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

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Charlie wears his Thundershirt for the last time. The chest strap proved to be a better chew toy than his many bones.

OK, so the Thundershirt lasted exactly one week.

Charlie managed the chew through the chest trap, turning it into a useless doggie tubetop. Desperation kicked in, and I thought I could salvage the destruction. I pullled the chest strap tighter, just barely fastening the gnawed remnants of velcro together. Part swaddling/part straightjacket, the shirt is designed to alleviate doggie stress. Sadly, it was no defense against Charlie’s anxiety. I’m sure it didn’t take much to pop the chest strap open once we left for Eastern Market.

The good news is that Charlie was so busy chewing his Thundershirt that it didn’t even occur to him to chew on the window sill.

Good dog. Right?

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Big trouble


I swear I didn’t do it. Really! I’ve just been here the whole time looking cute. (Photos by Matt Greenberg)

Whatever progress we made with the Thundershirt, quickly unraveled with a late-night car ride to 7-Eleven.

I could tell Matt was feeling hopeful, as he pulled out the red retractable leash belonging to Charlie.

“Do you want a doughnut?” Matt asked. It was almost 11 p.m., but I smiled and said “Sure.”

As they pulled away, I was relieved. Daddy spending some quality time with his boy.

Fifteen minutes later, the front door flew open. Something (possibly profane) was said about the dog. One thing was clear. The dog was in BIG trouble.

“He (bleeping) pissed on my front seat!!! Matt said, just shy of a scream. He was incredulous. “He peed on my seat when I was in the store. I can’t believe it. He peed in my truck.”

By now, Charlie was nowhere to be seen.

Looking back on it, the obvious question to ask: Was Charlie wearing his Thundershirt? The answer is no. It was just a quick trip to the store. Still it was just enough to illustrate it doesn’t take much time for separation anxiety to rear its ugly head.

Charlie resurfaced, trotting through the front room without a care. I could see the temperature rise in Matt. He decided to seclude himself in the library. It was for the best that Matt and Charlie take a breather.

Charlie remained on good behavior for the next couple days. I think he knew it was in his interest to lay low, and to administer lots of puppy kisses.

Matt and I started feeling confident again. We suited him up for a visit to see Matt’s grandma. Upon arrival, Charlie cowered and immediately peed on Matt when he picked him up. Somehow, the Thundershirt just wasn’t working in this instance.

When Matt came home, we left Charlie in his Thundershirt and went out for lunch. I didn’t notice the destruction when we came home. After all, he was wearing it. The Thundershirt. He had chewed through the neck strap and reduced it to a sweater band around his belly.

Matt was forlorn.

In the next few hours, we played with Charlie, talked about our options, then wrapped what remained of the Thundershirt around him. We were exasperated. We left for dinner, and two hours later hesitated before walking back in. The house was in one piece, and so was the tattered shirt.

Hallelujah for small miracles.

Documenting Lex in her favorite chair.

A losing battle

With all the hub-bub caused by Charlie, it was easy to miss something is wrong with Lexie.

Her hind legs are buckling under the impossible weight of her frail 28-pound frame. Just standing at her dog bowl, her legs slide out beneath her. We’ve placed a rug by her bowl to provide some traction, but that leads to her next problem.

Her appetite has diminished. I’ve taken to spoon-feeding her wet dog food. But the last two days, she’s just turned her nose to the food. She’s managed to get by on a handful of biscuits, a slice of turkey and a piece of cheese.

And there’s the matter of her peeing on herself. Sigh. She has no idea, but she’s been wetting her dog bed and our couch.

Lex nibbles on a piece of cheese. Apparently much tastier than mushy dog food.

I brought all of these symptoms to the vet today. She said Lexie definitely is experiencing kidney failure, which affects her urinary habits and possibly her appetite. The vet prescribed a kidney-friendly painkiller to hopefully help Lex stand without pain. Lex also will go on a med to help with her pee issues, and we added in an antacid in hopes of making food a bit more yummy.

All-in-all, we are fighting a losing battle.

The vet said many dog owners simply will euthanize their dog when it starts wetting in the house. My heart sank.

“I’ll get doggie diapers if I have to,” I offered.

Lex doesn’t have much time left.

This much I know.

This much I can hardly bear.

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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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