Door Chewing Anxiety

Posted by DavidG
Jan 14, 2008
I have a Siberian Wolf Hybrid (Nikita)she is now about five years old. She has developed an anxiety problem in that she chews either the front door or the back door of our home the moment we put her out. If she is inside she is relaxed and lies in her space in the central area of the house. We have a Doberman (Tikka) who has grown up with Nikita and she is now about three years old. Tikka is quite happy to be inside the home or out. Nikita though will whine if put out going from window to window or door to door. She has chewed the doors several times (doing great damage) and this is exacerbated if there is an approaching storm as she is terrified of thunder and lightening, it now seems she associates even the slightest bit of rain with that fear. How do I talk her out of this anxiety? My wife and I do go away at times and when we do we have a house sitter who looks after our home and our dogs. I am really concerned for my poor dog.
Posted by Todd
Jan 17, 2008
Hi there David

Thank you for your questions.
There are two basic problems Nikita is going through, both of which can be difficult to solve. But with time and effort im sure we can get things sorted.

The first thing i will say is that Nikita may require medication to reduce her anxiety where she gets stressed. This can help her get over the first anxious stages and gives her a better chance of secure.

Okay so first thing i will deal with the separation anxiety. This is the reason she is chewing the door. The below plan is what i recommend to all people with animals in this situation.

The goal that we are aiming for is to reduce your dog's anxiety through conditioning it to associate being left alone and outdoors as a good thing. Here are a few tips and techniques that you may find useful.

No.1 Arrivals and departures
Keep your arrivals and departures very low key. Try leaving Nikita alone for at least 15 minutes when you come home. Just ignore her. If your dog calms down then show her some attention.

No.2 Do not respond
It is important that you do not respond to Nikita when she starts acting up. This is inadvertently rewarding your dog for poor behavior and will not help. If your dog starts barking or whining then ignore it, no matter how difficult that may be. Do not even make eye contact. You may have to keep her away from the door if she is being too destructive.

No.3 Attention
Only give her attention when she is lying down or relaxed and not actively seeking attention (by barking for example). Do this by calling Nikita over and making her sit before petting, etc.

No.4 Contrast
Nikita is probably having difficulty accepting that sometimes she is going to get all the attention and other times none (like when you are at work). You can help this problem by ignoring your dog for 6 hours a day on the weekends. You can feed your dog but that's it. The idea is that your dog will think "What's the big deal when my owners are gone, even when they are home, they still ignore me".

No.5 Exercise
30 minutes before you leave home walk her for 15 minutes at a fast pace. If your dog is tired then it will have less energy to be a nuisance with.

No.6 Crate/Kennel
You could get a dog door put on your door to the backyard. Place a crate inside the house so that when your dog goes through the dog door it can only get into the crate. This has worked effectively for some people.

No.7 Clothing
Try giving her something of yours with your scent on it. This may allay its fears when you are not with it.

No.8 Sit-stay and down-stay
Practice these exercises in particular as outlined in the SitStayFetch book. These exercises require your dog to respond to you for longer and longer periods of time, so should be good for its discipline. Once you have your dog staying for 10 minutes or so, then try moving out of its sight for a brief period of time.

Review the "Secrets to becoming the alpha dog" bonus book, this is vital for you. It will help immensely with getting your dog to respond to you in a variety of situations, such as when you are walking it.
A method that is often very successful is to list all the things that trigger Nikita off in the morning. This may range from something simple like picking up the keys, to the shower, the cereal box or the clothes that you wear.
Put the list in order of what she responds the least to and what she responds the most to. Eg from something that may get her pacing or a small whimper, through to something that makes her howl and get very anxious.
The trick is to use these triggers to desensitize his behaviour.
Use the lowest trigger item eg the keys first. If it is keys pick them up, carry them around the house and then put them down. When you first pick them up make her sit and relax. Wait until you see her ears dip a little, her nose to drop, her tail to stop wagging and her breathing to slow down. The second she relaxes reward her with attention and petting. Rewarding her relaxation is very important.
Use the first stimulus a few times a day. When she has got used to being relaxed with the first item use the next trigger up on the list. In this way you move towards the more anxious triggers. In this way you will desensitize her.
Make sure you use the triggers in a way that will not make the dog more anxious. It will take time to do this.

In the mean time you may want to put a protective layer over the door or fence her off from it. You can also use some deterrents on the door to stop her from chewing it like sour apple, tabasco or cayenne pepper. This may help in the short term.

Now for the fear of rain and lightning.

As to her issues with loud noises this can be a very difficult thing to solve.
Some ideas i have heard have been to play music when she is eating. Start at a low level and slowly over time increase the sound of the music (sounds of thunder are even better), but you must stay quiet. Make sure to praise her for being relaxed. If she starts to react make her sit and stay, this will help her relax. Once she has relaxed praise her to reinforce this behaviour.
This is the method i have heard has good results. If at any stage she starts reacting during a storm get her attention and try to get her to relax. Food is great for that as is DAP a natural pheromone you can get from your local vet.
I can't make any promises but be patient and try and reduce the level of noise during a storm eg use a quieter room in the house.

She should always have a way away to hide where she feels safe from the noise and storms. This may be a kennel or a quiet room in the house, she should never be locked in this will only make things worse.

There are a number if CD's that you can use that have thunder sounds on them that you can use. These will have instructions on how to use them.

Be patient and keep up with it. Good luck and let me know how things go.

Kind regards
Todd Field
Posted by DavidG
Jan 22, 2008
Hi Todd
Thanks for the advice and the time you took in typing it out, really appreciated.

Nikita is improving on the separation anxiety now that we are aware of her problems and their possible causes. I have a very powerful bond with her and I just believe she is heart broken when I am away and she does not know when I will be back, especially when it is for several days at a time.

We have a lot of dogs. The three in Johannesburg (Nikita, Tikka and Kora) and on the farm in Kwa-Zulu Natal we have ten dogs varying in size from a Toy-Pom (my daughter's four legged child)to a Rhodesian Ridgeback (with a couple of Siberian Huskies thrown in) as well as another Wolf Hybrid who is the farm clown (can warn the odd employee or stranger with a growl that she feels is a bit of a threat, but generally a big softie). The farm guys are all very stable and totally at ease with each other and life in general. We have a home away from the farm in Kwa-Zulu Natal and as yet have not taken any dogs there, but as this is where we will eventually stay permanently that is where Nikita, Tikka and Kora will go.

Nikita was originally on the farm (about three years ago) but I brought her to Johannesburg as we felt she did not enjoy just being one of the pack. Tikka arrived as a tiny pup and Nikita fostered her from the moment she arrived. As Tikka grew they became the best of mates, but with Tikka slotting into to Alpha over Nikita. So generally Nikita is a gentle sole with a desire to just be loved, to not have to be "on-guard" and certainly not be part of the riff-raff of a pack. Generally no leadership but no wish to be a forgotten underling and a fat packet of insecurity tucked under the belt.

I am sure over time I will work through with her. I have found the book full of great ideas and new training avenues. Thanks again for the advice and help. There is a photo on the "Training problem" site showing who is Alpha in the duo.

All the best
South Africa