It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time…

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?

19 thoughts on “It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time…

  1. God… I was scared “reading” it… How you must have felt, I can only imagine.!.!.

    I am glad that she never got hurt…my heart goes out to you…coz I know how hard it is to leave behind a pup with Separation Anxiety… But in our case, Pluto is the cool one, and I have separation anxiety… 😀

    Lov and kisses


  2. It is (as with most things) a procedure of trial and error, finding something that helps and then tweaking it a bit to make it better.

    It would be so much easier if they could tell us what frightens them and why and what would make them feel safe. 🙂 It’s hard to know, and when you have a dog like Shiva or Delilah whose history is unknown, it makes it even harder.

    Ultimately the only thing we can do is to keep trying different methods and working with our dogs. We get there, sooner or later but we do get there.

    Shiva and Delilah are living proof of that. 🙂


  3. Now there was me thinking you’d got a great idea and I should get a canvas crate for my new Greyhound Polly when she comes (and no, I don’t know when that will be yet. Hopefully nexct week:))

    Song had anxiety when I left her. i use to leave a radio or TV on, spray with DAP and to be honest I rarely left her more than a couple of hours, except every other week on shopping day, which would be around 4hours. She did adjust, but I always hated leaving her.

    Have you tried DAP for Shiva? It’s not cheap, but it last a long time and it definitely helped Song.


  4. It still seems like a good idea, but you never know what will work and what won’t work. I am in constantly in awe of your patience with Shiva. But rewards have obviously come…


  5. Holy cow! I didn’t realize you had gone through all of that with Shiva!

    She’s definitely come a long way since then. Your patience is remarkable and reminds me of how I was sort of home-bound with my last cattle dog mix. It’s too bad that our dogs can’t speak at least for the first 24 hours we first get them so they can tell us what happened to them in their previous home so we can work smarter towards helping them get over their fears of being left alone. Very rarely are people willing to put in the time and effort it takes to help a dog get over their fears so I commend you. The reward is great as you can surely see as you look back on where she used to be. That is true love for a dog! 🙂


  6. I feel your pain, in Frankie’s case with shyness and — initially — avoidance of me that I thought was all my fault. Granted, the drama wasn’t played out in public like yours was but in some ways that made it worse. I was embarrassed to admit to people that my dog didn’t seem to like me very much.

    Like you, I didn’t know that time heals a lot.

    But I’ll echo everyone else in saying that you did a great job.


  7. Kristine, I’m so glad to read about people like you who don’t give up, who are willing to put an effort into the lives of the animals they rescue. In our animal protection work, we deal with so many people who make no effort at all…what a refreshing change.

    From all of us at Animal Alliance / Saving Dinah, THANK YOU!



  8. It is amazing you all survived! 🙂 I too, didn’t realize how severe Shiva’s anxiety was. I think you’ve mentioned some crate incidents before but not with that much detail. That sounded like a really tough and scary time for all of you. So glad you’ve been able to work with Shiva and help her through that. I think once you have a dog that has experienced a high level of anxiety they are always going to have some, IMO, it just isn’t as intense as it used to be and the stressors are more of just the serious nature or those little quirks our dogs have . This is just fascinating after hearing all of the stories of how great Shiva is doing now and how much she can do. I’m really proud of you Kristine, I know what it like to have a hyper vigilant dog or two and it isn’t easy. It takes guts and a lot of love and patience which clearly you have master or come awfully close, especially for your first dog! Amazing!!


  9. This is where a nanny cam would have been so cool. It’ll always remain a mystery now, how she did it. I think Georgia and Shiva are sisters. Calculating back from September, we even got them at the same time. Think of it! We didn’t know each other back then, but we were both suffering the same issues a world apart 🙂


  10. When Leah had her leg operation, she had a lot of anxiety, and she escaped the crate while my peoples were out walking me. She somehow managed to get out of her crate while wearing a plastic cone head, which my peoples still can’t figure out to this day. (Like Shiva, she didn’t get hurt.)

    While it’s true that time fixes a lot of things with us dogs, it’s nice to see peoples like you who TRY things to help their dogs. Even if some things failed, at least you tried to make your dog feel better, and I bet a lot more things you tried actually worked, when compared to the things that didn’t.


  11. Okay, I admit it, I’m giggling! Kuster pulls sheets, blankets and anything else he can get his anteater tongue on into the crate, just to prove that he can. The picture of Shiva when you got home is funny, because she didn’t get hurt.

    I’m sure that we’ve been the victims of bad advice many times. I told Pamela that the one I regret is letting people convince my husband that SAR dogs have to always be in their crates when they’re not working. I argued the case for a long time and made little ground, but we had a good friend with lots of dog training experience stop for a few days this summer, and he finally made the impression that I’d been hoping for. Kuster is a high drive dog and he needs to burn off energy in a big way. Now if I can just win some chain link fence for the back yard in a blog giveaway….


  12. Hi Kristine, that was a great story. We really feel for you. But Shiva’s better and that’s good. My brother Owen does not like being left behind. He cries really loud. Actually it’s more of a howl. The neighbours always know when Owen’s been left behind. Even when his shelties brother and sister are here with him.


  13. I read your post yesterday at work. Loved the title. I imagine all of us have said that a time or two.

    I have also heard of the cave thing and it is true that (at least for my dogs) they prefer a cave-like atmosphere. The blanket thing is so familiar. I did that with a dalmatian I fostered once. Shreds. That’s what was left of the blanket.

    Even after reading your posts for so long I still really had no idea it was as bad as it was with Shiva. Wow. I mean Daisy has separation anxiety, but nothing like Shiva’s. She never howls, just paces back and forth. I am so sorry that Shiva was so stressed out when you left. I am also glad she has gotten so much better. It makes you wonder what her previous life was like to give her so much anxiety. Of course, it could also have been the shelter environment. So many dogs get so stressed in that environment. 😦
    Shiva is lucky you guys stuck it out.


  14. Your story about Shiva is why my favorite dog trainers are the ones who are less dogmatic. They describe a good technique but always follow it up with “and if this doesn’t work…”

    Thank you for sharing your story. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who has ever taken “bad advice.” I’m thinking I could make it a regular blog feature.


  15. Pingback: Tweets of the Week (28th October) | Some Thoughts About Dogs

Comments are closed.