We have a 9 year old irish wolfhound/english sheepdog cross (with a bit of terrior) who has never caused a day of trouble. He's an excellent family dog, well loved, well exercised, and very healthy. A couple of years ago he started getting anxious during thunder storms, and has been getting progressively worse. We could deal with that problem by sitting with him and letting him know all was well. He has now started to become anxious when we are away, regadless of the weather. In the past few months he has chewed the closet doors until they finally had to be replaced, and yesterday he clawed and chewed on the outside door (he was inside) until the paint was almost completely scraped off. He knows he has done wrong, and since it happened while we were away we couldn't scold his behaviour. I'm afraid the furniture or something valuable will be chewed or scratched to bits next. The weather has been fine, no loud noises, bangs, lightning, nothing. The behaviour now seems to be only because we are away. After 9 years of being a very active family (many times taking him with us), we've never had a problem with him while we've been out of the house before now. As I mentioned, he is well exercised. We're thinking we will have to crate him when we leave (he was a crate-trained puppy), but we hate to resort to that. Any ideas?
Since he's an older dog, maybe a check up at the vet would be a good idea, just to rule anything physical out.
Barring any physical issues, it's been my experience that if anxiety in one situation, like thunderstorms, is not dealt with properly it can spread, so to speak, into other situations.
For example, one of my dogs developed a pretty intense fear of thunderstorms, which over a bit of time started to include fireworks, rain, cloudiness, which made sense, but then leaving the house at all when it was dark out and finally a total fear of the sidewalk outside out apt. at anytime of day, during any kind of weather. He also started to seem more anxious in general.
What we did was work at desensitizing slowly to going out, meaning first working on just leaving the building, ignoring anxious behavior and rewarding (with eaither treats of a toy) the dog for moving towards the outside. Then we moved on to the sidewalk, then at night, then while it was raining.....etc.
So, perhaps you could start basic desensitization that is often used for seperation anxiety, like leaving for very short periods of time and progressively extending the time, backing up if at any point the dog starts to freak out. Leaving the t.v. or radio on for the dog, changing your routine when you leave the house, breaking the association the dog has with certian behaviors of yours, probably causing him to start getting anxious before you've even left the house.
Th eother thing would be to work on the fear of thunderstorms. Never console or baby the dog if he's acting fearful or anxious, this only re-enforces that there is something to be worried about and rewards the anxiety. Try to act like everything is totally normal, and if the dog is in a state were he can engage with you, play a game or practice commands, anything that is fun, allows you to reward calm behavior and will distract the dog. We like to play "find the treat" during storms here.
You could also try some of the various products that are available to help with anxiety, though you'll still need to do the above mentionned stuff, they'll hopefully help take the edge off. The one's I can think of off the top of my head are Holistic Blend's Pet Calmer, Bach Flower Remedies, specifically Rock Rose and Mimilus, HomeoPet Anxiety, Quiet Moments, or a DAP Diffuser.
YOu can also get prescription anti-anxiety drugs, like Xanax, from your vet, which is what we ended up doing after exhausting all other routes with little succses. Again, it only functionned to take the edge off extreme anxiety so that we could work on desensitization and my personal opinion is that this should be reserved for really extreme cases that are not helped by "gentler" methodes, but that's just me.
Here is a good articel which talks specifically about thunderstorm fear, but I think the same principles are good for understanding anxious reactions in general.
Try the attached link on thunderstorm phobias. I might be of help.
In addition to the great advice you've been given, I'm wondering if anything has changed in your life. A change in family structure, moving to a new home, working/ not working, kids at home/ moved out, new neighbours who might be making unfamiliar noises, nearby construction can all have a greater impact on a dog's emotional health than we think.