Friday, November 18, 2011

Separation Anxiety: Day 9 of Slinky with Misha May Foundation

Slinky is happy to sleep in the crate off and on. I would love to see her have this as a safe and comfortable area. Certainly my dogs are modeling that for her. Every one of my current dogs took to the crate naturally – I never even had to train them. They saw them – they went in!

Shadow, my 12 pound Rat Terrier, uses his crate in the funniest way. He doesn’t destroy his toys so he has a quite a few in his crate. It’s the only place they are safe from the other dogs who would destroy them. When he is in there, he is growling and talking, and swinging the toy around so that it hits the side of the crate. It sounds like a war going on. You can just tell how ecstatic he is to have this opportunity to get it all out!

Shadow’s crazy playing reminded me of something my Rena used to do out of anxiety. She was a dog who chewed things up when you weren’t looking. But her favorite thing was money. If anybody forgot and left money sitting out, it went into Rena’s stomach. Our proof was in her poop. The humans needed training to take care of their money better. I remember one day returning to the living room from the kitchen just in time to see her approaching a stack of bills. Prior to that, the damage had been about $25. This would have been quite a bit more. That was the last time we left our money out and vulnerable.

Slinky is great at copying other dogs, thus I’m hoping the crate training will happen easily. Today she copied something that her friend Canyon had done last night. Since I had never seen Slinky do this before, I’m hypothesizing that she had fun and wanted to re-create the game. Canyon always drags a blanket around her house. She chews on it, naps on it and gets rough with it. This morning Slinky dragged a blanket out of one of the crates, took it in the living room and played with it.

Slinky is adorable at feeding time. When I go to the food closet, she lies down, watching and waiting politely. Aside from being anxious when alone, she is not an anxious dog. And fortunately, she doesn’t have the separation anxiety symptom of drooling.

Samson, Misha May’s 5 year old Aussie Shepherd mix, was a drooling dog. He needed help with anxiety and is now crate trained and loving it. But when he first came to us, he cried and drooled. The foster thought he had urinated in his crate, because the puddle was so big, but she figured out from the lack of smell and through observation that he was actually so nervous he was drooling a river.

For Samson, being in a foster home was great and was the reason he was cured easily from a slight case of anxiety. In a shelter situation, dogs are often rewarded when they are whining or jumping or barking. It might be time in the schedule for dinner or a walk or a visit, and the dog receives the positive attention no matter what he was doing. Whereas, in a foster home, the meals, walks and attention can be appropriately given when the dog is calm and behaving.

Although it may seem counterintuitive and even mean, it is important not to reinforce the whining of an anxious dog. Comforting during whining will let the dog know to continue to whine as comfort will arrive. Ignoring might be indicated if the dog is not too distressed. Then you can give attention as soon as the dog is quiet. Or, using techniques like Tellington Touch or Reiki are helpful but don’t support the anxiety.

Having a clear routine and expectations helps anxious dogs settle in and know what to expect. They learn how to get what they need, including your attention, and that can calm them down considerably. Slinky is paying attention to me and to the other dogs. It’s obvious that she wants to know how things work around here. She gives a joyful jump or relaxes as soon as she figures out where we are going – outside to play! Or she lies down when she realizes ‘we’ are going to read.

Slinky has realized something else even more important. Her primary caretakers are returning for her. They are part of the plan and part of her life even though she is spending so much time with me. Their coming and going reinforces her attachment to them in a healthy way. Soon coming and going will become normal and she won’t have to worry.

I’ve discovered that if I can initially distract her when her owners are leaving, that she has a much calmer transition. It’s best if we get in the car and move away from them. After a fun walk in the park, Gina went in the opposite direction from our car. Slinky jumped right into the car with me and was ready for the ride. She looked in her mom’s direction but was not distressed. She whined two quiet little cries. Then she became interested in her surroundings and seemed okay with the separation.

Her walk in the park had also been relaxing. Previously she had been reactive to other dogs. Our approach was to say in a fun voice ‘oh look it’s puppies’. Because the human is relaxed and knows there is no danger, the dog can relax. Slinky followed our cue and accepted that there would be other dogs around. At the end of our walk, Gina and I both fed Slinky treats. Gina gave Slinky to me as if to say I trust Lorraine, no need to worry. Then I brought Slinky back to Gina letting her see that I am trustworthy. When it was time to go, Slinky tried to follow Gina but came with me with very little encouragement.

We ran several errands and mostly Slinky was relaxed and tolerant of my comings and goings. I have to continue to work according to her tolerance. The key is to keep her from having another panic attack so that she is present to learn that she is safe. She had a few whiny moments here and there which I ignored. Then when she laid down I would pet her and praise her.

I was very happy that by the time she got to my house she had recovered. I let her into the yard, and let the other dogs out to join her. They played. When we all went in she was fully settled. Right now she is in a dog bed in the office. So each transition has been better.

When the dogs come inside from the yard, they receive a treat. Tara likes to run to her room and eat it there. The three little ones eat theirs quickly wherever they are. Slinky accepts hers, runs off to eat it on the couch and then comes back to try for another! She’s workin’ it!

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