Q: My question is I seem to have a homebody dog. Scrappy loves to go for rides in the car and loves the pet stores that permit him to enter. However, when I take him with me to my parents’ home, he begs to go home. I take toys and treats with us but he whines and paces until we leave. He does enjoy being outside at their home, just not inside. Any suggestions or clues as to why? My parents are both dog lovers.
— S.S., Medina
A: It sounds like Scrappy has some concerns about being inside your parents’ home. Pacing and whining are anxiety-based behaviors and make me worry that something associated with the house has become linked with that emotion to Scrappy.
In general, animals have much more acute and perceptive senses than we do as humans. For example, dogs are known to be able to detect scent substances at concentrations ranging from one thousand to one million times lower than humans can perceive. This exceptional sense of smell can be a part of aversions where certain smells trigger an individual to actively avoid an area. It may even be a scent so subtle that the humans are not actively aware of it. Learning can also play an important role in anxiety and fear. Although your parents are dog lovers, there may be something in the environment that Scrappy finds worrisome.
So that being said, what to do? I think a fact-finding mission is the first step. Write down when the whining and pacing begins during each visit. That can indicate if it is linked with the duration of time in the house, just coming inside or if being around certain areas are the trigger.
Next, I would try to make your parents’ home an extra special place for Scrappy to visit. Favorite foods or toys can have access limited to worrisome environments. This may be easily done by providing a food-enrichment toy with his favorite food as you enter your parents’ home. Be aware that if he chooses to not eat (and instead paces and whines) this can indicate that his anxiety in your parents’ home is too great to be overcome by the delicious food alone.
There are many products on the market that reduce anxiety as well. Some of my favorites to try are the Thundershirt and Dog Appeasing Pheromone. The Thundershirt should be fit snugly over Scrappy’s chest area and used prior to anxiety-producing situations. This product’s premise is that maintained pressure over a large percentage of an animal’s body mass can have a calming effect.
The pheromone product that the Behavior Clinic carries is Adaptil and can be used as a collar or diffuser. It helps by stimulating an endorphin release that is also calming. Both of these products may be used together.
— Elizabeth S.M. Feltes, DVM
The Behavior Clinic,
of Northeast Ohio LLC