Nope, I'm still alive…I think.
Well, hello! See, I’m not dead. I’ve just been a bit busy lately. The holidays were jam packed with travel plans and visitors. We also went on a weekend snowboarding trip at the beginning of January with our friends and I was unlucky enough to fracture a rib (Sol pushed me, I fell and fractured my rib. HAH!). The new year also brought on the realization that Sol and I are parents to a puppy with anxiety issues.
Lil Bug has separation anxiety. It’s heartbreaking, frustrating and time consuming. Back in January she was unhappy to see us leave and would often cry, howl and whine (yes, I could hear her down the hallway while I was waiting for the elevator). But, she didn’t yet know how to escape her gated area in the hallway. With the beginning of February, her anxiety started to escalate – she learned how to open the gate. With each escape, she left a path of destruction in the entryway and through the bedroom (until we learned to lock the bedroom door when we left). She shredded books, went through my purse (if I accidentally left it in the entryway) and destroyed things, completely destroyed my new snowboarding goggles, chewed up my Roxy slippers and Sol’s slippers from Brazil, ripped a huge hole in Sol’s snowboarding fleece liner, the carpet by the door, the paint on the doorframe…etc. Yes, I could keep going but it just makes me sad.
Her escape was no small feat in our minds – that gate is a toddler gate. It’s extra tall and you need to press down on the top button and push up on the bottom button at the same time to open the gate. We thought she was somehow getting her teeth on the buttons and opening the gate. One weekend morning, when I left to run errands, Sol witnessed her escape first hand.
Lil Bug learned that if she pulled hard enough at the bottom of the gate door with her teeth, the door would open. She could get out in less than 5 minutes. Easy solution, right? Zip tie the gates! Well, we did. She pulled down the gate. The gate is a pressure gate….but, that was pretty impressive. Sol then screwed the top of the gate into the wall, thinking this – with the zip ties – would be enough. Not so, she simply pulled the bottom of the gate out. Then we screwed the bottom of the gate into the wall as well. Lil Bug just pulled harder and got out through the bottom of the gate. It was exhausting to come home to destruction every day. It was exhausting to just think about what she could be doing while we were away. It usually didn’t matter how long we left her alone – 5 minutes to 4 hours, she thought the world was ending. Now, keep in mind, we were definitely making an extreme effort to make sure she got a lot of exercise and play time, she had treat dispensing toys and frozen peanut butter kongs, we played calming dog music when we left, we tried DAP (dog appeasing pheromones) and a thundershirt (this helped…a little)….nothing really helped her.
It’s embarrassing, but that was around the time I bought her first muzzle. It was one of those close-fitting nylon muzzles. THAT was a relief, sadly. She couldn’t pull out the bottom of the gate and so we didn’t have to worry all day about what kind of destruction and trouble she was getting into while we were gone. Plus, it’s not as if she was left alone for the work week – I was still working from home at this point.
Lil Bug started Puppy Agility classes at the Humane Society of Boulder Valley at the beginning of February – I thought it would be a fun event for her each week and would provide an outlet for some of her energy. It didn’t really help much, even if she enjoyed class and learned a lot. She learned too much. She learned she could just OVER things and didn’t have to go through them. So, this started the dog-over-the-gate period. She was still muzzled and therefore couldn’t do as much damage when she jumped the gate but I worried more about her safety than before. Plus, with the muzzle on, she started to get cuts at the corners of her eyes because she was rubbing her face all over everything to try and get the muzzle off.
I brought these issues up with the Puppy Agility trainer, Amy. Amy suggested we schedule a private training consult at the HSVB (this was my next step if she couldn’t suggest anything). Her training consult couldn’t come fast enough. My work relocated to a new office and we were now required to work from the new office if not on site – this meant Lil Bug was now left alone all day. The day before the consult, she got out the front door and into the main hallway. The front door opens inward so she would have had to get the handle of the door and then somehow pull the door open. Yes, she still had her muzzle on. Luckily, our nice neighbor got a hold of her and called our vet to notify us that she was loose and he had her now. Sol had to leave work to get her. Now, we deadbolt the door whenever we leave.
SIGH. BIG SIGH. The consult went well. As well as it could have. She’s now on anti-depressants (generic Prozac) to help with her anxiety and training. She has a cage muzzle now – it allows her to pant and calm herself down without passing out (but really, what harm would there be in a passed out dog? She wouldn’t be destroying things then….Sorry, black humor). And, with the cage muzzle, she doesn’t rub her face all over things so her cuts have healed. We have programs we have to work through and she now only eats from her kongs so that we can eventually transition to giving her a kong when we leave. The hardest part is limiting her time spent alone. In that section, we are not excelling. We go on more jogs outside (when weather and time allows) and play longer in the garage, off leash. The medication has been helping (even though it supposedly takes a good three weeks for it to build up in her system). She’s now more of a normal dog. Somewhat.
It’s a lot of work and will continue to be a lot of work until we get her more confident and calm when we leave. Plus, she has recently started freaking out when the furnace kicks on during the night (I have no idea what she does during the day). SO, she cries and whines and sounds like the world is ending whenever the furnace kicks on. She is literally shaking with fear. Sigh.
I now understand why so many people surrender their dogs when they realize they have separation anxiety. But, isn’t part of our job (as their guardian) to help them through things like this? We’re in a hazy gray area right now where the only thing we can do is try to keep moving forward. I believe we can eventually get through this so that I can have a somewhat normal dog.
So, that’s what’s been happening lately. Please forgive me for the lack of posts – I’m doing my best to hold on to Lil Bug’s sanity for her….and our sanity as well. Any suggestions on separation anxiety issues fellow dog owners? I’d love to hear ideas!