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I have a 7.5 year old pit bull and he likes to destroy things while I am at work (the couch, anything kind of box left out, anything left on the table - edible or not) and he likes to pee inside. He has no health problems and gets a check up at least once a year. He has been tested recently for a bladder infection, etc. He has never been taught to be in a crate. I have tried it before but he tore the door off and I am scared he will hang himself.

Six years ago the guy I was dating brought this dog home. Four years later we broke up. He kept the dog for a year or so and didn't give him the attention he needs. He would be gone for 14 hours a day and the dog got used to going to the bathroom inside. He got bored all day so he would destroy things. The dog has been in my care since the beginning of this year.

I have toys and bones and even a dog walker 3 times a week. I just came home to find two ashtrays flung around the room and he peed a lot in two spots. I was gone maybe 6 hours at the most. My best friend for over 12 years just died a week or so ago. I don't think I can handle this. I don't want to give him up after all this time and being a pit, I don't think he would find a great home anyway. My ex may be able to take him at the end of the year but there's a good chance he won't be able to do that, too. I can barely afford the dog walker. He's a great dog when I'm home. I've tried: a DAP collar, frozen kongs, bones, classical music, L-theanine, benadryl (just 25 mgs and he weighs 80lbs, I won't do more than that), ummm... I just don't think I can do it anymore but he's like my child so I want to try. I've had people suggest not leaving water down during the day but it seems mean (I'm always happier in the mornings, too, and decide him not being thirsty is worth the risk of mess later).

I don't know what to do. He only does this stuff when I'm not home because he's been taught for long enough that it's okay.

  • 7
    Just a reminder - in general, comments should be reserved for, well, comments relating to the question or answer, not other things. While it is great we care about members of our community, that is not really what the comment system is for. We do have Pets Chat, which might be a better place for things like that. – Ash Nov 8 '13 at 3:13
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    My whippet jack Russell is exactly the same unless I leave him in his crate if I leave him out of his crate and I go down the road he has peed by the time I get back and he's been finding anything to destroy – user2797 Aug 10 '14 at 18:52
  • @gloomy.penguin - any update on success? – JoshDM Aug 11 '14 at 15:42
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It is impossible to give a complete answer for such a difficult problem in one post. So I have focused on what can be done now and will bring you, hopefully, enough immediate relief to cope with the situation. I have provided links to useful posts here, rather than reiterate content, as this will become too long, so I apologise for this.

Please note, this is the first step of managing this problem.

Background

he's like my child so I want to try

This is a key issue in responding to this. This situation truly is a double edged sword. You are in a stage of extreme emotional vulnerability at the moment, and I am reluctant to suggest to people in this state to ever do anything permanently. This also, and very understandably adds to your pressure to be able to cope with such problems. At the same time, it sounds like your dog is also a source of great emotional comfort and that is something you need right now.

Quite rightly, you assume that it is unlikely, given his breed, age and behavior problems that he would go to the sort of home you would wish for him, if you re-homed him. There has been a lot of publicity about pit bulls. Unfortunately all pit bulls have been tarred with the same brush and it makes it hard for many pit bull owners and their dogs.

Causes:

You have rightly observed that being left unsupervised for long periods has helped to give rise to this behavior. A dog cannot be expected to go for 14 hours without relieving himself. So he has grown accustomed to urinating close to his sleeping and eating quarters, which is counter natural to how dogs function and a common problem for dogs confined to small spaces for long periods, an infamous example being dogs from puppy mills.

He sounds like an active dog and he would be excruciatingly bored at home for long periods alone.

Best to avoid

Firstly a bit of housekeeping in some of the things that have been suggested and that you've tried.

not leaving water down during the day

This is never advisable for any pet, unless there is a medical reason to do so, dogs need access to fresh water. Besides, it takes some hours for any water that is drunk to make it through the digestive tract and through the kidney before becoming urine, so not leaving water down is not a foolproof solution.

He has never been taught to be in a crate.

We know he breaks out of the crate, but I'd like to add; it's not practical to leave a dog confined to a crate for so many hours during the day, when the owner is away. Crates are better served for sleeping, transporting and the shorter term needs to put a dog out of the way. As a general strategy to cope with your dog being bored and missing you, this generally isn't good idea.

Benadryl, many people administer benadryl to their dogs, I personally do like recommending dosing animals with human medicine, unless your vet has instructed you to do so.

Solutions

There is no easy fix, which I am sure you are aware of.

Walking

First port of call is walking.

A dog walker taking the dog out three times a week, although a good idea, will not remedy the overall situation. Such a big and active dog needs to be walked as often as possible, given he has no free access to a yard.

You could commence a new routine, where you allow enough time in the mornings to take you dog for a vigorous walk before you go to work. Play a bit with him, fetching or go to an off leash area and let him have a run. Give him plenty of attention, verbal praise and pats, let him know how happy you are to be with him.

In your current emotional state this is going to be the hardest thing for you to implement. However, on all fronts, your dog's well being and your own, morning walks will alleviate the situation, somewhat for both of you. Walking releases all sorts of feel good chemicals in the brain, and although it may not change a situation, it helps both the owner and dog to cope.

Likewise do the same when you return home. This will help alleviate some of his pent up energy and boredom.

Desexing

If your dog is not already desexed, do so. As a general rule, desexing will help calm a male dogs activity levels. If he is not desexed and you do so, you may find some of your previous methods will work better when he is desexed.

Weekends

On the weekends, he needs to be taken out frequently for toilet breaks. Give him plenty of praise and this is the opportunity to re-house train him.

This post deals with house breaking your adult dog How should I correct my dog when I catch him drinking his urine?. I would suggest implementing the principles here.

Also create an area for him to relief himself, within the bathroom or laundry, wherever you have a washable floor and drain. As ideal as this is not, it's better to try and contain the damage.

Medications

Although there is nothing essentially wrong with your dog, he is behaving normally for a dog with his experiences, it would be well worth a visit to the vet to get some advice and possible medication. Explain that money is difficult, so that a good vet can help provide you with cost effective solutions.

Treats

Keep up the treats and bones, they will only help to give him something to do and eat. Also see rearranging the apartment to provide your dog with edible furnishings!

TV or music

A great idea, this question goes into more detail about this How effective is leaving a television or radio on to comfort dogs when away?.

Rearranging the apartment

This will require effort that is difficult for someone who is emotionally drained, but will pay dividends. Remove all cushions and portable objects from the apartment, either put them into closets, or storage. Give your dog a couple of cushions that you are happy for him to trash and destroy.

At this point you will not be able to stop him from destroying your couches and this may be something you need to tolerate for the time being. Close your bedroom door and keep this room safe. Any objects like ashtrays and the like need to be picked up and placed in the kitchen sink or a cupboard. Clear all benchtops, table tops and minimise the content that he can trash.

Conclusion

This is by no means a complete solution. This is a beginning, a way to improve the situation immediately. Once you have implemented this, I would suggest posting a new question with the updated developments, so the next step in this problem can be dealt with.

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Your dog is apparently experiencing separation anxiety.

What it appears you have done is given the dog the run of the house. While you were correct in trying crate training, obviously that won't work due to his behavior and tendencies to try and escape. I am going to suggest you confine him to a single room when you depart, if you haven't already. It would be best to acclimate him to the room by spending time with him in it. Check the room so that there is nothing he can hurt himself on if left alone with the door closed. Watch that there is nothing he can tip over or actively damage before you leave him there. Pay special attention to exposed cords, electrical wires, and window shades (my own dog almost killed herself by getting caught in the window blinds while trying to get a better view when I wasn't home). Provide some toys in the room for him. Make sure there are no window dressing cords he can entangle himself with.

Regarding the spilled ashtrays you cite, while your dog shouldn't be knocking them over, it pays to be proactive in your maintenance of the area which he will be roaming, unsupervised. Keep an active eye out for things that your dog might negatively access in the environment and proactively remedy them.

Providing access to water prior to leaving, then taking it away for up to 8 hours is not cruel behavior unless the dog requires it for medical needs; it will be a learning experience for the dog to know that he needs to drink prior to your departure, and ensuring you provide water to him when you arrive is fine as long as you are diligent.

Have you checked with your dog walker as to whether he observes the indoor urination? Can he inform you whether it is there before he arrives, or appears after he leaves? The same goes with the damage to your home. It is possible the walker is doing something different than you are when you exit.

Others will suggest a form of training, which is a very correct way to curb the urination problem. You may also want to consider placing a urination "pee pee" pad in an area the dog can access while you are gone (a shower floor, for example). The pads usually have attractants in them and should contain the mess, though the cheaper urination pads tend to be flimsy and rip easily.

For anxiety, you can also try The Thundershirt, but only put it on immediately before you leave and take it off as soon as you get home. Leaving it on for longer periods can have a dog get used to the shirt and it will become less effective.

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Consider Doggy Daycare

There are already a number of other answers to this question, and many great suggestions. One that has not yet been mentioned is doggy daycare.

Dogs are social creatures. Even dogs that don't have clinical separation anxiety generally benefit from higher levels of companionship and supervision. Dog-walkers or dog-sitters will come to your house to walk your dog and spend a little time with him. That's fine for potty breaks and to break up a long day alone, but some dogs need a lot more than that.

According to the ASPCA link above (bold emphasis is mine):

Dog daycare providers can help you meet your dog’s needs for attention, activity and supervision. They provide a great antidote for bored, lonely or high-energy dogs with busy guardians who work away from home all day and don’t want to leave their dogs alone...The main benefits daycares can provide are:

  • Relief from boredom
  • Relief from loneliness and the anxiety that loneliness can cause in dogs (including separation anxiety)
  • Socialization with people
  • Much-needed exercise and socialization with other dogs
  • Prevention of destructive behavior in the house when unsupervised
  • Relief from guilt for pet parents who feel badly about leaving their dogs home alone all day

Costs vary by location, but in my personal experience the costs of daycare are generally on par with in-home dog walking services, less than all-day dog-sitting, and a lot less than ongoing repair costs for rugs, drapes, furniture, and so on. The quality-of-life improvements for you and your dog are harder to quantify but are no less real, and should be factored in as well.

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Much of the advice given is very similar to what I would already recommend, but I'd like to reiterate a few things and add some others that may also be helpful to you and others with dogs that have separation anxiety (which is what this is).

Exercise

If you have a dog that will go for walks or play with a ball / tug / etc., this can be a very good way of helping to eliminate destructive behavior. That old saying about a tired dog is completely true.

Preparation

Before you leave, make sure you've picked up all things you don't want destroyed that you can and put them out of reach. You can move toy bins, food containers, or anything to a room with a closed door. Note that this is not a replacement for training him, but it simply prevents him from destroying your stuff and creating bad habits.

You also want to leave several chew toys out for him so he has something appropriate to chew. Elk Antlers, Filled Kongs, Bully Sticks are all great things to chew. You may want to observe him with these things first though to ensure he doesn't have any bad reactions and won't hurt himself on them.

Medication

You may seriously want to look into getting him on some sort of medication such as Prozac. If he gets this worked up mentally when you leave, it won't matter if you're the best trainer in the world if he's unable to learn. You should take your dog to a vet or even better a trained behaviorist to assess his situation and come up with a plan.

Medication is not meant to be permanent in most cases, but simply a means to get the dog into a mental state where all the work you put in is effective.

Crating / Freedom

This will be different for each dog. If you can, crating is a great option. For your dog though it sounds like he also has severe containment anxiety so crating at this time is not recommended. You can try leaving him with differing amounts of freedom and see what works best for him. Our current foster was destructive when left in a room, but not if he had access to the entire house.

That doesn't mean you can't work on building value for making the crate a "safe place." I recommend the Crate Games DVD to help build value into the crate. Work slowly with this leaving him in the crate alone for only a few seconds and then come back. It may be several months before you can leave him in the crate for extended amounts of time.

Routines and Behavior

Don't make a big deal of leaving and coming back. No "goodbyes" or "hurray I'm home!" These just add to the anxiety. Some dogs prefer a routine before you leave so they can get ready, others prefer not to know. You can try both and see what works better.

You can also work on shorter periods of alone time. Going to get the mail, take a walk without the dog, or even just going into another room.

Separation (and containment) anxiety are some of the hardest things to work with in a dog, but with patience and a plan, you will make progress. A certified animal behaviorist will help a lot in creating a plan specific to your dog.

Further Reading

  • +1 for mentioning McConnell's book on the subject. – CodeGnome Oct 12 '14 at 3:31

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