There are days that my dog’s tail is the only thing that saves her. My six-month-old finds her wagging appendage hilarious, and she finds him worthy of amusing. Anything that makes him smile is worth having.
We adopted our Anna, a beautiful, silky black-coated lab mutt, last summer. The sweetest dog I’d ever seen, but she showed the beginning signs of separation anxiety when I went back to work at the start of the school year. She would whine, pace, and absolutely freak out once we shut the front door. We came home to discover that she had been jumping to look out of the class panels at the top of the door (over five feet up). The slobber marks and chipped paint were a dead giveaway. We also learned pretty quickly that we had to “Anna-proof” before we went out. She let us in on her mischievous side by hiding unopened bottles of sports drink in the couch cushions, slobbering on those same cushions, and shredding anything left on the kitchen counter. She once opened a jar of peanut butter (her favorite treat) and ate half the contents without marring the lid. To this day, I cannot figure out why there were no teeth marks on that lid.
I don’t even want to go into the carpet soiling issues. She ruined my grandmother’s oriental rug. Perfectly house-trained at any other time, Anna couldn’t contain herself when anxious.
Eventually, after a couple of months trying every suggestion we could find online, Anna adjusted, and all was right with the world.
Then, I had the baby.
Then, all Hell broke loose.
Her anxiety didn’t seem to stem much from the baby. She was quite friendly and protective from the moment we brought him home. What changed her? I had someone new to occupy my time. It wasn’t jealousy, I firmly believe that. I’m convinced she thought that I no longer loved her. I stopped walking her as frequently as I had been, we didn’t play in the yard anymore. Her behaviors, though, really escalated once I went back to work.
Our front and back doors started looking like a mangled chew toy. We had to get rid of a carpet. We were starting from square one. Associating leaving with a positive, short stints away, desensitizing her to the signs of departure. Filing taxes without software is easier.
So, we tried crate training. A lion cage, we concluded a week or two later, could not contain our girl. (I later learned from the Humane Society that crate training is not helpful for dogs with separation anxiety.) She chewed everything should get to through those bars, which included my favorite curtains and a table runner we received as a wedding present. Never mind the chew toys and treats. She started scuffing up her snout trying to break free. She bent the bars of the kennel and unlatched the door. I wanted to take her back to the pound on the spot. My husband, being compassionate and rational, wouldn’t hear of it. The kennel went in the garage. Anna went in the backyard.
What fence? She climbed a six-foot privacy fence like it was absolutely nothing. Back inside, I have lost curtains, rugs, shoes, cups, baby toys, and have cleaned up more Anna messes than I can count.
The good news is that she’s calming down, our doors are safe, and there are fewer and fewer incidences of Anna mess when we return home.
Any number of times in trying to break her of her anxiety since I ended my maternity leave, I have wanted to put her back up for adoption. My husband won’t hear of it, even though she makes me wish for Mitch Albom’s dog. It turns out, according to the Humane Society, that separation anxiety is one of the most common reasons dogs are put up for adoption. It really is a shame. Sure, it’s difficult to work through a dog’s issues. But it’s worth it to get such a loyal friend and guardian. Her bark and stocky body are intimidating enough to make grown men shy away. With her family, she is gentle and obedient. Our son is growing more and more curious about Anna and learning how to pet her. She tolerates his grabs and slaps with equanimity.
Since her behaviors are deescalating, our next step is obedience training to try and solidify our progress. I may end up as the World’s Most Frequent Purchaser of Paper Towels and Carpet Cleaner, but I love that dog.