I’m having my kitchen re-done, and my Labrador isn’t handling the chaos well. She barks hysterically at the men when they come in, and whines if she can’t be near me while they’re working. Today the builder left the back door open, she ran out, and almost got hit by a car. Please help!
Anyone who’s gone through a construction project has some prior knowledge of the inconvenience and chaos that can occur. Unfortunately, our dogs don’t. All they understand is that one day, strange men appeared on their territory and began making tremendous amounts of noise. If your dog has had little socialization with people or is emotionally sensitive, this scenario is particularly difficult. My first suggestion is to try and change your dog’s feeling about the new people in her life. Keep her on a leash, and when they arrive, give them a few small pieces of her favorite treat. Without making eye contact, they’re to drop the food near her and walk away. Eventually, your dog will overcome her stress to eat the food, and come to see these people as human vending machines! Depending on the emotional make-up of your dog, things could improve quickly or very slowly. If you push her too far or too fast, you’ll reinforce (and possibly escalate) her fear. Time, patience and enticing rewards are the only proven way to cure or reduce anxiety. In addition, be sure to give her some sort of sustained food reward, such as a Kong toy filled with peanut butter and frozen, so that she has something to do independent of you. This is particularly important for dogs who, when frightened, tend to cling to their owners (a possible prelude to separation anxiety). As for the open door, consider posting large “CLOSE DOOR – LOOSE DOG” signs on both sides of the door. If this sounds like more work than you’re willing or able to do, and if you’re a current student of ours, consider dropping your dog off at the Playcare Program. While the workers are hammering and drilling, your dog will be playing and training. And by the time the construction crew is leaving for the day, your dog will be physically and mentally exercised, and ready for a good night’s sleep! But if you’re not able to get your dog to us every day of the construction, make sure to keep your dog with you or confined at all times, especially when you’re out of the house. No one (but us) will be as vigilant as you would be about keeping doors closed, and this solution (and the knowledge that all construction does, eventually, end) will provide peace of mind for everyone.