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We have a nine year old mixed lab that was gotten from the local Humane Society equivalent. She currently weighs about 25 kilograms and is in perfect health. She looks skinny, but she has always looked that way and the vets say that this is normal for her mixed breed. For the first six years she was terrific: very obedient, never harmed a child or another animal, never ruined a thing, never ate scraps outside the house.

When she was about five years old we moved house and about a year after that she began eating scraps outside and then chewing things in the house, mostly bags (both plastic and cloth), and had even chewed furniture once. Today I came home to find that she ate a plastic DVD case that had fallen (or more likely been knocked off) a table. She also cries terribly when left at home alone, and we often come home to find her food bowl (but not her water bowl) upside down and the food thrown about. Thinking that she is not satisfied with her food, I've tried changing the brand of her food several times but this has no effect. I've tried all the major brands and most of the smaller, less expensive brands as well.

When the dog was at the Humane Society she was given an antibiotic that stained her teeth, so they look rotted but they are not. I have pressed and pulled at her teeth to see if there is any pain, but there is none. Also, her gums and tongue look fine. Her poop does not have any unusual properties, and her coat is healthy.

What could be the cause of her tantrums and destroying bags and cloths? She refuses to play with dog toys (always has) so I don't think that it is boredom. Likewise, I think that I've ruled out dissatisfaction with her food.

Here are some pictures of the dog if it helps to better identify the breed and thus the behaviour:

  • As a puppy:

http://dotancohen.com/eng/pictures/photo/gili_enjoying_wedding.html
http://dotancohen.com/eng/pictures/photo/laurie_holding_happy_gili.html

  • Not as a puppy:

http://dotancohen.com/eng/pictures/photo/good_rest_shade.html
http://dotancohen.com/eng/pictures/photo/looks_tasty.html
http://dotancohen.com/eng/pictures/photo/three_good_reasons_like_family_trips.html

  • Answers will inevitably mention separation anxiety: would you have a mean to monitor her when left alone (a phone recording the first half hour would do the trick)? That would definitely help. – Cedric H. May 12 '14 at 8:52
  • Thank you Cedric. I have though of filming her while I'm not present. I'll try that and report back. How would I recognise separation anxiety from the film? If this is the case, how might I treat it? – dotancohen May 12 '14 at 9:08
  • Sounds exactly like my problem. Can I ask if you found the reason and a solution?? I used to leave my dog with free range of the house. Now all of a sudden she is opening the wardrobes and literally ripping anything she can get hold of to pieces. Mostly suitcases, luggage bags, handbags and any plastic carrier bags if they have anything in them. Oh and wash bags. It is driving me crazy! So I have had to shut her downstairs in the living room which she hates. :( – user6729 Feb 22 '16 at 16:36
  • @Samlolly87: Same problem! I really cannot say what the problem is, nor what the solution is. Rather than lock down the dog, my family has become extra careful to lock down all bags and papers from the living areas of the house, and to close the bedroom and kitchen doors. – dotancohen Feb 22 '16 at 17:18
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Dogs are notoriously bad at generalizing behaviors. Your dog could have a perfect sit and someone walks in the room and they act like they've never heard the word before. Perhaps something has changed recently? You mentioned you moved, but since that was a year ago he should have had plenty of time to adjust. Since the behavior is new, there could be something that's changed either externally or internally. You might want to have a vet check him out just to make sure he's healthy.

Once you've ruled out another illness, it sounds like separation anxiety as mentioned above. Signs are anything from whining to licking to more destructive behaviors.

Since it's just started, I'd go back to figuring out what's changed in his schedule or environment. Until he's learned to behave outside of the crate, I would also keep him in his crate while you're away. He may whine and complain, but at least he's not eating your furniture, or worse.

The comments above recommended using a webcam, which can help you see if something's triggering it and is a great idea. If you see something specific happen that triggers his behavior, you can work on making him comfortable with that separately. You can also look into a remote rewarding tool to reward your dog when he's calm, although they aren't cheap. Here are a few other ideas.

Mental and Physical Exercise This is a big one. A dog not playing with toys doesn't necessarily mean he's not bored or tired. Some dogs just don't like toys, but they still need mental exercise in addition to physical exercise. Teaching him new tricks, making him work for his dinner, and getting him thinking will help a lot with both the separation anxiety and the destructive behavior. You can also combine the two using chase games, fetch, and other fun activities. A fun game to play to get him thinking is "Show me something new" where you reward any behavior, but only once. Chew toys are also a great outlet of energy.

Crate Training Make sure you put a lot of positive reinforcement into being in the crate. Use super exciting treats like chicken, hot dogs, etc. when he's in the crate to help him relax. For a great video on crate training, self-control, and motivation, I recommend Crate Games by Susan Garrett.

It's also important not to re-enter the room when he's whining, since this reinforces the behavior. At first, you may be only looking for 1/2 second between whining. You can grow the time you want him to be quiet as he progresses.

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  • Thank you jeffaudio. It took me a while to accept the answer as I had to read it a few times to absorb it all. In fact in the past week I'm pretty sure that I've discovered why the dog is afraid to be alone and I've been taking measures to reassure her. I'm surprised that I never put the two together before. – dotancohen Jul 13 '14 at 19:22
  • @dotancohen_from_2014: Why was Gili afraid to be alone? What measures did you take to reassure her? dotancohen_from_2020 asking. – dotancohen Aug 4 at 10:09

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