Written By Leigh Pyron
All photographs © Leigh Pyron
I met Moose, a very handsome Silver Lab, when he was about a year and a half old. Preparing to pet sit for clients of mine, I learned they had rescued him from a couple that had no time for a dog. Moose had lived most of his life all alone in a fenced in back yard. Thanks to his new owners, he would finally have the home he deserved with two wonderful, loving, caring, compassionate people who loved dogs, and another fun-loving Chocolate Lab named “Kodi.”
Before I had the pleasure of meeting Moose, the owners warned me that he was a handful and the two dogs together could be quite explosive! So, I told them I’d try to work in a little obedience training with the two of them while they were away. When I arrived at their home the first day of pet sitting, the owners had already departed. They told me they would leave the dogs in the backyard. As I entered through the front door, all I could hear was a cacophony of dog barking and an intermittent thumping and scratching of nails on thick glass. When I walked into the kitchen I had a full view of the sliding glass doors to the deck and backyard. I couldn’t help but laugh at the two of them bouncing up and down simultaneously, doing Olympic jumps of four-off-the-floor in a syncopated rhythm. Moose would wiggle the front and back end of his body in opposite directions and then elevate his whole body up off the ground in one gigantic leap, followed by a resounding thump of 90 pounds hitting the wood flooring of the deck. Needless to say, I had my work cut out for me trying to achieve obedient calmness from these two. First things first, an off leash run in the open space would be our immediate event for the day!
After an hour and a half of exercise, Moose and Kodi were two totally different dogs. The rest of the evening would be quite peaceful with them both crashed out on the couch. All was well until about 3:30 in the morning when I was awakened by the sound of Moose choking and heaving. As I staggered out of bed, he began to throw-up some unidentifiable white material in a ball on the carpet. I quickly rushed him outside and cleaned up what looked like the remnants of a white sport sock. All I could think was, thank goodness he was able to throw it up! Moose seemed to be fine the next day, so I decided to take them for a long hike. We were about 30 minutes into the hike when all of a sudden Moose started choking and heaving again off to the left side of the trail. I walked over to inspect it and this time he threw-up some kind of black, shiny pieces of material. I had no idea what Moose had gotten into, but from then on I made sure Moose had no access to any kind of clothing items. Luckily, the rest of the week remained uneventful.
Neither the owners nor I had any idea at the time that Moose’s eating of non-edible objects happened to be a bad case of separation anxiety. But after Moose ingested a whole red potato (surgery number 1), a small cardboard encased light bulb (surgery number 2, in which he lost 18 inches of his intestines), and a chewed up plastic squeaker from the inside of a stuffed animal (surgery number 3, in which he almost didn’t survive), something had to be done!
It seems to me that Moose must have been a cat in his former life that didn’t get the chance to use up his nine lives! It’s a miracle he is still here today — he wouldn’t be without the amazing work of Dr. Mary Press of Larkspur Landing Veterinary Hospital in Larkspur, CA. Thanks to Dr. Press, Moose still has six lives to go — let’s hope he never has to use them!
By the way, I finally figured out what the black material was that Moose threw up that day in the woods… About three weeks later, I was pet sitting at another client’s home and I’d just gotten out of the shower and reached for my small, shiny black robe. I didn’t think anything of it until I stood in front of the mirror to dry my hair. As I raised my arms and looked into the mirror, I stood there in shock. Moose had somehow strategically managed to chew off the right and left side of the sleeves to my robe, they were completely gone!
Separation anxiety is when a dog experiences a certain level of panic due to feeling alone and unsafe, being confined, and his inability to determine when his suffering will end. Dogs will do anything they can to try to escape and relieve their anxiety. People have come home to find their furniture torn to pieces, holes in the walls, curtains shredded, doors and window frames chewed, and their dog's mouth and paws bloody from endless attempts to escape.
There are a number of ways to go about resolving separation anxiety. Here are a few things I think are very important to address:
1. Making your dog feel safe and secure in his own environment. Be sure the area where you are going to leave or confine your dog is free of anything he can destroy or that will hurt him. Use baby gates or exercise pens or a dog run to create this space. Do not crate your dog unless you are positive he is at ease and comfortable in his crate.
2. Creating routine and consistency in your dog’s life. Be predictable, if your dog knows that when you leave you will always return, then he won’t have difficulty being alone. The most important thing to do when you are ready to depart is to act very calm and relaxed. Take your dog to his confined area, ask him for a “sit” give him a treat and say a quick, casual good bye such as “see ya” or “off to work” and calmly leave. Then, when you return home be sure to completely ignore him until he is in a calm and relaxed state. Then reward him with a greeting and affection.
3. Building his confidence level. A dog that is confident feels a sense of security when his owner is gone. It’s important to be there to support your dog through this difficult process, but it’s also important not to coddle or nurture his neediness. You can help your dog gain confidence through basic obedience training by teaching him “Sit” and “Down,” “Wait” and “Stay.” Using these exercises you can build up on increasing distance from your dog and practice being out of his sight. Another fantastic way to build confidence in your dog is to enroll him in socialization classes such as, agility, herding, canine freestyle and scenting or tracking classes. Any of these exercises and classes will give your dog an ability to adapt to new situations and a sense of being safe in various environments.
A few other great ideas…
· Leave your dog a yummy, treat-filled smart toy such as a Kong or Buster Cube.
· Leave some music on or the television. Be sure to choose a channel that you normally listen to and turn it on for a period of time before you leave.
· Try using natural treatments such as “Rescue Remedy” Bach Flower Essences, aromatherapy or homeopathic remedies.
· Be sure to exercise your dog before you leave.
· In severe cases consider medications. Contact a professional behaviorist and your veterinarian if you want to explore the options of using pharmaceutical alternatives.
If your dog’s case of separation anxiety is extreme, you should contact a professional to help you through the process. It’s imperative that you take the time to work with your dog through the beginning stages of this process. It can be very time consuming and arduous, but well worth it in the end for your peace of mind and your dog’s long-term health and well-being.