Breaking Up and the Dog: How to Recognize and Address Behaviors
Divorce is never easy on anyone. It’s important to remember that this includes your dog. Our dogs can’t tell us how they feel, but it’s not uncommon to see behavior changes in your pet during and after a divorce.
The fate of our pets is often decided based upon the needs of the humans and not the animals — who needs the dog more or deciding to send the dog wherever the children go. This may mean that a dog doesn’t end up with the person who would best care for and carry out the greatest quality of life for the dog. It’s important to ensure that you are making the decision that’s in the best interest of the animal.
Identifying and Solving Divorce-Related Behaviors
Dogs’ feelings often come out in the form of unwelcomed behaviors. Since they can’t talk things through like we can, it’s up to us to do some detective work to help them improve. Here are some common behaviors you could see after or during a divorce.
Destructive behaviors – Your dog may resort to some of his puppy problems such as chewing up furniture and other belongings. When dogs feel unsettled, it can make them anxious and full of pent up energy they don’t know what to do with. To prevent this, puppy proof the house as you did when your dog was young, leave a variety of toys that are appropriate for chewing and beef up your supervision for a while. If you’ve moved the dog to a new home, you may wish to limit freedom a bit by closing off some rooms. Keep in mind, if your pup is used to a house and is moving to an apartment, he will need outlets for physical activity that he used to get in his yard. Consider hiring a dog walker or pet sitter to play with your dog daily if you can’t do it yourself.
Barking – Also seen in response to stress, anxiety, and new locations and routines, barking can be a tough behavior to bear. Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise and has stimulating toys available. Give your dog time to settle in, and if it doesn’t improve, speak to a certified professional positive reinforcement trainer.
Whining – While better than full-blown barking, whining can be tough to listen to! Whining could be from sadness/depression, needing to go out and being unsure of how to tell you in a new setting, submissiveness or other causes. Whining can also denote pain, so make sure your vet fully examines your dog before simply addressing the behaviors.
Accidents – When dogs are up upset, accidents in the house can be common. Your dog may urinate when anxious, to mark new territory or because he’s unsure of the new way to tell you when he needs to go out. Canine learning is very context specific. Just because your pup knew how to signal he needed to go out in one house does not mean that skill transfers to a new location. Your dog may need some remedial house training and boundaries if moving. During the time of transition, you may need to take your dog out more frequently.
Unruly behavior – Post-divorce, some dogs show completely unruly behavior. They may turn into jumpers, become aggressive or get on furniture where they are not allowed. Consistent expectations and fair, kind consequences will go a long way to minimize this. Working with a certified professional positive reinforcement trainer is your best bet to nipping those behaviors in the bud.
Lisa Marino, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP, PMCT, has taken her varied teaching experiences and applied them to helping owners understand and train their beloved four-legged family members. She has more than four years’ experience leading group dog training classes at Best Paw Forward in Hartland, WI, and opened Head of the Class Dog Training LLC in Winchester, VA in 2012, where she conducts group classes and private lessons, as well as helps owners to modify their dogs' problem behaviors.
Lisa earned her CPDT-KA in 2012, is a 2015 graduate of the prestigious Karen Pryor Academy and is a Pat Miller Certified Trainer.
She has 4 registered therapy dogs and is a Pet Partner Therapy Team Evaluator and a member of HOPE AACR. As a former middle school teacher, she works well with families and children and does school presentations on various dog related topics.
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Remember there is never reason to use harsh punishment on your dog for acting out, as these are symptoms of an emotional need or a training inconsistency. Rather figure out the reason for the behavior and devise a plan to replace unwanted behaviors.
It’s not uncommon for depression or separation anxiety to be the causes for many or all of these behaviors. No matter the behavior, attempt to stick to a normal routine, continue the dog’s regular diet, be sure your dog receives ample exercise and socialization, and maintain a safe location for your pet at all times. See your vet if your dog exhibits major changes in behaviors to rule out medical conditions. Then contact Head of the Class Dog Training to get started on improving those troublesome behaviors and developing a happier, more relaxed relationship with your dog again!