Ask the Dog Trainer: Stella eats drywall when we leave her

Dear Kendall:

We need help. My dog ​​Stella has severe separation issues, and for the past six Thanksgivings and Christmases when my family and I have had dinner in Yerington, she has completely destroyed a prized Persian rug, chewed a three-foot hole in the drywall, ripped apart an entire couch, and most recently, walked in through our back door. What can we do to help Stella become more comfortable and independent when separation is inevitable?

– Charlotte

Dear Charlotte:

With so many people working from home these days, the incidence of separation distress has skyrocketed. The first known record of the term “separation distress” was recorded in 1968, and since then it has become a popular term. In a recent survey conducted by Certapet, 47% of Americans reported feeling anxious when away from their pets, and 76% of dogs reported some form of separation anxiety.

To give you an idea of ​​how COVID has affected these numbers, pre-pandemic levels of dogs suffering from separation were 14%. Signs of separation distress in dogs may include excessive panting, drooling, chewing on paws or nails, pacing, potty accidents, refusing to eat or drink, or trying to run away when left alone.

The first step I would suggest is to engage a professional dog trainer and veterinarian as a tandem team. The great separation anxiety cases I work with involve the use of medication to help relieve the dog’s anxiety and help them be successful along with training. In the United States, there are two approved pharmacological interventions for separation anxiety; fluoxetine and clomipramine. There are also holistic remedies that you can try under the supervision of a doctor.

As a professional dog trainer, there are a number of steps I would encourage you to take. Start by observing Stella throughout the day for the first signs of excitement. Does he get upset when you pick up your keys, put on your shoes, or open the garage door? Is he comfortable when someone is in the room with him, or does he get anxious when a certain person leaves the room? Since every breakup problem is different, it’s important to find the thresholds that trigger it and then work on desensitizing those triggers.

For example, Stella is clearly excited when you and your family leave the house on vacation. Experiment with shorter, more frequent walks and consider whether there is a certain amount of time after it becomes disruptive. Is it quieter if it’s in a crate? Would it be more comfortable if you had music or a favorite interactive toy available? How about going for a walk before you leave?

Once you’ve assessed Stella’s tolerance for being left alone, you’ll want to begin desensitization training. Take your keys. If Stella gets upset and runs away, wait quietly until she calms down, then put down your keys. Repeat until he looks bored when you reach the buttons. Do the same with your shoes, open and close the door, turn the car on and off, etc. The goal of desensitization is to make the things that bother him normal.

In addition to desensitizing Stella to your go-away rituals, you can also start training her by leaving her alone for short periods of time. Start small. Get up and pour yourself a drink in the kitchen. If you return and he remains calm, praise him. Step outside to check your mail and avoid an overly enthusiastic greeting when you return. Instead, calmly reward him once he settles down. You can also make your absence less scary with enrichment activities. Frozen Kong toys filled with shredded hotdogs hidden around the house are a fun way to keep your dog’s mind busy while you’re away. Remember where you hid them!

A final suggestion would be to hire a dog walker or sitter to watch Stella in the unlikely event that you will be gone for extended periods of time, or to enroll her in doggy daycare. That way, you can strike a balance between methodically desensitizing her to your absence and ensuring her safety and happiness when you have to leave.

Kendall and Chandler Brown are the owners of Custom K-9 Service Dogs, a dog training business serving Minden/Gardnerville, Carson and Reno. For information, visit or email

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