Ask any trainer how many clients have uttered these words: “he is such a sweet dog but if I leave him alone,/ don’t get home to feed him at his regular time/ don’t take him with me when I go out and have to leave him home alone… I am in trouble. Just to get even with me he will mess in the house or chew something up. He can be so spiteful.”
I am sorry to tell you this, but Fido really doesn’t have the brain power necessary for that kind of thought process that involves “Getting Even”. But what Fido may actually have is what doggie people call “Separation Anxiety”. Stick with me on this explanation. Fido has this Zen-like natural ability we mere humans can only hope to acquire. Dogs can only live in the moment. As humans we have struggled for centuries in a sincere attempt to reach that level of enlightenment to just live in the moment. It’s not fair that we have to work so hard while Fido just gets it. Dogs can’t project into the future (I know people who would agree and disagree to that statement), therefore, the concept of retaliation or payback can’t exist, there just isn’t enough of the right kind of gray matter.
People are the only creatures (except some Primate and Marine Mammal species) that have the ability to put themselves in another time and space to scheme and connive. Really, tell me you would love your Fido as much if he could plan on getting even with you for taking him to the Vet for that Big Snip! This is important to know, because… let’s say you come home from a hard day at work and your favorite recliner now looks like some guy with a switchblade went ripping and tearing into it, shredding it to pieces, looking for your secret treasure. I know you want to yell at Fido, who wouldn’t? It’s your recliner, but do you really think Fido knows what his actions did to the fair market value of that slice of comfy heaven?
This is where you get to hear the excuses, Fido only did that (this famous line) because__________ (fill in the blank with whatever your heart desires). It does not matter what you filled in, it’s wrong. Fido did not perform the undesirable act because he is pissed off at you, he did it for one of three reasons: 1) He is just an untrained dog and needs someone to take the time to train him, or 2) He is just bored, not enough exercise or mental stimulation, or 3) He is a basket case when left alone (see “Separation Anxiety”), unsure of himself and nervous when there is no leader present for security and to tell him what to do. When people get rattled and upset they chew their nails, or pace the floor, or turn to self-destructive behaviors (I did a whole article on OCD in dogs, check it out). If Fido could drown his sorrows, he just might.
Yelling and screaming at Fido for chewing up the chair, will definitely make you feel better. But you are paying a big price for that burst of negative emotion. Now since Fido can’t put together the simple equation of: Chewing couch = explosive human hostility (when found out) What is left for him to think is “This guy is wacko. I am lying here just minding my own business and then he comes home and from out of nowhere, he starts screaming and then jumps all over me. I don’t trust this guy; too moody.” I know Fido did not go through all those mental gymnastics (I wrote that to explain a point), but you are supposed to be Fido’s leader, the one member of the pack that is to be looked up to in a person with dog-like omnipotent power, a power overflowing with competence and direction.
Does screaming and going wild (and for no reason in Fido’s eyes) sound like competence and directional qualities of a leader? The only time to correct Fido for doing wrong, is when (at the moment) he is doing wrong. Obviously, returning later to the scene of the crime doesn’t work either (for the same reason as above), after the deed is done because he doesn’t know what the crime is and much less that he committed the crime.
The fixes 1) An untrained dog has no boundaries. Whatever he sees, it is his: he is in control because he is simply a wild animal expressing his wild thoughts. There is nothing sacred. If it is in his kingdom, it is his. And if he wants to readjust the stuffing a bit for his own comfort he can, because in his eyes, it’s my couch my rules. The fix is obvious: get to work and train that poor pup. On this site I have some very comprehensive articles on getting ready to train your dog. I can make you a 100% promise and with no reservations, that if the two of you start a training program, you will both be the better for it.
2) Some breeds are like the energizer bunny, just nonstop activity. Now let’s say you are one of those active breeds, and being a dog, you are not burdened with the social stigmas of appropriate and inappropriate behavior. All you really need is to get outside and run to let some of that steam out, but there is no way for you to get out. What’s next? You start getting all worked up and what’s a dog to do but to find some way to vent that pressure? Whether it’s to redecorate the rug, or scratch and claw at the door beyond all recognition, hoping to find a way out, or chewing a table leg, will release a lot of stress. Another obvious fix is to get him outdoors walk him, run him, let him swim in the creek, but do something to let his natural desire to be out and exercising get fulfilled. There is an old and very true statement (again my article, my rules) “a tired dog is a happy dog”. So make Fido ecstatic.
3) Separation Anxiety. Now we come to the biggie. We know Fido loves you, but why does he love you? Is it because you are a great leader, who just exudes confidence and therefore gives Fido an assurance of his place in the pack? Or is it that poor baby that either through genetics or lack or exposure thinks, “It’s a scary world out there with plenty going on to be fearful of”, be it imagined or otherwise. Now what can lonely Fido do to relax, poor little guy is wound tighter than a Bass Drum.
Well, with most dogs, fear and exercise often cause a bowel movement, and after that, chewing has long been established as a natural relaxant. So Fido starts with those two activities and usually in that order. It is better to distract Fido from thinking about those imaginary monsters. There are plenty of toys out there that are interactive and designed specifically to pacify Fido, all the while keeping those monsters at bay.
You don’t need big bucks for interactive toys (although check out the store section of my site for some ideas, yea it’s a plug) a nice Kong (size appropriate) stuffed with peanut butter, will take the edge off most every dog I know. If all else fails, there is always a crate. A dog that is comfortable in a crate thinks of it as his little domain, and is safe and secure. Sometimes just leaving the crate door open for him to come and go might be enough to quell anxiety. If you decided on a crate (and you should, because every dog should have a crate) PLEASE – that bears repeating – PLEASE read my article regarding Crate Training under “Getting ready to train your dog”.
If none of the above suits your fancy, the only other alternative is a trip to your veterinarian who can prescribe something to help him relax.