Once upon a time…
Let’s travel back to September, 2009. Shiva had been living with us for about six months and nothing was going right. She had fears. She had destructive tendencies. She got into fights with the cat. She terrified anyone who came within 20 metres. Everyone looked at her like she was a monster. This was not the dog I dreamed of when I spent all those months before her adoption planning and researching and cooing at puppies. This was also not the dog the shelter assured me she was.
But the biggest stress of all was not the collection of shoes she ruined or our fear Shiva would one day bite someone. The most worrying issue was Shiva’s unrelenting separation anxiety.
Thankfully our neighbours were saints and had a very vocal Yorkie…
At this point we were essentially living as shut-ins. Aside from the unavoidable – and panic-filled – trips to work, I rarely left the house. We couldn’t take her anywhere with us due to her reactivity and I couldn’t leave her alone any more than absolutely necessary.
We had tried multiple things to help Shiva deal with being alone just a little better. She had her crate and her frozen-stuffed Kong. I also usually hid treats in different parts of her blanket to keep her occupied. I took her for an active hour-long walk every morning before I left and another hour-long adventure when I got home. We tried leaving for brief periods; I tried leaving from alternate exits; I tried leaving the television on. If there was a tip on the Internet, I tried it.
None of them seemed to help and our neighbours were growing even more concerned about the length of time she would spend crying. I worried we’d come home to find an SPCA vehicle in our driveway.
I felt like the worst dog owner in the world…
One day at work I received an email from my best friend. She knew our problems and had just listened to a radio interview with a dog trainer in her community. This trainer had mentioned separation problems and had several good suggestions that my friend shared with me. Many we had already attempted but there was one that was new.
Dogs need to feel safe, the trainer said. Create a space for them similar to a cave. This can be done by purchasing a soft-sided crate out of which the dog cannot see. The idea behind this was if the dog can’t see anything that causes anxiety, such as a bird through a window, then she will be able to relax and sleep.
It seemed like a good idea at the time…
A few days later we were invited out by some co-workers of my PH. They had tickets to a local dinner theatre and wanted us to come along. We hadn’t been out for pure entertainment’s sake for six months and we both really wanted to go. The night in question was a Saturday. I thought if we spent all day working to tire Shiva out, we might be able to enjoy a few hours stress-free while she slept at home.
As we made our preparations to leave I remembered the advice about creating a cave. We only had Shiva’s wire crate and didn’t have time to get another. In a moment of what I though was brilliance, I grabbed a large blanket and arranged it over the top. The sides fell straight to the floor. The only part Shiva could see through was the bottom of the door.
Crossing my fingers that this would be the trick, I held my breath and closed the front door of the house. It seemed too much to hope but when we met up with our friends I tried to think about anything but our poor dog at home.
Three hours later…
We returned home after a fun evening with our hearts in our throats. As I unlocked the door I am pretty sure my heart stopped beating completely. Unable to look, my PH was the first one brave enough to step inside. The sight was not a pretty one.
There was our sad, sad, sad little dog, standing in the middle of the living room with the wire crate cover over her head. The crate bottom was exactly where we had left it, several feet away. The blanket I had used to give Shiva comfort?
Inside the crate top, bunched up on the floor.
The look on Shiva’s face would have been funny if the situation wasn’t so gut-wrenching.
We still debate the possibilities…
How exactly Shiva was able to pull off this maneuver we still don’t know. The conclusion is that Shiva tried to pull the blanket through the bars of the crate. Since it was thick it wouldn’t have been easy so she would have had to brace herself and yank fairly hard. Somehow this violent jerking must have caused the latches to break, detaching the bottom from the top.
The same night the neighbours reported that Shiva had been much louder than usual and there had been quite a racket of clanging for several hours. They had been worried she was injured and knocked on our door to make sure everything was okay.
Clearly the concept of a cave was not going to make our dog feel any safer when alone. The advice I am sure was sound. It just wasn’t what our dog needed.
Three years later…
Shiva’s anxiety is not cured. But it is better than I ever thought it could be. There was no one method that worked. The only thing that did was time, which is not really what I had wanted to hear back then. We were lucky in that Shiva never got hurt during any of her more interesting bouts of anxiety. Not during the crate blanket fiasco described above, nor during the time she flung fish tank charcoal all over the living room.
It could have been a lot worse.
This post was inspired by a question posed on Something Wagging This Way Comes. Have you ever taken good dog training advice only to have it backfire?