Helping Your Dog Relax

Ginger Doodle

Ginger Doodle

When we first saw Ginger Doodle (now known as Spec) on TDL’s site, we were hooked –  I mean look at those sweet blue eyes! We had been looking to rescue for several years, and found Spec (a Deaf Mini Aussie) to be the perfect fit for us. I work from home, and she has become my best coworker. We usually spend all day together, and she gets me up and away from the computer for walks and fresh air. She is the perfect companion as she can usually be found sound asleep, curled up on her bed.  The hard part comes in when I have to leave the house.

We initially bought a crate and “conditioned” her for weeks – only feeding her in the crate, petting her in there, leaving for 5-10 minutes, etc. After a few weeks we both decided to leave the house while she was crated. We are fortunate enough to have webcams set up around our house (we use a free webcast program) so we can watch her from our phones while we are away. Thank goodness for the cameras, because the first time we left she was barking, howling, biting, and thrashing against the cage within minutes. When I got home it was plain to see that both physical and psychological damage had been done. I never wanted to leave her again – but I knew that I would have to get out of the house eventually! Enter big bills on sprays, treats, jackets, toys, and our dog behaviorist.

We started on a budget, ordering Composure Treats and a Thundershirt . We also stopped by the pet store and grabbed a phermone releasing plug in type device that they recommended. After about a month of conditioning her to the Thundershirt and trying the treats, we started to see an improvement. Because we wanted to be sure we were doing everything right, we contacted a behaviorist for a single session to work on her separation anxiety.

The behaviorist (Paul Pipitone) we used had our dog sitting in the crate (while we pretended to leave) within minutes! I was totally hooked and wanted to learn everything he had to share. He did great work with the dog, but his most valuable lessons were imparted upon us as owners.

Thanks to the behaviorist, we try not to leave for a long time without first going on a long, brisk walk (at least 20 minutes). Once we return and I am ready to head out, I calmly call her to her favorite spot, make her sit, and give her a special treat that she only gets when she is alone. I wave goodbye and that’s that. We leave a fan on (to help her feel less alone, similar to leaving a TV on for hearing pups) and have put an ottoman in our window so she can people watch, and see us getting into our cars. More often than not she is still in the window looking for us when we get back, but she is calm, cool, and collected.

Perhaps the biggest piece of the puzzle comes into play when we return home. We have learned to completely ignore Spec until she has settled and sits. She is to the point where when we get home she has about 15 seconds of “OMG MOM AND DAD!!!” and then she will sit and wait for one of us to acknowledge her. Our first instinct was to give her all sorts of love and attention when we walked home – she did just spend a couple of hours alone after all – but that was our downfall. Every time we left her she would get more and more excited for our return – because to her that meant playtime, treats, walks, and belly rubs. Now we wait until she is 100% relaxed before petting and playing – and it has made all the difference.

I want to encourage anyone with a dog that gets separation anxiety to formulate a plan. We do our “morning walk” with Spec to a local coffee shop – that way we get our day started with sunshine and caffeine and she gets a nice long walk in with us. It helps her to chill out once we get back home, and helps us to have a more invigorating start to our day! We have also worked hard to let go of our own guilt and anxiety when we have to leave her. Dogs are incredibly smart, and they can sense (and feed off of) those emotions from a mile away. Finally, we always give Spec plenty of love and affection when she is in a calm, laid back state of mind. All of these things were a change for us, but they have all paid off – I can leave her for 4-5 hours at a time now without a single peep! Good luck with your pups, and don’t be afraid to reach out to a professional for advice!

Paul Pipitone, trainer and behaviorist, Dogs Best Friend of Central Florida

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1 Comment

  1. Alyse

    04.09.2014

    My deaf and blind Aussie Ralph has been having trouble in his crate since a recent thunderstorm. We are trying Composure which seems to be helping. We are also reintroducing the crate in a relaxing way. I bought a book called Through a Dark Silence: Loving and Living your Blind and Deaf Dog by Debbie Bauer. You can get the book on amazon. It has great advice for training and living with a dog that was born deaf and blind. I had never been able to find much advice on dogs that are both deaf and blind and I am happy that I finally did!

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