Dear Old Trainer: Tenzing, our 3-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog, chews up anything he finds when we are gone. A dog psychologist told us he suffers from separation anxiety. How do we cure it, and how do we stop the chewing?
-- Lance, San Francisco
A: Separation anxiety is a trendy term applied to an old condition.
It reminds me of Billy the Kid's answer when a reporter asked about his murky legal status. He had been formally pardoned by the governor, yet still had a bounty on his head. Billy puzzled over it a while and said, "Well, the law's a funny thing." Same goes for separation anxiety.
The condition was suddenly discovered in humans at the same time the medical profession was informed insurance companies were willing to pay for treatment of the affliction.
Maybe that was just coincidence, but I agree with detective Elvis Cole in the Robert Crais novels when he says, "There is no such thing as a coincidence."
Then -- coincidently -- shortly after being discovered in humans, the same condition was suddenly discovered in dogs.
Tenzing is like every other dog. He wants to be with his pack at all times. In his case, you are the pack. He is doing what all dogs do when lonely and bored: Find something and chew on it.
Here is how to cure the boredom and lessen the loneliness:
Teach him you won't always be gone all day by constantly leaving and returning on a weekend. Leave for 3 minutes, then 30, then 5, then 25. Do it all weekend. Learning you may return at any time will calm him down.
Leave him in the yard now and then, but condition him by using the same weekend routine. (Make sure shelter and water are available.)
Have a friend or a dog-walking service take him out for a stroll. Have a neighbor stop by and say hello or bring his dog over. Dog parks are an excellent resource to find dogs that Tenzing likes and people who are willing to stop by and visit, with or without their dog. San Francisco is full of dog services.
Leave out chew toys and items with your scent on them. Cordon off the kitchen or another room with a portable gate and confine Tenzing to that one room. Put his toys, bedding, food and water, and items with your scent in with him. Leave the TV on. I leave mine tuned to Animal Planet.
Train Tenzing as much as possible. The better trained a dog is, the more confident he is when left alone. Give him plenty of exercise. Bernese Mountain Dogs are not energetic, so a little exercise goes a long way.
Best solution of all -- get a second dog. All canines are happier with another member of the pack. They will miss you while you are gone but will keep each other company.
Jack Haskins writes as The Old Trainer. A trainer for more than 30 years, he has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,000 dogs. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.