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Canine Behavior/Sudden destructive behavior in dog


QUESTION: I appreciate any assistance you can provide with this new issue I am having with my 6 year old neutered male labrador. I have raised him from 6 weeks old, he has been with me in three different homes, the first he was the only pet in the home, the second had another dog that he got along very well with, and this current home where we've lived for 2.5 years, he lives with a 5 year old cat. We introduced them slowly and have never had an issue between them, they get along quite well. My dog Sampson has always been very well behaved, and has never been destructive with furniture or personal belongings or anything else, in any of the homes. The worst he does is sometimes helping himself to the couch when we aren't home or getting into the cold bathroom tub when it's warm out, neither of which we mind very much. He has always been very active, he gets daily walks or 5 mile runs with a weekly trip to the beach for swimming. He gets exercise usually 7 days a week, occasionally 6 of 7, and it's always been that way and has never been an issue. However, for the past three weeks or so, he has been destroying our rugs and carpeting while we are not home. We could not figure out if it was the dog or the cat at first, but today the cat was at the vet so only the dog was home, and he pulled up our brand new carpeting in the bedroom for the third time in 3 weeks away from the walls and door and shredded the padding underneath. He has also been dragging all the little area rugs from the front and back doors and by the kitchen sink around the house and into a pile, and pulling up the large area rug we have in the living room and ripping the rug pad underneath. We cannot think of a reason, nothing has changed with our schedules, nothing has changed at home, he gets the same amount and types of exercise as he always has, it is summer time and we did have a heat wave a few weeks ago so there were a few days he did not get walked, but that happens every year and he has never behaved this way. These carpets and rugs have been here for almost the whole 2.5 years we've lived in this house, so they are not new or different either. He's up to date on his shots, gets yearly check ups with the vet, and is in great health and physical shape, and has always been such a great dog. Please help us try to figure out why this is happening! I feel bad that something is making him act out this way and I don't know how to fix it. Thank you for taking my question!

ANSWER: This is far from an easy question to answer.  To YOUR knowledge, "nothing has changed" but, for the dog, something HAS!  What it is I have NO IDEA but let me offer suggestions:

Fleas: examine the area around the anus and top of tail very, very closely.  You may not see any little scurrying "critters" but you may see flea dirt.  Fleas burrow into carpeting and lay eggs (and that, right quickly).  If a dog has experienced a sudden onslaught of "attack" from such critters while lying on rugs (which they are prone to do, especially a breed with known orthopedic issues that is in middle age), he will associate this discomfort DIRECTLY to the carpeted areas.  The domestic cat is a flea magnet: fleas are actually cat related critters but they'll target anything (including you) if nothing else is available.  Is your dog wearing Vectra?  Is your cat wearing a feline acceptable flea repellant?  If not, talk to the vet.  Put the dog in the bathtub with regular dog shampoo (soap kills adult fleas) and give him a good wash (and be prepared for a huge brouhaha LOLOL).  You'll see the fleas in the water underfoot.  If he is protected, and so is the cat, we move on to the next educated guess.

Little visitors.  In extreme weather, these little visitors (field mice, voles, etc.) move "in" and we rarely (unless there's a PARADE in which case oh boy have you got a problem LOL) notice!  But a dog will (so will a cat).  And although one would think the presence of both cat and dog would deter these little visitors, IT DOES NOT (trust me, I live in the country, I know!)  Burrowing and nesting occur at this time of year and nothing is more precious than a mouthful of carpeting for a nest.  The bathroom is an ideal place for a little visitor who is living in the basement or close to the foundation of your house (or apartment building, they follow the pipes).  The dog can then begin to generalize; this means, "I found it here, maybe it's over THERE too!"  Carefully examine the premises for droppings: they are tiny and easily missed.  Little visitors have plenty of food outdoors right now and you may not see any sign of them in your kitchen.

The dog is reacting to SOMETHING REAL and we don't know why or what.  Put away all scattered rugs (wash thoroughly in hot water and dry at hottest temperature, then seal in plastic).  Pick up bathroom rugs.  Confine the dog to the kitchen for now while you are gone.  Provide him with a Buster Cube (this is a "toy" that dispenses a portion of his daily food when he rolls it around).  Do not leave anything "shredable" or "rug like" in this space.  Do the flea examination (even if he IS wearing a deterrent), on the cat, too (good luck with THAT lol).  If you can discover, like Sherlock Holmes!, the "culprit" in this sudden behavior, you can "cure" it.  Better to live with bare wood floors for a while but if your house is infested you will need to have it professionally treated and, on that same day, both cat and dog need professional grooming.  Vacuum all furniture once daily.  Cut up a flea collar and put it into the vacuum cleaner bag and throw out the bag after every vacuuming.  

Best educated guess I can offer, and seems reasonable to assume something (or some ONE) has initiated this frantic effort by your dog to control the environment.  Also: a thorough orthopedic evaluation is required.  Too much exercise in a dog with undiagnosed orthopedic issues (hips, knees) can make a dog react suddenly to things he associates with his pain.  Lying down on a bunched up rug might help him but getting UP from it will hurt him and he will associate that paint WITH the bunched up rug.

Use followup to further advise me.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you for all your thoughts, I checked them both for fleas as well as I could and found nothing, she is an indoor only cat and he is on Sentinel monthly, but I checked anyway and couldn't find anything. Also could not find any signs of mice. But, since we knew it was the dog, on Friday I started crating him again. I crate trained him as a puppy until he was 10 months, and then used the crate again 2 years ago when we introduced the dog and cat, but just for a few days. So he is used to his crate. Friday he was in for a few hours and seemed fine when I got home, panting a bit but I figured he was just excited I was home and had to go outside. Saturday he was in for another couple of hours, and again seemed okay when I got home but he was panting and there was some drool in the cage, he does tend to drool a bit when he's warm. Sunday however, I was home with him all day, took him to the beach for a 40 minute swim, and then went out for just 2 hours. When I pulled in the driveway I could hear him barking and when I went inside, he was panting heavily, there was a puddle of sprayed saliva on the floor about a foot in front of his crate, and he had chewed through 4 metal bars of his crate, trying to get out! I was so upset to see how distressed he had been! He has never had any issues like this, never had any issues when I would leave him home for 9-10 hours while I work, doesn't have issues with thunderstorms or fireworks, nothing ever bothers him, until now! Just the last month or so all this has been happening, and I can't figure out why this would happen all of the sudden to a dog who's been healthy and happy for over 6 years! What can I do to help him? I feel like I am letting him down as an owner responsible for his health and well being. Thank you!

At this point, there are two educated guesses I can make:

The cat is ill, the dog senses it and is extremely anxious.  Remember that there are dogs who can "warn" a Human before a seizure, before a diabetic coma, and dogs that can "diagnose" cancer in Humans.  You need to have this cat thoroughly evaluated, if you haven't already done so.  If that cat is, actually, suffering from an illness (diabetes, etc.), therein may lie your problem with the dog.  If so, advise using followup.

Meanwhile: this dog cannot be crated. His anxiety is enormous.  He must be humanely confined away from the cat (who can easily be put into a bedroom with a litter box) in a safe place where there are no carpets or upholstery: the kitchen with strong gates (available online or in pet supply stores) or even a closed door (although you might find the door damaged: this is called barrier frustration).  I suggest you find a veterinary behaviorist for the dog.  He should be fully evaluated for orthopedic issues, sight and hearing issues, neurological issues, and all his veterinary records need to be faxed over before your initial consultation.  What's happening here:  can't see anything, can only read.  Not even my (weird but true) ability to "read" a "dog's mind" from a distance is helping here (at this point in my life, I AM a dog LOL).

Find a veterinary behaviorist by calling the veterinary college in your geographical area or from the following sites:

Meanwhile: purchase a Buster Cube ("toy" that dispenses a portion of the dog's meals), leave a radio playing soft music or purchase a CD intended to calm dogs:

Try "Rescue Remedy" (a Bach flower extract), can't hurt.  I must say I once drank an entire little brown bottle of it with no effect but maybe it was just me.  (shrug)  It seems to work for some (humans and animals).  I'm just one of those hopeless cases (sigh).

And whatever you do, DO NOT become upset in any way if the dog has done damage.  Pop a Tic Tac into your mouth before entering your home and paste a smile on your face even if it hurts.  IGNORE damage; ask for trained behavior and REWARD that.  Dogs can develop severe separation anxiety because owners come home and are upset at what they find; meanwhile, the dog makes no connection between the destruction and his/her own behavior.

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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

Past/Present Clients
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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