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Canine Behavior/Separation anxiety for the dog, frustration for the human

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Dear Madeline, I have read you biography and I promise to read and rate your response within three days.  I understand that your time is valuable, that you are most likely spending at least 45 minutes of your time in response to my question, and I understand too that when questioners read and rate your responses fairly that you make random donations to animal shelters to help homeless animals.  In the interest of being appreciative of your time AND helping shelter dogs and cats, I agree that I will rate your response and give you fair feedback.

My dog is a year old, neutered, bulldog mix that I rescued about 5-6 months ago. He has responded well to training, he's great on walks, he's very sociable, fully housebroken - he seems to be a good dog. But a problem with (what I think) separation anxiety has creeped up and I'm getting quite frustrating. I always leave him plenty of toys, a Kong, etc for him to chew. But a lot of times I'll come home and there's no destruction. But sometimes I'll come home and I'll see ripped up notepads, computer paper, and occasionally destroyed CD's. The CD's scare me because of the possibility of swallowing a sharp piece. This is stuff he pulls off my desk and my bookshelves.

I can't correct the behavior because I can't catch him in the act.  I tried crate training but he would never get in it so I scrapped it for now. Without fail I leave a treat in his Kong so that he'll chew that and that's been working for a few days.

Should I try crate training again? Should I get a gate and block him in the hallway or something? Any guidance because the frustration is growing and I know a frustrated trainer doesn't make for a responsive dog.

Thanks for your time and I very much look forward to your response.

Answer
Hi Ryan,

Thanks for your question and for reading my biography, as evinced by your cutting and pasting the Virtual Agreement.  If given a fair rating from you, I will make a donation simply because you also took the time to read my bio and agreement (most people don't even mention it, so thank you again!).

Based on what you've written, your Bulldog is a year of age, and probably still an avid chewer.  Some dogs are lifetime chewers, and some scale back a bit on chewing as they mature.  Your fellow is still rather young, and it sounds as if he's still an avid chewer.  Whether the need to chew will diminish as he matures is unknown.

I read no evidence based on anything in your writing that he's experiencing separation distress.  It sounds to me as if you're leaving items for him to chew, but he doesn't know he's to chew ONLY those items, and instead is making his own selections based on what is available to him and in the absence of anyone to tell him he can't select those items.

My suggestions are three-fold.  First, make sure he knows what items he's SUPPOSED to chew and ALLOWED to chew.  Offer Allowed to CHew items when he's in your presence, under your supervision.  Offer these items, include the food-stuffed or treat-stuffed Kongs, when you're at home.  Gauge his interest - is he at all interested in the items you're giving him to chew?  If not, encourage him by tossing some of the items for him to play with (in the case of Kong tossing, you'll want to make sure they're empty or frozen when stuffed so whatever is in them doesn't fly out while you're tossing).  When he chews on appropriate items, praise him verbally.  Remember, too, that being interactive with his chew toys (that is, he's interacting with you through his toys) will generate his interest in the toys.  After interest is generated, he may have interest in those toys without your needing to interact with him using the toys.  If he goes to chew any inappropriate items while in your presence, say "Leave It," gently redirect him to appropriate chew toys, and praise him when he's redirected.  

It may be that he's not interested in the toys you leave with him.  You'll be able to gauge his interest if you follow the instructions above.

Two, at least for the next six months to a year, or until you're confident he likes HIS toys and not yours, manage the environment.  That is, make sure he has no access to inappropriate chew items of his choosing when you're not at home.  As you've noted, you're not there to correct him at those times, so he doesn't know that chewing those items is inappropriate.  As you say, too, some of the items he's chewing are downright dangerous, potentially.

Third, make sure that when you are home he's getting both enough physical exercise (careful in te heat of sumjmer!) and mental stimulation in the form of daily training.  If you need help with training, sign up for a local group class or find a private trainer to help you out.

As for crating him, since you've abandoned the crate, I would work with a trainer to make sure that crating him doesn't set off distress or unwanted behaviors which could lead to separation distress.  The right trainer can show you how to reintroduce the crate to make it a welcome experience for your Bulldog before you leave him alone in it.  I've answered many a question having to do with making crates pleasant experiences for dogs.  If you'd like, feel free to look through my previous answers and read the instructions in any one of those addressing making the crate a positive experience for dogs.

If you can manage your environment by gating him in an area away from "illegal" chew items, including pillows and other plush items which can also be harmful, and after following the above suggestions regarding getting him interested in his "legal" chew toys, that would probably be best until you're sure he'll have a positive experience while crated and won't feel the need to try to escape.    

It may be that he has separation distress - but, I don't think you will know for sure until you rule out simple boredom and preventing him from making his own chewing selections until he learns what items are "legal" chew items, and that takes some time and repetition of your showing and telling him.

I do think it would be a good idea for you to work with a professional trainer for a few lessons.  A positive-methods-only trainer can show you how to accomplish the best results with your Bulldog and also address safety considerations.

Best of luck!

Madeline Friedman, M.A.

Canine Behavior

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Madeline S. Friedman, M.A.

Expertise

I respond to public questions only. I'm not a veterinarian & do not respond to medical questions.Suggestions: Submit a question in one area of priority, as what I am able to address in this venue is limited. Provide as much detail re: the behavior & issue as you can. Tell me how & if behavior is a change from previous behavior & when the changes occurred. Let me know what you think may have triggered such changes & what you have tried so far to resolve it, & what the results were. Let me know what you want help with & what are your concerns & questions about the behavior. I have set up a payment/donation to myself for responding to questions. I donate most of it to animal shelters & rescues. I keep a small portion for my time. The minimum donation is $25.00 on PayPal. When I see that a donation has been made, I will respond to your question. You will be prompted to make the donation before submitting your question. When you have read & rated my response fairly, which must be at the time you read it, I will refund $5.00 back to you IF YOU REQUEST that I do so in your rating comments. If I ask for more details, please respond as a "follow-up" & not as a new question. If I don't respond to your question, I will refund your donation less $5.00. DO rate me fairly at the end of our exchange. I will be pleased if you DO nominate me for volunteer of the month - why not, if I was generous in my response? I may suggest something you were not necessarily ready to hear, but I am honest in the interest of helping your dog, & that is my goal. Please keep that in mind. Please do NOT contact me privately about Allexperts questions through my e-mail or website unless I have invited you to do so. That is an invasion of my privacy - thank you for respecting it. If you would like to contact me for actual dog training & behavior consulting, you may contact me through my Web site.

Experience

Own & operate dog training & behavior consulting businesses, Hoboken Dog Trainer, and ny-njDogTrainer, in the NYC & NYC Metro areas since 2002. Work with thousands of dog owners & their dogs, & shelter & rescue dogs. Active volunteer in dog shelters and rescues (rescues being "no kill" and shelters being municipality-run urban shelters that can and do euthanize dogs). AllExperts volunteer in "Dogs, Category 701" and "Dog Training" and "Canine Behavior" since 2006. When you submit a question, please make sure it's being submitted in the appropriate category as I volunteer in two different categories. Make sure you agree to the Virtual Contract (the instructions I outline for question submissions) and agree to read and rate my response when I answer in the body of your question. I make donations to various animal non-profits based on YOUR ratings. If you don't rate my response, or rate it unfairly, you have just denied a dog rescue org or shelter a donation. Keep that in mind.

Organizations
Professional Member of APDT for five years Founding Member of Animal Behavior Associates Behavior Education Network Former Board Member of IAABC, appointed by Founder Former Member of IPDTA in Canada Founding member of Behavior Education Network

Publications
Chronicle of the Dog (APDT, peer publication, numerous articles) Popular Dog Series magazine, numerous entries AOL in Everydayhealth.com Tonowanda News Morris County News Vermont News Boston NOW New York A.M. Polo Trace Newsletter The Dodo AOL

Education/Credentials
Counseling Psychology, Caldwell College Animal Science, Rutgers University Master of Arts Degree Permanent New Jersey State Teaching Certification (teach public school and university level) Numerous workshops, lectures, and seminars on dog training and behavior Ongoing self-motivated study in my area of expertise

Awards and Honors
Best Canine Coach Award, 2006, Rondout Valley Instructor's Training Course Society of Illustrators, second place international competition Jellybean Photographics, second place international competition Fashion Institute of Technology "Commitment to Illustration" award

Past/Present Clients
Testimonials from a number of clients appear on my Web site at www.ny-njDogTrainer.com under "Reviews." My customers include: Puppy owners wanting to get their puppies off to the best start; owners of mature dogs who want their dogs to have more obedience skills; fosters and owners of rescue dogs or shelter dogs; customers with special needs who need to train or retrain their dogs; housetraining and housebreaking; owners who have behavioral issues with their dogs such as house accidents, aggression towards humans, aggression towards other animals, inattentive dogs, unmotivated dogs, overly-exuberant dogs; and, more.

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