of the way)
*  Is there any resource guarding between them (does one in particular get the "best" toy, etc.)
*  What do YOU DO when you come home and find the bed torn apart
*  When you locked Madison out of the bedroom, did you allow the other dog to remain there?
*  Are both dogs at large in the home when no one is there or are they confined together in one room
*  Has this dog been evaluated by veterinarian for possible illness or pain

Never give rope toys to a dog that is left alone.  Ingestion of this material can cause painful and quick death (intestinal obstruction, tortion, etc.)  Picking up all toys ten minutes prior to your departure (if both of you will not be home) is not "mean", it will prevent redirected aggression caused by frustration (sounds like this is what's happening).  This pseudo-aggression can be a signal of separation anxiety but can also signal a change in social status between the two female dogs.  That's why I asked the questions above.

Please use followup feature so I can see original question/answer.  Thank you.

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QUESTION: 1. We took them both to basic obedience training a year ago. They both will sit, stay, heel, come when there is a food reward, otherwise they don't mind unless they want to.  I tried different kinds of collars, but they won't heel unless I have the Gentle Leader on them. We moved to a different house 4 months ago and I haven't done much training for about 6 months.
2. They greet us together, but the Aussie is more agressive, pushing Madison out of the way, especially with my husband. We don't let her do it though. When we leave or come back, although we are glad to see them, we don't pay much attention to them at first trying not to stoke separation anxiety.
3. The Aussie will take Maddie's rope toy away from her and she lets her do it. When we first got them, Maddie would get irritated with the Aussie and do a "take down" every so often, but we yelled at her for that and she stopped. There is no dog park where we now live, but at the dog park in Atlanta she would sometimes jump other dogs but never really got in a fight. We could always call her off, but this trait made us uncomfortable. She doesn't want to play with other dogs and we have the feeling that she wasn't with other dogs in her prior home.
4. The last time we tried to shame her for tearing up her bed, but she ignored us. She didn't act a bit guilty. She started tearing it up in front of us for the first time a couple of days ago, and we did stop her then by correcting her.
5. When I locked her out of the bedroom they were both out. Both dogs have their internal clock and when she started barking to get my husband up after she tore her bed up, it was after he normally gets up and takes them out to pee.
6. They are both at large when we are gone and not confirned to one room.  Madison doesn't like being confined.  When put them in a bedroom with the door shut while there were workers in the house, she scratched the paint off the door. She knew we were here, don't know if she would have done it otherwise. She will climb over a baby gate if she wants to get out.
7. She hasn't been to the vets since last spring.

I don't understand why this started after all this time, but figure it must have something to do with me going to work and being gone for such long hours 3 days a week.  My husband loves the dogs and does things for them, but I probably give them more affection and attention.  There was a problem with the crate when we were gone, but since we stopped using the crate about 8 months ago there haven't been any problems with destruction until now.  Do you have a suggestion for a toy that she can chew that doesn't have potential to hurt here teeth? I was using the Kongs but they are too messy when I put canned dog food or peanut butter in them. I don't want the rugs ruined. Madison doesn't interact much with the Aussie but they seem compatible and are certainly aware of each other. One other note is she normally wants to know where we are. She will follow us upstairs, look at us and then do go back down.  Thanks

You have a problem with social hierarchy.  The fact that these dogs do not "interact" (but are aware of each other) and the additional information you gave me regarding the dog park, plus the 'take down' scenario, might indicate that Madison's behavior is the result of improper (or lack of) socialization to other dogs at a crucial developmental time in her life (before 14-16 weeks) or her temperament, combined with some fear factor.  Disciplining her for "correcting" the Aussie was a mistake (but I don't blame you one bit, it's a natural reaction).  The fact that she tore up her bed "in front of" you is a clear indication that this is a redirection of frustration/pseudo-aggression.  There is no cognition involved (she is not making the choice, she is following a biologic response).  There is no reason for any dog to feel "guilt".  Their actions are never intentionally malicious, not even in a situation where a domestic dog does something totally outrageous (attacks a child).  There is no malicious intention, these creatures are innocent of such and incapable of it.  "Guilt" is a misinterpretation by a Human who perceives the body language of a dog incorrectly.  When a dog seems to be demonstrating "guilt", what it is actually doing is offering body language to demonstrate sub-dominance or outright submission (turning head, ears back, low body posture, slinking away, etc.)  I have proven this over and over again in clients' homes by pointing to an object and saying (in the direction of the dog, with no direct eye contact) "What is this?!"  and the innocent dog behaves as if it is "guilty"!

Your sudden withdrawal from daily activity has somehow disrupted the social hierarchy and caused Madison a great deal of stress, especially since the relationship with the Aussie is so confused.  I suggest that, not being able to really SEE anything from here, I can't advise you properly.  I think you need to find a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) who CAN see everything, evaluate the dogs, talk to (interview) you and your husband, and also advise you on how to use positive reinforcement training in such a way that the dogs will learn that "working" on cue (command) is so highly rewarding it is ALWAYS the choice they make.  This, along with some simple behavior modification (perhaps a course of Nothing In Life Is Free, but that requires a real evaluation of social hierarchy between the dogs) should solve this issue, given time and patience.

A "safe" toy is a Buster Cube (this dispenses a portion of a dog's two daily meals when the dog rolls it around) BUT....because there are two dogs involved and this is a self rewarding food source, I would not use it.  If there is a problem in social hierarchy between the dogs (and I believe there is) that is being exacerbated by the sudden change in environment (your sudden digression from "normal" living experience), it is not safe to leave these dogs alone with such a "toy".  There is absolutely no need to leave toys available to any dog.  Most dogs will sleep when owners are away (unless there is an emotional problem, such as separation anxiety).

You can hopefully find a CAAB in your area from the following sites, or by calling the veterinary college in your geographical area:

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

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Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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