Our rescue hounds have had mild separation anxiety since we first adopted them last June. It’s been frustrating to come home to accidents by the door and occasional items left out that got shredded (RIP, my faux-fur vest I never got to wear). For the most part, though, it’s always been manageable. Both my partner and I ended up out of work for a while shortly after adopting them, so some bad luck and lack of planning meant we had to forego training, but we had every intention and then some to hire a professional trainer as soon as both of us resumed work.
Two weeks ago, we moved to a new city with the dogs and we’re now living in a basement apartment that the hounds visited with us for two weeks over the holidays. I was incredibly impressed with how they had not a single accident nor sign of legitimate separation anxiety over the holidays, even when every human left the house! I chalked this up to the fact they could hear the two other dogs upstairs.
Maybe we were really lucky over the holidays or maybe last night was a fluke, but boy was it like night and day. Everyone was gone except the dogs upstairs just like over the holidays. Our hounds weren’t stressing at all when I left, so I figured they were fine. We were gone for about three hours.
The door to the basement apartment leading to the rest of the house couldn’t even open, except enough to see concrete flooring. The basement
is was finished. With carpet. We had to enter the apartment through the side door.
There was bits of trash everywhere. Rice strewn across the floor, cinnamon, and the carpet next to the bedroom door had been clawed and bloodied. That was the mild side of the apartment. Leading across the living room and to the entrance through the house was more trash, random food, salt packs, flour – all stuff we hadn’t been able to unpack yet because the apartment needed so much work. The tops and sides of cardboard boxes have been chewed up and spit back out. There’s a bottle of lotion spilling out. A plastic tower of drawers by the door lies on its side with contents in a shredded mountain in front of the door. A wet spot that is definitely urine is soaking the carpet. More blood.
The icing on the cake, though, was the damage to the apartment itself. The carpet next to the door had been shredded right down to the cement, the door handle has been chewed, the light switches and walls clawed up.
I’ve never been so embarrassed or horrified by my dogs’ behaviour but simultaneously I knew it wasn’t their fault. I knew this was evidence of their psychological pain from us leaving rescue dogs with a history of abandonment in a strange place with human food and performance enhancers for marathoners just a cardboard box away.
The dogs were left out in the backyard while the damage was assessed. I went outside to see if they had any obvious injuries but couldn’t see anything in the dark. Once they came back inside, nothing looked major and nothing was causing any obvious pain, though Ashley was trembling for the first time since we’ve ever had her. Lady’s two bottom front teeth were chipped. Both of their gums were red and Ashley’s nails, that had been ready to clip, were now filed down to her unusually bright quicks.
I’ve never felt so bad. My boyfriend and I stayed up late discussing the situation and have agreed I will now be fully in charge of training the hounds since I’m the one that does all the research and I’m home the most because I’m unemployed. We also will never leave the dogs unattended until we have very carefully, slowly, and hopefully with the help of a professional behaviourist, have worked our way up to leaving the dogs alone for any period of time. Ashley’s anxiety is much worse than Lady’s, and since Lady previously took to it pretty well, we’re going to resume crate training Lady. We’re also going to consult our veterinarian and discuss the use of anti anxiety medication when we go on vacation next spring.
Today, however, was a fresh start. I dragged myself out of bed half asleep and guzzled half a cup of coffee before beginning their new training regimen. I spent two full hours working on training, not including the training in every day life such as asking the dogs to sit before going through doors, sitting before receiving attention, rewarding them when they had been settled down quietly for a long period, as well as some minor recall work. I remembered my cold coffee, finished it, and made another while spending the next several hours renewing my efforts to research dog training, separation anxiety, and bonded dogs.
I realize that most of the obedience training won’t directly correlate to a decrease in separation anxiety, but from what I’ve read in my research, I’ve decided it’s also a necessary component. In addition to it helping as mental stimulation, it is also the first step in conquering their separation anxiety. With Lady, her path is going to be with crate training since we already know she will take to it given the effort. Crate training has very similar logic to how we will be training Ashley. With Ashley, we’re following the ASPCA’s recommendation of lessening separation anxiety through multiple steps.
The first step for Ashley is reducing her anxiety about us getting ready to leave the house. That means putting on shoes, jackets, jingling keys and grabbing purses — all just to sit down in front of the TV and do nothing. Simultaneously we work on the “stay” command. Eventually it will lead to asking her to perform out-of-sight stays in various rooms for various lengths of time, building up to us working on “stay” even through the side door and house door for tiny amounts of time, only what she can handle without stress. I’ve also read conflicting information regarding giving dogs special treats (I would likely use stuffed Kongs) only when they are left alone, so they begin to see it as a reward and/or distraction from us leaving, not a punishment.
This is a very long term training plan, and I’m sure it will morph and change as our hounds find successes while we consult professionals. But this is ground zero, this is square one, this is where it all begins. This is our wake up call. This is Doggie D Day.