Friday, December 9, 2011

Part 2: Is Your Dog Anxious? How We "Fixed" Separation Anxiety

NOTE: this post is part two of a three-part series about anxiety issues we've faced with desmond. part one can be found here.

first off, this is going to be an especially long one. apologies.

secondly, i know what you're thinking: can you really fix separation anxiety? can it be cured? well, i don't happen to think so. i think SA is a life-long challenge and knowing how to deal with it can make or break your relationship with your dog.

what i do think is that it can be prevented, but your window for prevention is very small--and often missed entirely by folks who rescue dogs that are past their fear imprint & socialization development stages.

it's true that another opportunity to prevent separation anxiety (or attempt to not exacerbate any existing SA) does exist when you first bring home a dog, no matter what his age. the main problem here is that the majority of people bringing home a dog--especially first-time dog owners--aren't aware, either of what steps they should take or of SA altogether. sadly, this can lead to not only the poor relationship i already mentioned but also a change of heart about dog ownership.

behavioral issues are the top reason why dogs wind up abandoned or returned to the rescue organizations they came from or tossed into the often-scary hands of the animal control shelters. this is especially sad, because a behavior issue is something on which we can effect change. 

we spent months preparing for our first dog as a couple before desmond became our furry son. somehow, in all that preparation, separation anxiety just didn't cross our radar. i had a vague awareness of it, but i hadn't had any prior experience with it through friends or relatives or childhood pets.

luckily, we had the foresight to, and were able to, take two weeks off from work to help desmond acclimate to his new home. in that time, we went from knowing what we thought was a lot to realizing we knew practically nothing to learning that desmond had SA.

i spent a lot of time on the phone with desmond's former foster momma during those two weeks. that's also when we made the quick decision to get professional help from a trainer, and although that didn't turn out the way we hoped it would, i'm still glad we went through it. (you can read much more about all of this in the posts from when this blog began, back in april.)

after that, we started pretty much spending a ton of money on various items that were supposed to help dogs with anxiety. it was a trial-and-error extravaganza paired with near-daily trips to the dog park, in lieu of his regular PM walk (and in addition to his regular AM walk) and a desperate attempt to teach desmond to play fetch.

here's an overview of what we tried, sometimes in combination:
  • treat-dispensing toys and puzzles: you name it, we tried it. nothing keeps desmond busy for very long.
  • Through a Dog's Ear music: we have one CD, which has some very lovely music on it, but it obviously only plays for about an hour while we're gone. i have no clue if it has any effect on him. perhaps we should try it in the car one day...
  • edible calming supplements galore: drops, pills, and treats. some are more effective than others.
  • calming spray: i don't think this worked at all. unfortunately, i can't remember which one we had.
  • calming collar: this definitely did not work, but it did stink up the joint and make a big mess with white powder that's on the collar.
  • Thundershirt: at first it seemed to be working. then it kind of stopped. there is a definite calming effect from it, but it's not strong enough for our needs. plus, desmond rolls around a lot, so he's pulling off the velcro squares. (by the way, we won this, so it was free. woo!)
  • D.A.P. diffuser: possibly a godsend. or i could be making that up.
  • anti-peeing spray: worked pretty well but was hard to remember to spray
  • boundary spray: worked great from what we could tell
  • chewing deterrent: technically, we used straight-up tabasco sauce. desmond likely enjoyed it as a condiment on the door frames and baby gates, because it did not deter him one bit.
  • getting a second dog: if you're dealing with SA and have only one dog, you think about this often.
(i bet that last one just blew your mind a little bit, but it's true. long story that obviously did not end in us getting a second dog. i'll get around to posting about this one day. i'm kind of not over the whole thing.)

edible supplements were our first line of defense...

these are all linked to above. of the three, the diffuser is my favorite.

this is the drops. the ingredients are all natural, which is probably why this didn't work incredibly well. does that sound terrible? sorry. i'm not trying to be anti-mother earth. also, this stuff stinks so bad. worse than the collar. and you have to give a desmond-sized dog about six droppers full to see any results at all. the one good thing was that desmond loved this stuff. he's a strange dog.

the tablets. we tried the treats linked to above before we tried these. the treats didn't work at all. we had high hopes for the tryptophan in these pills. when we saw that, we were all like, "ha ha, dog! we've got you now!" too bad our hopes were dashed.

so, this road to canine household happiness was not meant to be. what was to be? B. vitamin B complex, specifically. (don't be embarrassed if you enjoyed that pun. i'm not ashamed that i wrote it.)

available pretty much anywhere. my husband picks these up at a drugstore by his office.

FYI, we are aware that there is thiamine in both this B-complex and most calming supplements. we looked around online and it seems that it's not enough to overdose on and much of vitamin B is water soluble. however, i am not a vet (seriously, i'll show you my paycheck) or a vitamin guru or anything, and i did not explicitly ask the vet about overdose (but she knows desmond is on his multivitamin and calming treats, which also usually contain thiamine); so, if you are interested in giving your pup some B's, please, please consult your vet first.

you may or may not know that desmond suffered from head tremors briefly, and the solution we found for those was a B multivitamin. we have been giving one pill a day to desmond for months now, to prevent tremors. a bonus side-effect is the calming quality of thiamine.

at the same time, more or less, we took the monetary plunge and got into the D.A.P. diffuser game.

this stupid little diffuser thing and these ridiculous vitamins (my husband and i don't even take vitamins!), i am convinced, are the reason why desmond stopped devouring and redecorating our house. ever since we implemented these two things--not at all intentionally at the same time or even for the same reason--a sense of calm has come over the forge family (excluding desmond's random anxious moments).

i've thought about this over and over again, and there is no other thing it could be. we still use these items consistently and haven't had a problem in months. i don't count the garbage incidents, because those are our fault. i mean, he's a dog who loves food. what do we expect?

it's entirely possible that desmond happened to feel settled at his forever home and calm himself down around this time, and therefore i am unfairly attributing the fact that we were able to put curtains back up to vitamin B and D.A.P., but i honestly don't care. i'm just so damn happy that my house looks semi-almost normal again. oh, and also that desmond feels better.

will this work for you? there's no telling. that's the worst part. you just have to try things out and see what happens. for desmond's cousin nala, the diffuser didn't do a thing. i still say it's worth finding out. you could always resell it to someone who has a use for it.

will those vet-prescribed treats work for you? i don't even know what to say about those yet, but by the time i post part three of this series, i'm surely planning to.

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