The weather finally broke here in the Northeastern US. The last two weeks have been downright balmy, perfect weather to bring my horses back into work. Except, I haven’t done anything with them. Why?
About two weeks ago a friend contacted me about a dog that was found wandering the streets in my area. He was an intact male beagle, young and in good health. The person who found him tried to find an owner, but he had no tag and no microchip, and no one had responded to his found ads. Because the Finder had three dogs already, the little beagle needed a new home.
My last dog died two years ago, and I’d been saying for two years that I would get another dog when a new dog found me. I’ve honestly never gone out looking for a new cat, dog or horse. They just have a way of finding me, possibly because all my friends know I’m a giant sucker for a cute face and a sad story and send animals my way. And so I acquired a little beagle with a cute face and a sad story.
The person who found the beagle wandering had kept him for a couple weeks in case an owner showed up, and had a few insights. He was housebroken, knew “sit”, “come” and “stay”, and had “some” separation anxiety.
“Some” separation anxiety turned out to be an understatement. He’s a clingy maniac who will go absolutely ballistic any time I am out of his line of sight. I can’t say I blame him, I am his third home in a month. That’s sure to cause some abandonment issues.
Separation anxiety can be difficult to treat, especially for normal people who have to leave the house every day for work. Successful treatment involves weeks of desensitization training and the dog can’t be left alone long enough to panic himself during that time. Luckily for him, I don’t really go anywhere that isn’t dog-friendly, so I’m in a good position to help him with that.
The idea behind desensitization training for separation anxiety is to leave the dog alone in a controlled environment, then come back before he panics and reward him for staying calm. You gradually increase the time, until the dog learns that being left alone is OK. It’s also helpful to have a “special” toy or treat on hand that the dog only receives when he is alone, this reinforces that “alone time” can be fun.
In Darwin’s case, he had gotten to point where he would anticipate being left alone and start panicking before I could actually leave the room. He was also injuring himself in his attempts to get to me by slamming himself into windows and doors and knocking over furniture. He would not eat or play if he was not with me, so special toys and treats were of no use. If you can’t get even a moment of calm behavior, you can’t start the training. So, we went to the big guns: medication.
Darwin needed something to take the edge off a bit so we could establish a calm period to reward. With the help of my vet, we chose a doggy anti-depressant that is quick acting, but is also short acting and does not need a weaning off process. I like this, because I can give it as needed and stop it completely as soon as he doesn’t need it anymore. He’s only been on it a few days, and I’m already seeing improvement. We’re starting small, with things like “I am allowed to pee without you, Darwin” and, “I am also allowed to get out of the truck and load the feed without you freaking out”.
I’ll get back to the horses as soon as I don’t have to contend with a doggy meltdown every time I’m out of Darwin’s line of sight.