Addressing anxiety


Matt distracts Charlie as a tech readies to give him a shot.

Matt distracts Charlie as a tech readies to give him a shot.

We recently brought Lex and Charlie to the vet to get them up-to-date on their shots.

For Lex, this was old hat. She calmly waited for her shot, and didn’t even try to hop off the exam table.

Charlie, however, was another story. He wiggled and whined and twisted and turned. The vet tech told us not to fret, that she had it under control. And then Charlie would break free. Matt stepped in to help calm Charlie, gently rubbing his nose and telling him he was such a gooooood boy.

I took this opportunity to speak with the vet about Charlie’s anxiety. I told her about his destruction, the couch cushions, the window sills, the Thundershirt. His insistence upon pooping in the house, even though we have a dog door.

She suggested leaving him for short periods of time, and seeing how he reacts. Rewarding good behavior, then leaving him for longer periods of time.

Other alternatives tossed around include consulting a behaviorist, purchasing a special collar and anxiety medication.

We’ve opted to introduce neighborhood walks, in addition to our running games in the back yard. Also, we have increased the number of times and length we leave him alone. For extended periods of time (for example eight hours or more) we have opted to board the dogs at Camp Bow Wow, which they love.

I have been experiencing medical issues that have prevented me from being as actively involved with Charlie as I would like. I’m hoping to get this resolved by summertime.

I think Charlie would like a new walking partner.

FurFamHORZNTL

Thunderstruck


The first thing Charlie did once we got the Thundershirt wrapped around him? He yawned. We both agreed he was noticeably calmer.

I have to say when we first heard about Thundershirt, Matt and I hesitated.

The concept seemed too good to be true. Eliminate a dog’s separation anxiety by wrapping a tight shirt around him? Sure. I guess I’ve heard of weirder things.

But then we got a solid recommendation from our friend Lenny Z. And we watched a favorable news report. This was followed by testimonials from a few more friends.

Charlie fit in the low end of a size medium, so he will be able to grow into his Thundershirt.

We went to the website and poked around. After seeing that Thundershirt offered a full refund if it didn’t calm our pup, Matt and I were ready to commit.

Honestly, it felt good to have a solution. Even if it wasn’t a guaranteed solution, we finally had something to try out. The last few weeks with Charlie have slowly been eating at us, like a swift river tearing away at a river bank. His destructive nature has startlingly increased, and in recent days he has taken to barking at absolutely nothing at all. Sure, he is a border collie mix, but really?!? Our nerves were raw, and we needed something — anything — that would provide a bit of encouragement.

We bought the Thundershirt at a local PetSmart, where an associate told us we were making a good purchase. Since the store started carrying them last fall, the store has only had one return. Matt and I locked eyes. Was that hope we were feeling?

As soon as we got home, I ignored the 90-degree weather and tore open the box. Charlie would at least try it on. I pulled out the shirt, and marveled at all the flaps and velcro. Part swaddling/part straightjacket, it was surprisingly easy to get on. Thank goodness Charlie did not fight me. As soon as I fastened the last  flap of shirt, Charlie looked up at me and yawned. His eyes seemed a little heavier than usual. He snuggled into me.

This felt promising.

Resting with Daddy.

We kept him in the shirt for about a half-hour. It was long enough to see a change in Charlie, and to know that we would wrap him up in his Thundershirt when we went out for dinner.

As luck would have it, a loud, boisterous thunderstorm rolled through while we were dining at a Korean restaurant about 20 minutes away. Knowing Charlie was wearing his Thundershirt, we crossed our fingers and finished dinner.

Charlie greeted us at the door. We slowly walked in, scanning the couch for wood shavings from the window sill. The room was spotless. The window was still firmly affixed to the wall. Charlie was happy to see us, but not in the desperate way we has grown accustomed to. After our first day, we’re cautiously considering this thunderous therapy a success.

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Separation anxiety


At first, it was really cute that Charlie follows Matt around like the Pied Piper.

Charlie will lovingly gaze up at Matt, and trot behind his every step. In the morning, Charlie will lay in his dog bed until Matt rises. During the day, Charlie will nap on the floor by Matt’s feet. Then follow Matt out into the yard. In some ways this seems a natural extension of his border collie behavior. Herding daddy.

Yes Charlie, it is appropriate to chew on the squeaky squirrel. It is NOT appropriate to chew on the rug (see lower right corner).

This lovefest started taking a neurotic turn a few weeks ago. Matt and I walked out front to retrieve something from the truck, leaving the front door open. Charlie immediately jumped up on the couch to look out the front window at us, then started barking. As we walked back up to the house, he jumped on the screen door, howling like mad. It was hard to open the door because he was pushing against it so hard and I didn’t want him to shoot into the front yard. Once I got inside, it took minutes to calm him.

Then there’s the matter of the front window. While Matt was away on business, and I had to leave Charlie home alone for the first time, I came back to find he had chewed the window sill. He did some more damage a few days ago, so we bought bitter cherry to spray on the sill. Last night while we were at dinner, he moved up to a munton/window pane divider that we did not spray and did some serious damage.

Also this week, he chewed off the corner of a rug by our front door. Matt caught him in the act, and delivered a stern “NO!” but that didn’t prevent last night’s window feast.

Matt feels Charlie has deep issues that need to be addressed; I think he needs obedience class. The discussions have been tense.

It’s funny how puppy love can lead to relationship stress.

I think we are both right. Charlie is stressed out. Possible separation anxiety. I think behavior modification will work. And yes, Charlie needs more structure in his life.

In some ways this has not seemed like a big deal to me because the behavior felt familiar. I have had many puppies, and they all go through that terrible chewing phase. I’ve lost countless shoes, books, couches and cellphones to that cause. My laid back approach to this destruction is driving Matt mad.

But I do see the troubling signs that Matt has identified. It’s not that he’s chewing, it’s that he’s chewing in response to our absence.

It’s not healthy that Charlie can’t let Matt leave the room without freaking out. What began as a charming routine of Charlie following his daddy, has become an unhealthy fixation. And his destruction when we leave him alone is not acceptable.

Unfortunately, crating is not an option.

We’ve decided to seek help from a behaviorist. Despite our good intentions, our bright ideas have not gotten us too far.

We’re hoping an outside voice will guide us in the right direction.

NEXT: An unexpected solution.

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Learning to love the crate … or not


Charlie and Lex snooze away after a day of play. (Photos by Matt)

Everyone has issues.

As for Charlie, our recently adopted border collie mix, he enjoyed making deposits on top of the guest bed or the laundry in the basement.

Seriously, this is not a big deal. I mean, he’s a puppy, almost five months old. Proper house training takes time, and patience. But this became a bigger issue when we visited the vet to treat Charlie’s worms. The vet tech strongly encouraged us to crate Charlie. At night, and even during the day. No more on the couch, and definitely no more sleeping with us.

I was crushed.

I could think of nothing better than waking up to puppy breath. Matt was more straight-forward about it. Charlie needed to learn he was not on par with us humans.

Sigh.

Matt firmly embraced his new role as Stern Daddy. And when Charlie kept pooping on the bed, Matt resurrected the crate. We had tried it for like a day when we first got Charlie, but he peed all over himself. He seemed less stressed outside of the crate. But now, Matt wanted to try it again. We went on a short trip to the store, and left Charlie in the crate. We came back to a completely drenched dog. We couldn’t tell if it was saliva or pee. We washed the crate pad, and left him alone a few hours later. When we returned, again, he was soaking wet.

That night, we played crate games. Matt and I took turns tossing squeaky toys into the crate, alternating with biscuits. Charlie seemed comfortable with it. He even went all the way in and curled up for a few minutes. But when it came time for bed, and the game included closing the crate gate, Charlie simply lost it.

He waited until I was almost asleep, then let it rip. A-WOW-ROW-ROWWWW!!!!!! WOOOOO! YIP! YIP!

I had read that I should let him howl. To not reward him by letting him out. I turned on my side, and tried to not think about the chaos downstairs. I started to drift off, then Charlie stepped it up a notch. I thought of my neighbors, and asked Matt if the downstairs windows were open. He couldn’t remember. I didn’t want anyone to call the cops.

I sighed. Heavily. And weighed my options. I walked downstairs.

Charlie howled until I opened the door. He was dripping wet. I pulled out the wet mat, then took Charlie outside. He immediately peed, so I started thinking he was wet from nervously drooling on himself. Matt and I decided to put a fresh blanket in the crate and bring it upstairs. We got Charlie back in, but he was not happy about it, and let us know all night.

Snuggle bunnies.

We woke up knowing we had to do something. After consulting multiple pet behavior websites, we hatched a plan. We drove to Costco, and bought three dog beds — a large one both dogs could use on the main floor, then two individual beds for upstairs. Then we went to Meijer and bought a baby gate. We put a dog bed on Matt’s side of the bed, and put the gate between the bed and the wall, providing Charlie a space that is about 3 feet by 5 feet.

It worked like magic.

Looking for reassurance, I went to the message boards (specifically my dog friends at Reddit) to get input. Mostly everyone encouraged us to stick with crate training, although some said if the current approach worked that was cool, too.

We tried the crate a few more times (usually when we made short trips away from the house) but the end result always was the same. Charlie would drool all over himself. I began to suspect a form of separation anxiety, and worried that continued exposure to the crate could cause harm.

So we continued with the confined space at night (baby gate, plus dog bed) and experimented with letting him roam free during the day. Even when we were gone. The first time we tried this, Matt and I were terrified. As we drove home, we imagined the destruction waiting for us.

But upon opening the front door, we were greeted with … nothing. Not a squeaky toy out of place. We chalked it up to beginner’s luck, then tried it again. And again. Always with the same result. Charlie didn’t even nibble on his chewy.

What great relief.

Now that Charlie recently taught himself to use the dog door, and apparently is housebroken (through positive reinforcement, he’s finally pooping outside), we get to move on to the next commands.

Did I mention he already knows how to sit?