Ask Seth: Scared Rescue Dogs

My dog is a rescue who seems frightened a lot of the time and exhibits worrisome behavior. What steps should I take to help him?

Dear Seth,

My dog Coco, a rescue, will still tinkle or poop in the house even though we are there to let her out. She is a lot better than before, but there are 3 other dogs in the house that now want to do the same. She also seems to have a fear of being left alone, not too bad when with other dogs in the house, but she just hates being upstairs when we’re not home. When my daughter and I leave for work all the dogs are put in the bedroom with Grandma and she is fine, but occasionally will poop/pee in the room. Just recently, one evening we put Coco and the other dogs in the room with Grandma while we went out for the night. Grandma was asleep and Coco tore up the carpet (not much damage) and chewed up the door frame. It seemed to me that she was terrified for some reason.

Is there something I can do for her? She is just the sweetest thing and I would like to help relieve her fears. Is there a book that might help?


Lis Valdemarsen

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I feel that Coco has what is called separation anxiety. This occurs when a pet is not accustomed to being away from their human counterpart even if it is for a short period of time. The inappropriate urination/defecation can be associated with many physical ailments, thus should be ruled out before implementing any behavioral modifications. As for these “accidents” in the house, do not punish a pet for this because it is counter productive. The pet cannot relate its action to your unhappy response unless the event occurs within a very short time period (even just a few minutes). Please do not punish the animal by putting their nose in the accident. This is cruel and unnecessary. Prevention is the proper way to resolve the problem. For this, you must block the access the pet has to the target areas. You must discourage the pet from returning to that area because the more often the pet repeats this action; the more likely it will become a long-termed habit. Close the doors or gate off this area and try to make that area unattractive for the elimination behavior. This can be completed by feeding the pet here or offering the water bowl in the soiling area. Always disinfect and deodorize the affected area. Consult your vet for products that are effective in your area.

Crate training sounds like an easy solution but should be used with caution because it can cause the separation anxiety to get worse. Some pets can respond to this violently due to panicking and can soil themselves so if you decide to try crate training, do so gradually and consult your vet prior to beginning. A crate must be a place of refuge and comfort so never place a pet in its crate as punishment. This should get you going on your way, but remember a behavior specialist that your vet recommends can help train you as well as the dog to improve the situation for both of you.

Seth Mayersohn, CVT

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