Q- My dog tends to get destructive when left alone, and damage the furniture. I am told this is because of ‘separation anxiety’. What can I do to reassure my dog and stop this happening?

A – You do not say what breed your dog is, but working dogs such as Collies are over-represented in cases such as this when kept indoors. Unfortunately, the intuitive reaction to ‘reassure’ the dog with this sort of behaviour just reinforces it, as does ‘punishing’ the dog for destroying or damaging the furniture – any attention is better than none for an attention-seeking animal! Obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) are almost as common in animals as in people due to stressful situations which the animals cannot resolve as they are incapable of compromise. You may need professional help from a behaviourist to begin clicker training to change the behaviour, but try and leave the dog for a short time after exercise when it is tired and do not make a fuss. If picking up the car keys or putting on a coat makes the dog anxious and anticipatory, pick the keys up or put on a coat and do not go to the car several times a day and then the dog gets accustomed to this action not being a problem. Caging young dogs at night and when you are out for a short time is the best way to avoid this behaviour in the first place – the cage becomes their own special safe place and it makes house-training easy. Make sure your dog has plenty to occupy it when you are not there, such as a filled Kong toy and, if it is a working strain of dog, work it or keep it mentally occupied by training it or take it to agility classes. 

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