Managing Loneliness and Destructive Chewing
It's 8 a.m. the day after a few weeks' vacation at home. You're late, so you're rushing through your morning routine. Instead of a brisk walk, you give your dog an embrace while tearfully telling him how much you are going to miss him. As you run down the stairs, he hops up on the couch and watches your departure. All alone for the first time in weeks and confused by the change in routine and your frazzled state, he looks for an outlet for his energy, loneliness, and worry. He looks around. He sniffs your favorite cushion, which carries your scent and reminds him of you. He licks and then rips it, eating some of the stuffing and spewing the rest all over the floor. After destroying one cushion, he runs circles around the house and finds your running shoes in the bedroom. Those too smell like you. He chews on the toe, then proceeds to gobble your ankle socks. Exhausted, he takes a nap, only to be awakened by a rumbling in his stomach. He throws up all over your new rug. And so the day goes until 5:30 p.m., when you return, hoping to be greeted with a kiss and a tail wag. Instead you find disaster.
How could this scenario have been prevented? Prevention begins with early training. As a pup, your dog must learn that there are times when he will be alone and must be calm. In training sessions he must learn to work and then to relax. Practice obedience commands, then abruptly stop and ask him to down. Carry this over to everyday life. Put him in a crate or a different room and cook or read. Do not be with him 24/7/365.
The Long Goodbye
Avoid long, emotional farewells or greetings, which will only exacerbate your dog's feelings of loneliness. Put him in a safe place, and without ceremony, leave the house. When you return, do not rush to acknowledge him. Change your clothes, have a cup of tea, and then release him, again without ceremony. Practice your departure and arrival routines for short periods, gradually increasing the time you are gone. Leave the radio on to a talk show; the sound of a human voice will comfort your dog.
Behavior that is already learned or cannot be prevented must be managed. For his own well-being and the safeguarding of your possessions, a dog who cannot be trusted alone must be confined to a crate, pen, or gated area where he does not have access to items that can be destroyed. That safe area should have plenty of items that can be safely chewed.
Toys and Chews
Supply chew toys that are durable enough that your dog can't chew bite off chunks, which could pose a choking hazard or become lodged internally. Rotate the chew toys so that your dog has a surprise every day. Discard and replace chew toys when they become worn down.
Stuffed animals and rope toys are not chew toys; they can be taken apart and eaten. Instead, stuff a hollow rubber toy with kibble that has been soaked in low-salt broth or plain water, and freeze it. Your dog will expend time and energy trying to get the kibble, which is a great distraction for him. You will temporarily be forgotten.
Keep in mind that chew toys should not add to your dog's caloric intake. Deduct the frozen kibble from his daily food allowance.
Sleep and Exercise
A sleeping dog is not a lonely dog. Physical exercise that tires your pup's body and releases calming endorphin hormones is one of the best ways to prevent loneliness and the resultant destructive chewing. Putting your dog out alone in the backyard to sniff and dig doesn't count as exercise. Activities like a brisk walk, jog, swim, hike, and game of fetch or flying disk are exercise and satisfy his need for companionship.
If inclement weather prevents outdoor activity, practice obedience commands indoors. Teach him tricks—mental exercise may tire him out faster than physical exercise.
Take your for agility or rally lessons, and practice every day. You will not only prevent destructive chewing, but you might also create a champion.
Pet Sitters and Doggy Day Care
Consider hiring a pet sitter to walk your dog in the middle of the day, or put him in doggy day care. Both options will dispel loneliness. Yes, they are costly, but the expense is less than that of replacing your furniture or running to the vet for a "dietary indiscretion."