. . . or is it?
To me, separation anxiety is one of the most intimidating behavior issues to deal with. The fact that it manifests itself when you’re not around makes it seem like a daunting challenge to overcome. Thanks to the brains of the dog behavior geniuses I’m surrounded by, I do at least know some arsenal in combating separation anxiety, should I ever have to face it.
So when I agreed to foster Baxter and was warned of possible separation issues, I braced myself for the worst. Some of you may remember over the summer when Baxter was at the Jasmine’s House farm and ate a leash, resulting in multiple surgeries to remove the impassible object. No one was sure what triggered the leash eating, but it was anyone’s best guess that it was due to separation anxiety. I knew at the very least I would have to be super diligent in observing Baxter’s behavior and anxiety to prevent another “leash incident”.
We knew that if his anxiety got bad when he came to us, our one saving grace would be that he was already used to spending time in his crate. He was sleeping on a Kuranda bed at the time because we were afraid when he was alone in his crate that he would eat the bedding (which is something he did at the vet recovering from his first surgery). When he first came into my home my eyes were on him at all times, and if I wasn’t around then he was in the crate.
Well, it ended up that Baxter’s separation anxiety never really did show itself. The first few weeks when we would put him in his crate he would bark a little at first, but now – thanks to keeping a routine – he knows when bed time is and happily trots into his bed and goes to sleep, sans any woofing or whimpering.
Under supervision, the leash eating issue has also basically disappeared. While we still take precautions to make sure he isn’t put in a situation where he can swallow something inedible, I do trust him to not be around me all the time. In his crate he has even graduated to a mattress instead of the Kuranda bed, which he absolutely LOVES – shown by the fact that he chooses to sleep there on his own accord throughout the day.
Even though my Dad works from home so someone is usually always around, Baxter would stay in a crate if I was out. I didn’t want my Dad to feel pressured to watch him closely (when we were still being paranoid and diligent about preventing him from eating things) when he needed to be working. After a few weeks though, we were able to set up a “Baxter proof” space; essentially just two hallways with all the room doors shut, connected by a set of stairs. No access to any rooms, anything on the floor, or anything else dangerous.
He gets two beds, and he can access my Dad’s office. He stays there now when I’m not home but my Dad is, and it works perfectly. It took him maybe three or four times to get used to it and not look for me for the first ten minutes, and now he settles down as soon as I close the door. I put his bed by the window so he can sleep looking out the window. Pulling into the driveway and seeing this little man waiting for me is the best feeling : -)
Additionally, Baxter is not one of those suction cup dogs when you are home together with him. He doesn’t sit outside the bathroom door waiting for me, he doesn’t spring up when I move rooms, and he doesn’t whine if there is a door between us. I’ve had a few dogs like this, and I’m not at all saying it’s bad if a dog acts “clingy” – but I can definitely say I appreciate the space a little. Plus he balances it out perfectly when he trots around the house looking for me if he hasn’t seen me in a while.
So all in all, we got really lucky with Mr. Bax that he turned out to be such an easy keeper. I’m so happy that he has been able to settle down with us to the point of little to no anxiety. We still treat him to kongs or bully sticks when we’re not around, and mental puzzles when we are home just to tire him out – but my mind is at ease when we are out of the house.
We are lucky that Baxter didn’t need much work to get to this point, but people whose dogs are suffering from separation anxiety should know that there are lots of resources for your worried pooches. Patricia McConnell, a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, has some great books out there about behavior issues, including separation anxiety, that I would highly recommend. Even the smallest things that you would never think of can help your dog get past their distress. Being educated about the triggers and causes of your dog’s anxiety can help worlds in treating and curing it.
So, in case his adorable brown eyes haven’t won you over in the “Adoptability” category, his easy going nature is a no-brainer. He is your little buddy when you’re around, but doesn’t freak when you’re not. Win, win!
For more information on adopting Comeback Kid Baxter, click here or email firstname.lastname@example.org.