Yes, I recently watched The Sound of Music, and who can keep those catchy, wonderful tunes out of one’s head? Who was hanging out in the living room with me while watching said classic film? My dog Briscoe. Briscoe is a sweet, fun and very cute dog. Briscoe also has separation anxiety. Significant separation anxiety, resulting in destroyed blinds, pulverized wicker baskets, chewed-upon door frames and the truly frightening broken window. So significant that for the past month I have not felt comfortable leaving him alone. Ever. This situation causes me some problems.
Daily doggie daycare and the kindness of friends & neighbors has helped keep him cared for and occupied while I go to work and occasionally have a social life, but these expensive, burdensome arrangements cannot go on forever. I have struggled – significantly – with this reality. My love of the rescued pet v. the possibility of having to be “one of those people” who seemingly gives up on an animal. I have had to face the possibility that perhaps my home is not the best one for Briscoe. This breaks my heart.
Separation distress is found naturally in canid species, especially social species like domestic dogs. Some trigger goes off in Briscoe’s brain and he instantly panics when faced with the possibility of being separated from a human. His main human is me. Me, Miss Independence, has a hyper-attached, co-dependent dog.
One natural purpose of separation anxiety is the importance of close contact and bonding between the family unit or pack. Briscoe’s family history is unknown as he was found with a wounded, paralyzed leg wandering the streets of Merced, CA, with no tags and no owner to claim him. Perhaps he was separated from his mother too young as a puppy? Maybe he lived with someone who used punitive rearing practices?
There are certain aspects of a dog’s history that may make him more susceptible to developing canine separation anxiety. The SPCA lists some of the following risk factors and I note if these apply to Briscoe:
• Dogs that are re-homed or adopted from an animal shelter [YES]
• Social isolation in general within first 4 months of life [DON’T KNOW]
• Significant change in daily routine or schedule [NO]
• Dogs who show acute awareness to owner’s every move [YES]
• Preexisting anxiety-based disorders (depression, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder) [POSSIBLY]
• Any traumatic event experienced by dog when he was alone [YES]
• Emotionally traumatic experience of any kind [UH, YES & PHYSICALLY TRAUMATIC]
• Cognitive dysfunction (geriatric disorder) [HEY, IT IS NOT THIS ONE!]
• Breeds that were bred to work closely and eagerly with their handler [SIGH, YES]
Over the last month I have attempted to find a suitable trainer for Briscoe (and me) to work with to build his confidence in the ever-scary world of being left home alone. This in and of itself was a challenge as I often came in contact with trainers whose own behavior could use some, ahem, improvement. Anyway, I meet tonight for the first time with someone who is hopefully the best trainer to get me & Briscoe on the path to confidence, calmness and lifelong togetherness. Wish us luck.