Q&A: How do I get my dog to stop scratching stuff?

dog-training-treatsI rescued a Pomeranian chawawa mix dog that’s about 4 years old. I’ve had him for 4 months and he’s a great dog. For some reason for the last week he stated scratching at my door and carpet when I’m away. I live in an apartment so he can’t go outside when I’m gone. What made him start doing this and how can I stop it. He’s one of the best dogs I’ve ever had and I don’t want to give him up.~Lee

Hello and thank you for your question Lee,

If this behavior is exclusively happening when you are away, it could be that your dog is developing separation anxiety. This is not uncommon in dogs who are rescued. With these fellows it’s often unclear if they are surrendered by their previous owners because of this problem or if these dogs are more prone to it because of their history of being surrendered which causes a great deal of instability and a strong need to form strong social attachments with their new owners (even to the point of the attachment being dysfunctional).

Why is this behavior happening now and not in the previous 4 months? One must consider that many rescue dogs go through what trainers call a “honeymoon period” during which behavior problems aren’t apparent. During this time dogs are getting used to their new homes and settling down. It could be your dog has now realized that you are his caretaker and has started bonding with you. In some cases, separation anxiety tends to erupt when owners have been around for a while and then sudden they get a new job and they’re out more. In any case, it sounds like this is something that needs addressed. A first step would be identifying if this is truly a sign of separation anxiety of something else.

At times, what looks like separation anxiety is just a dog who is bored and trying to find ways to keep himself occupied. In these cases though, dogs are more likely to chew up items not related with departures such as remote controls and shoes and they may also chew up and scratch rugs, upholstery and couches. These dogs tend to improve if their needs for exercise and mental stimulation are met. Offering these dogs a walk prior to leaving and a few stuffed Kongs or safe toys to chew, often provides them with enough outlets for their boredom.

Dogs with separation anxiety instead focus on barriers that prevent them from reaching their owners. Their strong desire to be re-united with their owners causes them to focus their attention to doors, windows and anything close by. If the carpet is right by the door, chances are it’s part of the manifestation of anxiety your dog feels. In these dogs, providing them with walks, toys to chew etc. is often not enough as these dogs are anxious and entirely focused on the door as they’re nervously waiting for their owners to come back.

I would suggest to record your dog’s behavior next time you go out. Then when you come back, take a look at it to have an idea what your dog is doing in your absence. Dogs with separation anxiety typically, pace, whine, bark, scratch and chew at windows and doors. They also tend to drool, act restless and even eliminate indoors. Please keep in mind that this is not done out of spite of being left alone, this is a real form of anxiety. Showing the video to your vet or a trainer/behavior consultant will help confirm if you’re really dealing with a case of separation anxiety.

If that’s truly what your dog is diagnosed with, consider that there are solutions. Based on how severe it is, your vet may suggest behavior modification along with prescription drugs or behavior modification alone. May I suggest a great read? “Don’t leave me! Step-by-step help for your dog’s separation anxiety by dog trainer “Nicole Wilde.”

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Adrienne Farricelle

4 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I can totally relate. I got this stray dog and brought it home cause it was love at first sight. Is that allowed really? Anyway, for the first weeks it was all fun and play but the weeks that followed had my house in lots of scratch marks. I thought of stuffed toys and set up a small territorial fence for it in a corner of the rub with old rubbers to scratch on. I must say that it helped him a lot and I appreciate that.

  • That’s a nice thing to do. I’m going to get a videotape to see what she’s really doing when I’m out. Mine is not really a rescue dog but one I got from a friend who manages a kennel. I hope my vet can tell the problem and suggest a solution.

  • I have had a dog like that and I tell you it’s exhausting! I mean, he was so quiet and wouldn’t budge even if another dog is eating his treats. Well, I started out with calming treats. Got some great foods and lured him to it whenever I wanted him to do something. A lot of exercises went into making him active but it was all worth it at the end. I know you can do it too…

  • True. I’ve tried these tips before and they worked really well for me and my new canine friend. It’s great to have these around but having them unwind and blend in with the new environment is just something to do with patience.

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