Four Legged Friends: Only the Lonely

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Separation anxiety (SA) is a condition affecting both young and old dogs, newly purchased puppies, secondhand dogs from the shelter, or in my case, adopted ex-racing dogs. SA can range from mild to severe, and too many dogs are returned to shelters or adoption groups by overwhelmed owners who have no idea how to deal with it or even that there are things that can be done to make the condition manageable.

George, an adopted greyhound, on the first day at his new home

George, an adopted greyhound, on the first day at his new home

The first and best thing is to not create a puppy who is anxious being left alone. That means that despite your desire to spend every minute with your new fuzzy friend, going so far as watching him while he sleeps, it’s a huge mistake to constantly be stimulating your puppy, constantly entertaining him, constantly reassuring him. That’s not natural in life — he would never get that kind of attention if he were with his canine family, and he shouldn’t get it at home either. The best thing for a newly acquired pup is that he immediately get on a schedule. Meals should come at the same time every day. Walks should be on a regular schedule (except of course during housebreaking!). And you must get in the habit, right away, of giving your pup some “alone time.” It could be something as simple as leaving him baby-gated into a room while you do laundry, or using a dog crate as his bed/den/feeding station.

My own experience with SA involves two dogs — one from a shelter, one from greyhound adoption. They were very different. Kramer was a puppy when I got him, and George was nearly 5 years old. Kramer had been flung out of a moving car window at an unknown age, taken into a home, and then dropped at the shelter. All he knew was abandonment. George lived and worked in one kennel at one track his entire career. He likely saw dogs come and go, but he was cared for by the same core group for his entire life. As a successful racer, he had a rigid routine. Each day was much the same as the day before. Only race days were different, and successful racers live for the thrill of race day.

Kramer came into my home at about 16 weeks. A sickly pup, he spent a lot of time at the vet. Kramer was crate trained, and he loved his crate. He housebroke himself in no time at all, and he happily got into the crate every day when I went to work. I only discovered his anxiety issue when I decided he did not need the crate anymore, and he just lost it. I could hear the howling a block away when I came home to my destroyed apartment. I put him back in the crate for two more years, and all was well. I eventually got him out of the crate in small steps, like closing but not locking the door. Then not closing the door. And finally folding the crate up but leaving it where he could see it.

George was the polar opposite. To him, the crate was a wiry torture device. They tell greyhound adopters that the crate is familiar to the dog, so he’ll be comfortable in it. Well, let me tell you, commercially available home crates are nothing like the crates at the track. They’re smaller, they’re all wire, and most importantly, your dog is surrounded by other crated dogs at the track. A racer is never alone. Never. Suddenly there is poor George, trapped in a wire box in a strange place by a lady he has only just met, all of his friends are gone, and he was out of his mind.

I videotaped his behavior after receiving many complaints from neighbors that I assumed were exaggerations. They were not. The minute my door closed, my camera caught a miserable dog who tipped back his head and sang the song of his people (howled like a wolf) until the film on the camera ran out (about two hours). He was never put in that crate again. I tried to gate him into half the apartment. He army-crawled under the gate. That’s when I gave up. I dog proofed, and I did everything you’re supposed to do with an SA dog; use pheromone scent diffusers, play a radio, give him a distracting toy filled with food, etc. But what put an end to his howling was simply not confining him. Think about it. He had no idea when, or if, I was coming back.

George’s despair at my departures never really went away, but they became manageable. Lots and lots of exercise before I left, never varying my routine by even 10 minutes, and lots of exercise when I got home. We managed. He never really could hold his bladder. I spent literally thousands of dollars on medical testing, and eventually realized he was lifting his leg on the sliding glass door, as close to outside as he could get, so I covered that area of floor with hospital bed incontinence pads, and instead of crying and cleaning the carpet every night, I washed his pads.

It was a difficult seven years. George also didn’t like dogs of any other breed, so he had very little opportunity to socialize. I was his whole world.

When I adopted another greyhound after George passed, I asked for three things: 1) it had to be okay living with a cat; 2) it had to have a bladder the size of Texas; and 3) it had to be okay as an only dog. After two dogs with SA, I did not want a third. I just wanted an easy dog who I could feed and love and sit on the couch with. By allowing a third party to pick the dog, I did get what I wanted.

There is a fabulous booklet that we recommend to new greyhound owners all the time called “I’ll Be Home Soon” by Patricia McConnell. It’s available on Amazon.com and is a short read. I highly recommend it to anyone who just got a puppy, or is thinking about buying or adopting soon. Follow her suggestions to avoid creating SA, and for dealing with it if you already have it, and your relationship with your buddy will blossom!

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avatar Posted by on Mar 17 2017. Filed under Featured Content, Opinion. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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