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Dog, owner together too much
Dear Dr. Spiegel, My husband is in the U.S. Army and we have just returned to the states after being stationed in Germany for three years. We were fortunate to be able to purchase a Dachshund ("Wolfgang") when he was eight weeks old and he has become an important and well-loved member of our family. Since Europeans view pets quite differently than Americans, Wolfgang has had some major adjusting to do in the states. While in Europe we both worked and Wolfgang was left in the house every day for a minimum of eight hours. He was never destructive to our furniture of our home (except for the normal puppy destruction). We moved once while in Europe and he adjusted fine and we had no problems. Upon returning to the states, we have been fortunate enough to have time to spend with family and friends and have been able to take Wolfgang almost everywhere we visited. Occasionally, we have had to leave him at my parent's house and he has proceeded to cause enough destruction to be mistaken for a Rottweiler. He has pulled the carpet up from the floor, chewed the carpet up, tore the curtains literally off the wall, pooped on the floor, and splintered the trim in the bathroom after chewing it off the wall when left in a smaller place with less to destroy. We will be relocating shortly to the Virginia area and we cannot live in military quarters due to the unavailability of housing, so we will be forced to rent a home. We do not cherish the thought of our pet destroying someone else's property and we are at a loss as to what to do. We do have the kennel he traveled to the states in, but I hesitate to put him in there. It is very confining and I am afraid he will not have a very good association with the kennel due to the long plane ride over (10 hours). Plus, I feel it is cruel to confine any animal to such a small space for any length of time. He has never been an outdoor dog, and so I hesitate to make him one. In Germany we lived in an apartment, where he was just outside for walks. He has also seemed to become very attached to me and I am worried about when I go back to work. Also we are expecting our first child and I am unsure about how he will handle the new addition. My husband is convinced that I believe Wolfgang is a person, not a dog, and he thinks he should be put in the kennel. So we definitely disagree on how to change this behavior, and I am hoping it is only temporary due to his change in surroundings. He has a wonderful disposition and is very good with people and children. I really want to handle the situation properly because Wolfie is truly a big part of our family. Do you any advice which will help us in the matters discussed above? L.P., Wilmington
Dear L.P., Having been accustomed to staying home while you and your husband worked regular hours in Europe, Wolfgang had an opportunity to grow quite secure in his routine. And even the move within Europe was not a major disruption in his routine and lifestyle when compared with the move back to the states. Any possible trauma experienced on the plane journey could have made Wolfgang a bit more anxious in his subsequent exposures to his new environment and routines; however, what was probably more significant was what you actually referred to as, "...we have been fortunate enough to... take Wolfgang almost everywhere we visited." For Wolfgang it was actually unfortunate. Somewhat anxious in his new surroundings and having you around all the time, you have become the sole source of stability for him. And now he relies on having you around. When left alone, or with people (your parents) who to him are essentially strangers, he is becoming quite anxious and it is being manifested in his destructiveness and his defecating. This is clearly a case of separation anxiety. While anti-anxiety medication can be very beneficial in a situation such as this, you may be able to handle this particular situation without it. Since Wolfie is a Dachshund, and so small to begin with, you should begin taking him with you frequently whenever you go out. But, instead of giving him so much freedom, travel with him in his carrier with a comfortable blanket to lie on. He will be happy just being able to go with you. You can give him treats in there when he goes in to make it more pleasurable. By using the carrier like this, this will now, by secondary association, become a stabilizing force for him, and something of a security blanket. Once he is adjusted to the routine of going into his carrier to take short trips with you, add in having him go into his carrier for naps when he's tired; and if he'll tolerate it, have him sleep in there at night (within your room). When he is comfortable going in there, at these times, you can begin leaving him in there, when you must leave him home alone. After a few weeks of that, when you and your husband have settled into a new routine, you can begin to leave the door to the carrier open but the door to the bedroom closed. You'll probably want to limit his access to the rest of the house initially, since he grew up in a much smaller apartment to begin with.