Separation anxiety

This is the beginning of a story about our dog and us dealing with its separation anxiety. Updates to follow… Hopefully the story will be one of success.

19 July 2020

Just recently we got a new dog. It is a small black terrier puppy of a hunting kind, the kind you can see running around whole of Europe. She was found by a group that does this kind of thing and we took her in. They named her T and we’ve given her another name – M. As I am writing this, my partner just left the house and M started to whine and pace around. This is the behavior of a dog suffering from separation anxiety. The same thing happens when I leave. Now M sits, she yawns every now and then and pants a bit. She is nervous. She laid now and appears calm. She still looks over her paws towards the door though. This is the situation when someone is with her. When she is left all alone she never calms down.

WWW is really a world wide web of information when it comes to separation anxiety in dogs. You can find all kinds of advice, remedies, drugs, videos, you can of course watch Cesar explaining things and going ‘Tss’. To find the good stuff you have to sift through a lot crap. The real time wasters are “taster” articles that give you general info and make you read on, but generally offer the real thing as a service/product you have to pay for. It is a pity that information available on the internet get more and more written for the purpose of selling stuff, but anyway…

The symptoms

The symptoms boil down to:

  • urinating and defecating
  • barking and howling
  • chewing, digging and destruction
  • escaping
  • pacing
  • coprophagia (eating own feces)

One one hand the remedy is simple but in reality difficult to implement. In the simplest words the remedy is: gradual separation from the dog until it doesn’t mind being separated from its owner any more. In reality this means literally leaving your dog as long as one second and then returning before the dog becomes anxious and then increasing this to two seconds and so on. The remedy also includes all kinds of techniques when you take your keys but don’t need them, when you get dressed for work, but just sit there on the sofa sweating, when you constantly go to toilet, but never pee.  You can also look at this as bamboozling your dog out of its wits by you acting like complete lunatic until the dog gets that its owner is the person with the most peculiar habits in the whole wide world and the one person it can never count on. At the same time you would like that the dog loves you and comes when you call for your sake and not because you hold a treat in your hand

This reminds me of those awkward situations when you befriend someone but then you are not sure how close you want this relationship to be. And when your friend calls you to get some ice cream together, you make up that you only eat ice cream in winter or sitting in a bath tub at your grandparents’ place. Since you don’t want to be caught, you really start eating ice cream only in winter, but there is a catch. Your grandparents die one day and you move to California and you meet your friend by accident just in front of ice cream parlor.

M is sleeping now, but only couple of minutes at the time. She has blue elastic bandage on her hind right leg extending from the paw to the hip. She broke it a couple of days ago trying to escape and find us while we were at work. It happened some 20 minutes while I was driving home. I know, because I spied her the whole day on camera and while I was driving she wasn’t on the screen. She probably climbed on the window sill, or a cupboard and fell. Maybe her leg got stuck in a radiator. I don’t know exactly because the camera doesn’t cover the entire flat. It is disheartening when you scan through 6 hours of footage and see your dog doing fine, just to come to that 20 minutes of nothing and then see yourself entering through the door to be met by your dog who is holding its leg in the air. She is not allowed to run or jump now, and I have to carry her out to pee and poop. This regime doesn’t help her separation anxiety. Cesar is quiet.

Tomorrow is another Vet appointment. We’ll see how it goes.

22 July 2020

Not too bad. M has a fracture, or better, partial separation across the tibia bone just below the knee joint at the so called “growth line”. It will heal, but the leg could bend while growing because the part where it is damaged won’t grow any more. It is not something that should decrease M’s quality of life. Luckily on the practical side it was OK since I could work from home until the weekend and take care of her.

As I said, in this situation it is difficult to address M’s separation anxiety problem, but not impossible. I decided to follow the advice given in the article The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals web site. So, naturally, the first thing you have to do is start acting like a lunatic.

Step one: Predeparture cues

The first thing to do is to make your dog less sensitive to predeparture cues. This is the part where you get ready for work, but don’t go etc. So I started randomly getting up from my workplace or sofa and partially dressing, picking up my keys, sitting down again.

We haven’t made much progress after a couple of days. Maybe it helps me not sitting too much, but my dog still follows me or my partner around the house immediately as we leave the room, which is a bad sign. It would be OK if M would do it after a longer while, let say after she finishes her nap or after she is finished playing.

We got better results by giving her something to chew on. She would chew after my partner or I left and came back. The thing with chewing is: What happens when there is nothing left to chew?

Although she still follows us around the house, she is not particularly nervous when we move around, so we are also working on step two.

Step two: Graduated Departures/Absences

This one is a struggle. It begins with leaving the room and coming back while increasing the time out of the room but returning before the dog starts to whine. For every technique used to remedy separation anxiety it says you can reverse the effect if you stress your dog too much.

So, how to go for groceries in the morning? I put M in the car, drive to the shop, and then… I have to leave her longer than we ever practiced. Guess who feels anxious now. But, I do it. What else. Luckily, M, like many other anxious dogs feel better left in the cat than in the apartment. I have no clue why, but I am grateful M is usually quiet in the car.

The first time I noticed this I seriously thought about getting a toy car for kids and convert it to dog crate (dog crate: cage or box used for keeping dogs). I am still thinking about it…

In the meanwhile, M is recovering nicely from her broken leg. She has elastic band around her waist, hip, and knee, but the paw is now free. The Vet says it is good if she feels some pain, she will spare the leg because of it.

Graduated departures are still work in progress. Stay tuned…

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