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!!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Project Briscoe: The Beginning

I met with the Best-Friends-approved trainer for nearly 2 hours one night at my house. We talked about Briscoe, his environment, his behaviors – the good and not so good. We agreed that he is a smart dog and oh-so cute. She tested him very subtly by looking him in the eye. This usually resulted in him barking nervously at her with a lot of unfortunate enthusiasm. His nervousness with a new person in the house is a behavior I have noticed and been saddened by over the last few months. Add it to the list of issues.

I am still reading through the paperwork the trainer left with me: suggestions to improve his diet, get him tested for possible medical conditions and keep his brain busy. Separation Anxiety is an issue that cannot be solved with a sudden "Tssst!" and touch to the shoulder, unfortunately. I often watch your show and even auditioned, Cesar, but yours will not be my way.

The mealtime switch is underway with a little tummy discomfort. One suggestion the trainer made was to focus on keeping Briscoe’s brain busy with chews, toys and problem-solving. (So, yeah, he’s doing my taxes this year). I have invested in a variety of chews and items to stuff in his beloved kongs – in addition to his meals. No more placing his food in the bowl and serving it to him with a happy 'take it!', he must now work for it by nudging around his red kong toy with his nose. A busy dog is a happy well-fed dog at my house.

Another item looming over me the past week was the question of whether Briscoe has hypothyroidism. This is a fairly common occurrence in dogs and can lead to many unfortunate side effects, including increased anxiety. The trainer recommended an out of town lab that specializes in thyroid testing, so I took her suggestion. I had my vet’s office take the blood sample and shipped the vial off, I anxiously awaited the results. I received the results today: "thyroid levels are adequate overall”. {thud} Is it bad that I kind of hoped my dog had this medical condition?

Don't worry, fans of Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome, one of his counts is far below the appropriate range which can reflect a concurrent health problem, so I will discuss this matter further with the veterinarian and find out what the next step might be. As long as it is forward, I am ready.