Not So Fearless Anymore

Separation anxiety has reared its nasty dragon head once more. I don’t understand what happened. Everything had been going so well!

Thankfully, Shiva is still okay with being left alone in the house. She doesn’t like it, but she can deal. The only sign of anxiety at home comes in the form of a blanket just a little too bunched up in the corner of her crate. At least we haven’t had a setback in that area.

Our problems now lie solely when leaving her alone in the car. We don’t do this very often – which could be the reason for her distress. Since we are now in warmer weather, we don’t do it at all. Last night was the first time in a long time and it was heart-breakingly difficult to walk away.

After a fun trip to the dog park, we decided to head to a pet store to check out the cats available in the adoption centre. The temperatures have been particularly un-summer-like lately. The weather application on my phone said it was fifteen degrees around seven-thirty. Not a warm night for August. We could have brought her in with us but Shiva gets so over-stimulated in new environments. If we actually wanted to pet the cats, it would be better to leave her in the truck. Since it was cool, we wouldn’t be gone for more than five minutes, and Shiva had just spent an hour playing with other dogs at the park, I thought nothing of leaving her with some kibble.

She started freaking out as we turned into the parking lot. Not that this is anything new. Every time we pull into a parking lot, no matter where, her stress levels go up ten notches. Most of the time we are even planning on taking her with us. But the sight of a paved area filled with cars is such a huge trigger she can’t focus. Food does not even seem to help comfort her. A few weeks ago, her parking lot anxiety was so intense, she bolted as soon as I opened the door. There went Shiva, zooming across a busy lot, bee-lining for an even busier road.

Good times.

She almost did the same thing last night but luckily my PH’s reflexes are better than mine. We got her back in the car, tossed in a couple handfuls of food for her to sniff out, and headed toward the store.

That’s when the howling commenced. Every foot step I took away from her was almost physically painful. I knew I couldn’t look back; I knew ignoring her was for her own benefit. But all I wanted to do was rush back and cry along with her.

It wasn’t always this way. She had been doing so much better! Last year she had almost no problems being left alone in the car for short periods. She seemed happy with her toys and her food-searching game. Sure, a few of my jackets were chewed. Sometimes the interior of the truck didn’t look so pretty. But we didn’t have this painful howling. This sound of a dog being beaten. I don’t know what has caused the relapse.

The biggest evidence for Shiva totally losing her shit? When we got back to the truck, there was still a pile of kibble on the floor. She had been too crazed to eat. I felt pretty much like the worst dog owner in the world at that point.

It looks like we’re going to have to go back to the beginning with this. Or just never leave her alone in the car again. One of the two.

33 thoughts on “Not So Fearless Anymore

  1. Poor Shiva and poor you. I know exactly what you are talking about. Storm has a bit of separation anxiety or maybe she just knows how to work it to make us think that she has it. She still makes a lot of noise if we take Thunder out of the truck first for training. She is getting better about it as we have ignored it. And she has rave reviews from the trainer and his staff when we leave her for training. They think she is just great and say she shows no anxiety there, eats well and seems happy. Never thought I would hear those words about her…lol.

    I think sometimes with dogs you have to go back a bit in order to go forward.


  2. Sorry to hear about Shiva’s setback. And howling is the worst. Agatha and Christie used to howl when I left for work in the morning. No wonder my party wall neighbors used crack. :{

    Roxanne Hawn over at Champion of My Heart wrote recently about Lilly’s sudden setback and fear of entering the house. A short time after, they discovered Lilly had worms. Not the usual explanation for sudden onset of fear but who knows?

    I wonder if Shiva had a bad experience in a parking lot once when she was alone. People can be rotten and I wonder if someone teased her in the car.

    If you decide to work with this issue, you might want to avoid parking lots at all. Is there an empty field where you can park just to start off and avoid the trigger of the blacktop and other cars?

    Good luck to you both. No pup deserve to be frightened.


      • The really funny part is that I wasn’t joking. 🙂

        No really, I honestly feel bad about the trouble my dogs caused and wonder how much I was making already-stressed people even worse.


        • It made my day too! Nothing like a good no-joke to make me feel a little less awful about my own problems. I really appreciate it. Amazingly, my neighbours don’t smoke crack. But I notice one has been hitting the booze a little hard this summer… Mea culpa?


    • I love Pam’s idea of working on this in an empty field somewhere or a quieter area. Just leave her, walk away and return if she is quiet for even two seconds. Repeat! Then repeat again in a new area and start all over again. Then progress to more challenging or “fun” places.


  3. What a bummer. I wonder why the setback?

    A lot of this sounds like Oreo, but he’d rather stay in the car alone, than get out of the car. More stressful outside.


  4. It’s me again. Back to the Debbie Jacobs book (from yesterday’s post) she recommends two books about separation anxiety. I know you do a lot of reading, but wasn’t sure if you had heard of these two or not.
    “I’ll Be Home Soon: How to Prevent and Treat Separation Anxiety” by Patricia McConnell and “Don’t Leave Me! Step-by-Step Help For Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety” by Nicole Wilde.


  5. awww what a bummer. I have not had problems leaving Luna, but she is over confident if anything.

    First off one thing I thought of immedietly to prevent the whole “bolting out of the car thing” is a car harness. This would take the risk of that away at least as you work through this. I found one that buckles right into the seatbelt not around the strap like most. So you can really pick the length of the lead attached to it. I don’t know how she does with being tied, but if she does okay with a tie out she should be fine with this. But get her used to it so she doesn’t check herself on her own when she is already panicked.

    Secondly, i agree go back a couple steps and start your work leaving her in an open area with no risk of people taunting her. I would not be surprised if something like this had happened to her. I would also up the food value, especially considering how typically food driven she is. Stuffed kongs? Or a special chew she doesn’t get at home. At least then she has options, though if my dog wants to work/hunt or is stressed she won’t eat cheese even. Just something to think about.

    Other ideas as you go back to square one a bit… try just one of you leaving and see if that helps a little then move on to both leaving.

    Good luck!


  6. You forgot option 3– earplugs. 😦

    I hate hate hate it when stuff like this happens. It leaves you feeling so frustrated and hopeless. Maybe something happened that you’re not aware of (someone rapping on the truck windows when you’re not there, or something). Just keep plugging, Kristine– she’s still not the dog she was two years ago.


  7. One thing that helps is to wait until Shiva completely calms down before you leave the car. It could take a very long time but just ignore her until she sits or lays down and you see her relax.

    You never know when an emergency will come up and you have to leave Shiva in the car. Even if one never happens, it is really good knowing that if you leave her in the car she will be fine.


  8. I don’t have any good advice to offer beyond what your smart readers have already suggested. We occasionally suffer setbacks with our fosters in an unexpected way and I think they’re the most frustrating. Where did it come from? How could it be so sudden? I feel for you.


  9. Poor Shiva!

    Have you tried starting out leaving her in the car in your own driveway and then progressing up to scary parking lots? And I wonder if pet store scent had anything to do with this particular freak-out? I bet the parking lot is just filled with scents of all the animals who’ve visited and are inside. Crossing my fingers that this is just a relapse episode and not a total, going back to the beginning like you’ve never worked on this type of relapse.


  10. Sorry to hear about the setback. I am confident, though, that you will work through it. I’m no trainer, but here are some things I’d try:

    Build up to Shiva being able to sit in the car calmly (or play a food search game or work on a chew) while in the driveway. First with you in the car, then with you stepping outside, moving away a step, then two steps, then out of sight, etc. … all the little baby steps that I know you’re very cognizant of.

    Then try bringing a book (or something you can use for busy work) and driving somewhere with Shiva where you will not leave the car. First somewhere that is as close as possible to trigger-free, then to places where there are more triggers/distractions. When she’s comfortable with that, get out and leave the car for a few minutes, then return, etc. Work on expanding the length of time you can be gone / the distance away from the car you can be before she reacts. Stay under threshold and then gradually bump it. All things I know you already know.

    Hang in there!


    • Well, and that’s the route we may go too. It will be a pain to have to drive all the way home from the park and then have to go out again but if it’s what we have to do…


  11. Poor Shiva. I don’t know if it’s at all similar with dogs but I sometimes get anxious on busy highways, and it helps me not to look (don’t worry, I’m not the one driving!) So I’m wondering if it might help Shiva to get some sort of window shades for when you are in the parking lot. It might help her to feel more secure and less like in a big, scary place. I know it seems like a lot to go through to block out all the windows, but just an idea.


    • You know… I am amazed I didn’t think of that, thank you! We tried that at home once to massive failure. We put a blanket over top of her crate thinking it would help her feel safer. But we came home to the crate totally annihilated. 😛 To this day I have no idea how she did it.

      But in a car it might work. Definitely worth a shot!


  12. Sound slike you need to have Shiva tethered in the van. I use a seatbelt strap for Song. It simply clicks into the seatbelt socket and clips onto Songs lead. song can still move around ont he back seat, but she can’t get out.

    With regards the seperation anxiety when left in the van, I’d take her for a short drive. park the van and leave her. just go out of site and then turn round and get back into the van. Don’t make a fuss of her till she has calmed down. Be strong and ignore her. As soon as she’s calmed down give her praise and treats and of course hugs. Keep doing these short trips until she get’s happier. You should be able to extend the time you are away.

    Remember also that someone could have upset her when she was int he van on her own. I had a dog destroy the back seat. When I got back to the car an elderly man told me not to tell my dog off, as some lads had been tomrenting him and as the dog had jumped up the back of the seat and barked at them, they’d got worse and my dog had calwed the back seat as it tried to get rid of them.

    I rarely left him in the car after that.

    I am sure with your love and patience Shiva will get over this problem.


  13. Kristine, Just read my post (excuse the mistakes) and it sounds like I am preaching. I don’t mean it to sound like that. Just what I’d try hun.


    • Not at all! Not even in the slightest! I really appreciate you sharing your suggestions. It makes me feel better and like I am on the right track. What’s frustrating is that we have been through this already. I thought it was handled, managed, fixed even. It’s disheartening and sad. I just feel so awful for her. Can’t imagine what it’s like to live with so much anxiety inside.

      Thank you for your encouragement and support. I don’t know what I’d do without it.


  14. Oh gosh poor Shiva – thank goodness she has you and that you understand, you know how to deal with it and you give her the help and love she needs. Just recently we had to travel a mere 25 mins with Poppet in the car and she cried the whole time. Now she won’t leave my side – oh how I wish she could understand what I was saying 🙂


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  16. Poor Shiva 😦 I have no real advice, just sympathy. It’s rough to see them backtrack like that, especially when you don’t know what triggered it. You’ve gotten some good advice though, and I do think that since she’s been okay with it before, it should probably be easier for her to get back to that “happy” (or less-stressed) place again.


  17. Poor Shiva… wish I had some pearls of wisdom to offer. I like the ideas above – trying the driveway, a field with no cars, the shades, etc. Maybe some combo of those options will help – I hope so!


  18. That’s too back about Shiva’s regression but I know how that goes.

    My little Shih Tzu boy seems to be OK when I leave him at home (I never leave him in the car) but when I come back he just about crawls out of his skin as he yelps, jumps and licks me half to death. I had been interpreting that as merely showing his joy but his training claims that it a display of separation anxiety.

    So thinking that being left with a companion, I adopted a brother for him. Well, now the situation worsened because he continues to display the same behavior but he also displays aggression to the new little guy who is also craving my attention.

    Needless to say, I’ve been feeling terribly guilty about leaving them alone in the house and have even gone as far as cancelling engagements which I would not have otherwise.

    Yes, these dogs rule my life.


  19. Awww, I’m so sorry. I know problem behaviors often resurface at the slightest trigger, and like you said, you haven’t left her alone in the car recently.

    We had a Dobe with severe sep anxiety, so I can totally empathize. He never was completely ‘cured’ but he definitely grew more tolerant of being left alone over time.

    I bet Shiva will bounce back faster and faster each time she has a set back, and that it’ll get easier for her (and you) over time. You was going to suggest journaling to see how she improves over time – but, I guess you can just go back through your blog – huh?


  20. I’m wondering if she has some negative associations with being in the car that you don’t know about. If she’s reactive, some kid could have walked by and teased her or upset her while she was left in the car, or some loud, unexpected noise could have startled her, or, well, any number of unknowns could have happened. Since you know this is likely to happen when you’re in parking lots, I’d make sure to have a traffic lead attached to her, or think about getting her a dog seat belt. It would at least keep her from bolting out of the car, and it would help contain her some while you’re driving anyway, which is safer for all of you.

    Something that occurs to me is that if she really wigs out in paved parking lots, perhaps you should try leaving her in a place that’s different. What would happen if you parked the car in a quiet place like a park and got out and left her? That might be a better place to start and work back to a high stress place. It’s just a few random thoughts, though.


  21. Plenty of great ideas here. I wonder if Shiva would feel more secure if she was in a harness? And also if a Thundershirt would help? Seeing as you don’t know the cause of her problem it’s very hard to decide on a potential cure, isn’t it? I can imagine how awful it must be for you, and also for Shiva. Hopefully whatever you try works and quickly:)


  22. We have problems with Buster in the car, too. He’ll sometimes start barking when we come to stop – though it used to be much worse. And, he sometimes barks when we need to leave the boys alone for a few minutes. We’ve been using the Thundershirt for Buster, and it’s been helping. It takes the edge off enough that he can at least respond to me. It might be something to try. Good luck! It’s so disheartening when something you think you’ve overcome reappears.


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