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Canine Behavior/Seperation Anxiety?


We have an 11 month old female Belgian Tervuren. She has been crate trained since we got her. My wife is a stay at home mom and is home with the puppy. Recently when she goes into her crate she will bark and pace non stop until my wife returns home. Recent examples are my wife was gone for 40 minutes and placed a video camera so we could observe her behavior. She paced back and forth and barked for the entire 40 minutes. We did this again for 1.5 hours and again she paced and barked for 1.5 hours non stop. She also pee's in her crate even if she goes potty outside before. We placed a barrier in the crate so she only has enough room to turn around and lay down. We attempted to leave her locked in my office for 1 hour loose. We returned to find she shredded all 4 corners of the throw rug and also destroyed a rubber mat. She gets exercised 2 times daily with rigorous ball chasing and gets walked once daily as well. Any advise would be awesome. Thanks!

Thank you for your question. At the face it does sound like separation anxiety. But it may also be boredom.

How often does she spend time in her crate? Does she eat in her crate? Relax or nap in her crate at her own choosing? Does she sleep in the crate at night (and if so, is she comfortable in the crate when you're home)? Does she have any activity to occupy her in the crate such as a food-stuffed Kong toy or a Bully Stick, Himalaya Chew, marrow bone, antler, everlasting treat toy, etc?

It sounds like you do a good job of addressing her physical exercise needs with lots of ball play and a daily walk. Tell me what you do to address her mental exercise needs - example: food puzzle toys, problem-solving games, hide-and-seek with toys, food or people, scent work games, herding games, obedience practice/classes, etc.

If this is a case of boredom, then adding in the mental enrichment will go a very long way toward minimizing the undesired behaviors. Providing activities to occupy her while confined, providing a good mental workout before she needs to be confined so she's ready for a nap can also help.

Mental exercise is actually more tiring than physical exercise. Consider spending 2 hours wandering a park or playing video games vs. 2 hours studying calculus.... Play is fun, but doesn't necessarily require a lot of brain power and you have a high-energy, high-drive working dog who will thrive by having a job to do. That job can be any number of things that require her to use her brain.

It might be worth confining her someplace like the kitchen - with hard floors so she has no carpet to chew and easy to clean should she have a potty accident - and then making sure there are enrichment activities to keep her busy.

Many highly reputable trainers (the tops of this industry) never feed their dogs out of a bowl. They use puzzle toys so that the dog has to use their brain and earn the food. Dogs actually prefer to work for their food than have it free in a bowl, so we can use that to your advantage. By finding interesting ways to feed her. See a short list (nowhere near exhaustive) below.

If this is a budding/increasing separation anxiety, then you'll need to address that. Separation anxiety is a true panic disorder. It has nothing to do with being disobedient or stubborn. It is truly a panic attack and all of the behaviors associated with it are a direct result of panic and fear. So, the first order thing to remember is that no matter what damage is caused or potty accidents occur, when you get home, IGNORE them. Greet her calmly, in a low key manner. Take her out for a potty and some love/affection and clean up whatever mess she made after you've been home at least 20 minutes, and hopefully while she's occupied in another room. I know our instinct is to clean up a mess (whether it's chewed up carpet or a pee puddle) the moment we find it, but really, it's probably already been there at least 30 minutes and maybe as long as several hours. So leaving it another 15-20 minutes won't make a difference. The more important part is that we make zero "deal" over finding the mess. The reason for this is that if we come home and show any kind of irritation at the mess she made, we can actually add to her anxiety. What happens is we end up with a dog who is panicking at being left alone, and then she learns that your return is also sometimes dangerous (because you get angry), and so as it gets closer to the time of your usual return, her anxiety level increases even more and we end up with even more panic/destructive behaviors. So we can minimize the destructive behaviors by acting like we don't even notice them.

There is an excellent book called Treating Separation Anxiety in Dogs by Malena DeMartini-Price

She is the preeminent authority on separation anxiety in the US. If you're dealing with separation anxiety rather than boredom, this book will prove invaluable to you as you work through the issue with your dog. I also encourage you to enlist the help of a local, force-free, positive reinforcement trainer who has knowledge and expertise in dealing with separation anxiety to help you as it can be quite daunting and having an expert to "hold your hand" and help you over the hurdles can be extremely helpful.

Below is a list of various puzzle toys (this list is by no means exhaustive, it's just a sampling) - some are food dispensing (a way to feed the dog her regular meals, but make it much more interesting and enriching), and some are plush toys - you'll need to supervise to make sure she doesn't destroy and ingest the plush toys. Some of the food puzzle toys are rather "independent" in that once she understands how to engage with them, she can do them on her own, while others are more interactive where you would be with her to supervise and reload compartments as she gets the bits of food out of them.

NOTE: Many of these mental enrichment activities would also be part of the protocol for treating separation anxiety.

Solo activities are anything dogs can do to entertain themselves without direct interaction with each other. Some will be truly independent, while others are more interactive with a human assistant.

Independent Puzzle Toys

Kong Wobbler -

Kongs - (see attached recipe guideline for ideas)
Puppy (they make a senior as well, but I think they're the same level of softness)

Classic (if the is a heavier chewer)

Extreme (for the really heavy chewer)

Sized correctly, it will probably take 2 Kongs to provide one full meal (if the dog eats twice per day) – more if a giant breed. Having many Kongs will allow you to prepare them ahead of time and freeze them for easy dispensing.

Tricky Treat Ball -
Supervise this toy until you're certain your dog/s don't just try to rip it open to get the goodies.

Buster Cube -
This toy requires carpet or, if outside, grass for enough traction to roll. On hard floors, it'll just slide.

Marrow Bones (which can be stuffed like a Kong once they've cleaned them completely) – I prefer the ones that still have meat/tendon on them with a bit of marrow inside. I think they’re intrinsically more appealing to dogs. Once the dog/s have cleaned them thoroughly, you can reestablish the bone's awesomeness by stuffing it similarly to the Kong. You can also freeze the stuffed bones like the Kong to increase the length of time it takes to get the goodies out.

Antlers -
Deer, Elk, Moose... each dog may have a preference for one over the other. I encourage you to purchase these in person and not online. Many antlers have 'branches' that have been cut away along the length, not just the cut ends. I've found that if those branch areas are not sanded completely smooth, they are more likely to splinter. So I like to buy them in person so I can inspect and handle them and decide if they seem safe. If I can find one that doesn't have a branch cut along the length, I always prefer that. They are expensive, but they seem to last a reasonable amount of time.

Nylabones -
I prefer the polymer options as they last weeks to months, while the "edibles" are snacks that will only last a couple minutes. The polymer ones come in many different textures, flavors and shapes. Dogs are likely to have preferences, so it may take some trial/error to see what they like the best.

Not all dogs are chewers, some will outgrow it. So if your dog/s refuse to engage with the chew options, then we'll have to be a bit more creative to either encourage the chewing or find other ways to entertain them...

Everlasting Treat Toys –

And you can be creative once they've eaten the stuff that comes with it. You can buy replacements, or you can use other large things like apple slices or melon chunks or large dog treats for shorter, but healthier engagements.

Kibble Nibble -
Variation on the Tricky Treat Ball and Buster Cube. This has ribbing on the outside and may be able to roll around on hard floors better.

Bob-a-Lot -
Variation on the Kong Wobbler

Planet Dog Mazee -
This looks cool. I might need to get this for my boys!

Interactive Toys (human present)

Trixie Gambling Tower -
I have this one. It's a bit dainty with some small screws that must be used to hold the thing together. But, it can be fun and challenging for many dogs. Here's a link to my boys getting to know this toy.

Trixie Move-2-Win -
My boys seem to like this one better (stay tuned for new video)

Shuffle Bone -
This is a much easier puzzle toy, but still fun for the dogs.

Nina Ottosson Collection - a whole line of interactive puzzle toys

Trixie Poker Box 2 -
This is definitely on my to-buy list.

For dogs who love their plush toys…

Stuffed toy puzzles:
Hide-a-Squirrel -

Intellibone -

Other Plush Puzzle Toys -

More creative - at home ideas:

Holee Roller (see blog set up)
various versions:
Blog 1 just a snack:
I've found that using large chunks of USA made jerky works well too. It's just got to be big enough that it's a bit difficult to get through the hole.

Blog 2 supervised meal time:
For the dog who likes to disembowel toys.

muffin pan with a few kibbles in each cup, with something in the cup covering it up - crumpled paper, socks, paper cups, etc.

Play Find It. This is a game dogs should play one at a time if there are multiple dogs in the house. I usually confine the dogs in one area (you may put them outside if there’s not way to confine them to a single room inside), then hide some food and bring one dog in, play and then return that dog to the confinement area, set up for the other dog (if there is another dog) and start again... Taking turns so each dog gets to play for a minute or 5, and then take a break. Hide a couple kibbles, or drop them nearby, and then tell the dog "Find It". The first several times, you may need to stand near the kibble, or tap the floor or even point right at it in order to help the dog locate the food. As the dog picks up on the premise of the game you'll be able to help less and hide kibbles in more difficult places.

Sniffing is a very natural dog behavior. It's soothing, self-reinforcing - especially if the dog is successful in finding a goodie - and is excellent brain exercise. I play an advanced game like this with my dogs for dinner periodically. It takes about 45 minutes to get through the entire meal (both dogs, taking turns) and they're ready for a relaxation break afterward because they've worked hard. I can teach you how to teach the dogs to play this game at a more advanced level if you like.

A few videos you might find interesting and helpful in adding mental enrichment for her:

Kongs for Beginners:

Intermediate Kongs:

One Way to Load Kongs (advanced users):

Beginner Nose Work:

Beginner Nose Work - Steps 2 & 3:

Nose Work - Out of the Box:

You can search for force free trainers in your area using the following websites (don't hesitate to ask questions about their methods, equipment they use, etc and if they do or use anything that makes you uncomfortable (even if it's during a training session) do not hesitate to stop immediately and discontinue working with them - you are your dog's advocate!):



Vet Behaviorist -

I hope some of this proves helpful. Please feel free to followup if I can be of any further assistance.

Los Angeles Behavior Specialist  

Canine Behavior

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Jody Epstein, MS, CPDT-KA


IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR DOG IS ILL OR INJURED, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS NOT THE FORUM TO ADDRESS URGENT MEDICAL ISSUES. I AM NOT A LICENSED VET AND HAVE NO DIAGNOSTIC SKILLS. ***I have been answering questions on All Experts for over 8 years now. I enjoy being able to offer assistance in this forum. I do need to be clear, though. If you’re looking for free advice about a specific behavior question, you MUST submit your question to me via All Experts. If you bypass All Experts and write to me directly through my website, I will ask you to submit via All Experts. On the flip side, if you’re local to Los Angeles and you wish to speak to me privately about an in person consultation, please go through my website. I appreciate your assistance in keeping my volunteer work on the volunteer site.*** I can answer questions about the following canine behavior issues: obedience, timid/fearful & fear-based aggression, nuisance behaviors, families that are expanding with either new human or new animal members and many other issues. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at If you still have questions after reading the blogs you can post your specific questions here. PLEASE be as specific as possible when asking a question. Give me a detailed example of the situation - dog's behavior, body language, circumstances surrounding the issue, what the consequences are (another dog's response, your response), etc. I can only provide insight if I can get a picture of the whole scenario. If I ask for further details, please provide them. In person I would normally observe for at least 90 minutes to assess the situation and the dynamics before offering tools and suggestions to modify it. In writing it is ever so much more difficult. Thank you for your participation in the process.


I have been a professional obedience trainer for 9 years, and specializing in behavior modification for 8 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I own my own dog training and behavior modification business called Nutz About Mutz.

I am a Certified Profession Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), #2133301 ; I am a member in good standing with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), #77763 ; I am an AKC certified Canine Good Citizen evaluator (CGC), #71253

Publications ; ; Multiple articles in the local pet magazine Pet Press (found across Southern California)

I have a masters degree (MS) in Animals and Public Policy, with a minor in Animal Behavior, from Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. I also have 3 years of graduate education in Animal Behavior and Learning from UM-Missoula and UL-Lafayette. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences, workshops and seminars. Beginning in March, 2017, I will be the Behavior & Training Manager at Second Chance Center for Animals in Flagstaff, AZ.

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