Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Project Briscoe: The Door of Hope

My dog Briscoe, the anxious escape artist. If I were a wee bit less confident in myself, I might take it personally. Poor buddy. Clueless of his puppyhood and formative years, all I can do it take what I’ve got and move forward. I can’t let the separation anxiety win (that was very Lifetime Movie-esque). I work to build his confidence and reward him for the behaviors I want. And you know what? It is working.

Briscoe’s trainer had suggested a doggie door be installed to give him the “escape” option from my home. I had a handyman install the door and it took Briscoe less than 15 minutes to figure it out (thank goodness he is food motivated). I padlock my outer gate for additional security should someone, like a delivery person or the meter reader, happen to open it and allow him to escape. Fortunately, Toby hasn’t tried to exit the door. Cute as he is, it would break my heart to see him stuck, half-in half-out my house. Toby’s legs just aren’t as agile as Briscoe’s.

I first started leaving Briscoe home alone in short spurts. Then I expanded to 2 hours with me gone. Then 3 hours. Success! Unfortunately, as it goes with life’s challenges, I had a one-step-up-and-two-steps-back experience. I came home one night from a movie with a friend and was saddened to discover that he had chewed the bottom of the wooden gate, trying to escape the yard. Zoikes. He panicked to get out of the house, then to get out of the yard, what would be his next escape challenge? California? The United States? Bouncing to and then nervously pawing at the border patrol station trying to get into Mexico?

A suggestion was made to cover the gate’s wood panels with plexi-glass and this may eventually be done by someone much handier than I, but for now several sprays of a “bitter” tasting agent seems to deter him from gnawing on the gate. Also, I have improved at implementing busy items to keep his brain working and focusing Briscoe on the rewards of staying home – and not the mistaken gloriousness of escaping. He's got the sound of the television. The red kong filled with treats. The buster cube also filled with treats. Hidden beef broth infused rawhide chews. And last but not least, these fabulous raw meat bone marrow thingies. So much to discover and enjoy right at home!!

Yesterday was day one of Project Briscoe: Home Alone and it was success! I am lucky to have a neighbor home part of the day and she kindly reported no whining, no chewing, no bad behaviors. He snoozed by the door of the gate in the sunshine. Woo Hoo! He was very excited and spazzy when I finally got home, but I calmly walked in, put my bags down and did not reward his attention-seeking behavior. He finally sat, then laid down and then he was given a ‘good boy’ and a treat. Perseverance pays off!

Yesterday’s progress is just one step, but hopefully the first of many in the right direction. The direction of Briscoe being a confident, content dog, happy to stay home all day – and catch up on his PBS programming while he’s at it.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Project Briscoe Phase I: Success!!

I am happy to report a positive step in the right direction for Briscoe and his separation anxiety.


A damp, muddy gated yard in a San Diego neighborhood; a house not yet tricked out with a doggie door due to recent inclement weather (insert whining sound). A dog, sweet, lovable and smart, but also terrified of being left home alone without human companionship. A female, wanting, er needing, er wanting, to get out of the house to view a multiple-nominated film at nearby theatre. A doggie daycare facility, closed on Sundays. What to do? What to do.

I got a burst of confidence and perhaps a long-dormant light bulb turned on in my head: I made the plan to leave Briscoe home alone with my door open for an extended amount of time. Let it be known that I always feel very safe where I live and am rather tucked away from the world, though I live in a central part of the city. Like most, I am not a big fan of keeping my front door open and unlocked when I plan to be gone for several hours. Fortunately, my concerns were abated as I have a very helpful neighbor who planned to be home gardening and able to monitor my domicile. And a handy padlock on the front gate, just in case.

Briscoe immediately became anxious when he sensed me preparing to leave. I tried to calm him with chews and treat-filled kongs, placed strategically around the house. These distractions can help keep him busy and focused instead of fretting about where I went and when I will return. Unfortunately, these are of little interest when his anxiety kicks in. He jumped and panted and was his own brand of whirling dervish. I dressed him in his
Thundershirt (which got a big FAIL the other night when my home experienced thunder and hail. I will give it a pass this time as he didn’t have the shirt on when the banging and clamoring began. Poor buddy shook and panted for over an hour and we snoozed on the couch all night).

Another concern for this project was my sassy Pomeranian (redundant) Toby, who is blind. He, too, would have access to the yard which is fine 95% of the time, but my yard does have areas where he could experience a slight fall or annoying obstructions. Good thing Mister Man already had an active day and wasn’t too interested in sniffing around the yard.

I packed up my purse, left my TV on, propped my front door slightly open and headed for the gate. I didn’t engage Briscoe as he hopped about in his futile endeavor to get me to stay. I closed the tall gate and latched it with the shiny padlock. My neighbor received her key and agreed to step in only if “the project” turned negative or an anxious behavior escalated.

I viewed and enjoyed the movie with a friend, exited the theatre and checked my phone: no texts! No voice mail messages! To me, this was a no-news-is-good-news situation. And it was! I returned home to Briscoe standing at the top of the stairs by the gate. Once he saw me he became very excited & happy & hoppy - this is an appropriate response. Had he been that amped up and agitated the nearly 2.5 hours I was gone, t'would be bad. My neighbor reported Briscoe only occasionally barked at neighbors as they walked past my gate to do laundry (this happens when I am home), but didn’t hear any whining or anxious yappy barking. She did hear him “paw” at the gate a couple times, but that anxious behavior did not last long – and when I say “paw” I do mean it in the singular. :)

This information tells me he was able to calm himself down and enjoy having the in/out privileges.

All in all, I have deemed this project a success. I am feeling more confident that there is a way to have my life and my dog and keep us both happy and content no matter where we are. I am much more hopeful for my future – together with Briscoe. I am also very thankful for my wonderfully supportive friends who are always there with comforting thoughts, helpful suggestions and the occasional lap to share with my sweet dog.

To be continued…

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Rain, Rain, Go Away

So it has rained multiple days in San Diego and in case you aren't aware of the protocol: activities and life as we know it tend to shut down during "weather" in Southern California. The locals and visitors alike have an expecatation of perfect weather and when we don't get it we pout like petulant children...or petulant adults.

Yes, I grew up and lived many years in the Midwest, but I am nothing if not a quick assimilator. I currently have no desire to stand out in the rain (& wind!!) testing my dog's ability to chew on rawhides, engage Buster Cubes and keep himself occupied while I peek through the window to observe if he gets anxious.

Upon recommendation, I did purchase him a Thundershirt, I will test that out post-inevitable-bath tonight. Another thing you can guarantee about rain in San Diego, besides many sad human faces, is the increase in need for dog baths. Briscoe hops around doggie daycare and even though they have indoor capabilities, there is just way too much rain these days (plus slobber, mud, general stinkage) to keep doggies pristine.

“If a kid asks where rain comes from, I think a cute thing to tell him is "God is crying." And if he asks why God is crying, another cute thing to tell him is "Probably because of something you did."” -- Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Project Briscoe: The Bloodletting (okay, not really)

After receiving Briscoe’s blood test results from the special lab and finding out he does not have hypothyroidism I can no longer use that possible medical condition as an explanation/contributing factor to Briscoe’s separation anxiety. After discussing the thyroid test with my vet and Briscoe's earlier blood tests, he has been given a clear bill of health. Phew.

Over this past weekend, I dogsat overnight for some friends and kept busy with wrangling the Toby-Briscoe-Luna triumvirate. This glamourously involved cleaning up poo, barf, distributing food fairly and managing the occasional barking fits. Another exciting Saturday night. It was fun, but two is definitely the dog-maximum for me.

Sunday, after our adorable guest returned to her home, I became very motivated and confident about trying to leave Briscoe at home – alone. I have left him home alone with the door shut in very short intervals: to switch out the laundry 25 feet from my yard, taking my time getting the mail or going outside to sit quietly while utilizing my Crackberry. After another round of outdoor web surfing, I left Briscoe home alone for an extended amount of time, a first since mid-November.

Backing up a bit, I needed to relocate Toby to my bedroom as a precautionary measure, he tends to sniff out Briscoe's chews & kongs which leads to doggie rifts. My purse and keys were snuck out one hour earlier (these combined are a sure-fire trigger and Briscoe starts to worry I am leaving him). I turned on the TV for some noise, filled one kong full of treaty goodness and strategically scattered two chews for Briscoe to happen upon after some diligent sniffing.

While Briscoe busied himself in the living room, I quietly stepped outside and sat and waited. 5 minutes, quiet. 10 minutes, I could hear some whining, but couldn't hear any pawwing at the door or panicked barking. Progress? 15 minutes, I could hear some noise, but my guess was that it was a kong getting rolled around.

I then gathered my items, hoping he couldn’t see me through the one small section of window that isn’t covered/in need of repair, and tried to sneak out of the yard quietly. A couple of dog-free errands would be mine! I have heard new moms laud the first time they were able to get out of the house or stroll around Target peacefully. I likened this solo trip to the grocery store and gas station somewhat similar. Ahh, the sweet gloriousness of freedom!!

In all, I was gone 45 minutes. When I returned (he can hear my gate open, it has a loud clang when it latches) and opened the front door I found a very excited, full of nervous energy and a little whiny Briscoe jumping around, but there was zero damage (!!!) Briscoe had not jumped on the kitchen counter as he has during previous anxiety fits - I purposely placed coins on the counter and none were displaced. I swept the kitchen floor before I left and there was no visible proof that the door frame had been chewed or any vulnerable item pulverized.

I hope to try this again several times this week and over the upcoming 3 day holiday weekend, for varying amounts of time. I hope for single steps up and zero steps back. Team Briscoe!!