Living across the country from my family means that I don’t always get to celebrate holidays in the typical way. Since moving out to Alberta, I have always tried to make my own traditions, or to commemorate holidays in some way, so as to feel like I am at least still celebrating them a little bit. Being as outdoorsy as I am, I have typically always tried to do something outside for holidays, and this Thanksgiving was no different.
With Friday being the best weather day, I picked it as my hiking day. Myself and my good friend/soon to be roomate decided to pack a picnic lunch and head up Wasootch Ridge.
I have wanted a dog for the last 5 years, I just wasn’t in a position to have one while living in work provided staff accommodations. Then while I was going to school over the last year, I was living with a family member who can’t have a dog. So I knew that when I moved into my next home, it had to be dog friendly. When a house came up in the right neighborhood in Edmonton for me, my partner and I jumped on it and the plan was that when we settled in, we would adopt a dog.
Well if you have read my page about Dahlia (read it here) you’ll know that I did not wait to get settled in, I accidentally found my dog before we were quite ready.
The last 40 days have been a whirlwind of learning on all fronts. While I 100% advocate for adopting shelter animals, I recognize that that means that the animals can come with some challenging behaviors. But I knew that going in. I also knew that the first family who adopted Dahlia actually returned her a very short time later due to her separation anxiety. [ Great right, re-abandoning an animal with separation anxiety. *eye roll*] So we did our research and prepared to dig in and try a bunch of different things until we found what worked for all of us.
We knew that with the separation anxiety, we would have to crate Dahl. No big deal, we bought a wire crate with the plastic tray in the bottom and got a cushy dog bed. Day 1: we start moving in and have to make a run to the store. We out Dahl in the crate and the crate in the basement so that if she barks it wouldn’t annoy the new neighbors. About 20 minutes into being gone, we get a call from my grandfather who lives nearby that the neighbors are complaining about our dog going psycho. We got home in a hurry to find our dog barking her face off, loose in the house, at the windows we had left open to air out the new place. So yup, she was no doubt driving the neighbors crazy. That was how we learned she could squeeze her way out through a teensy tiny opening by forcing the door on the crate.
After our little escape artist showed this ‘fun’ talent, we knew we would have to find another solution. Our basement has a storage room that is a about 12 feet by 5 feet rectangle that we had been planning on using to actually, you know, store stuff, but after the Great Escape, we decided to turn it into a puppy room and move her crate into it, so that even if she managed to escape, she would still be contained in the room. We had gotten lucky last time, she hadn’t wrecked anything but that was largely because we hadn’t moved much in yet.
The next time we put her in her crate in the puppy room, we came back to the beautiful dog bed completely shredded. Like to little teensy bits. For the next couple weeks, anything that went into the crate as bedding, came out as confetti after even a single hour of Dahlia being in her crate. This was despite giving her a wide variety of actual chew toys, from antlers to synthetic chew toys, to peanut butter stuffed Kongs. The final straw was when she managed to completely destroy the hard plastic tray on the bottom of the crate.
Driving home with Zach one night, I jokingly said to him ‘you know what would help with her separation anxiety? Another dog.’ And while we both kind of laughed, we also thought it might be true.
We had been trying to rent out our basement bedroom/recroom/bathroom to somebody since we had found ourselves with way more space than we could possibly need, but now that we needed to keep the storage room set aside for the dog in the basement, we were going to be hard pressed to find a house mate who could possibly be that understanding.
We got so, so lucky. Zach’s sister had been shopping around for a place to live with her friend, but where they had been looking fell through last minute and she asked if our space was still available. Having a family member renting our basement was the absolute best case scenario, and even better still? She had a dog too.
Maysens dog is Kona, a 5 year old miniature pincher/pug cross who looks a lot like a house potato. It took a couple of days for the dogs to get used to to each other, but now after close to a month together, they are incredibly close, frequently falling asleep next to each other.
The crate situation in the puppy room took some further experimentation to figure out what was going to work: we tried having both dogs crated for a bit, and then we tried with the crate doors open in the closed room, but quickly found out that Dahlia was happier without the crate in there at all. We still left the crate for Kona in the room, in case the dogs needed their own space, but kept finding the dogs curled up on the same bed together.
Upstairs, both dogs love napping side by side on the couch. So when Maysen went to replace one of her little love seats in the basement, we decided to move that couch into the puppy room to give the dogs the comfiest of beds possible in there. We covered it with their favorite blankets, and this is the closest to calm, contained dogs that we have gotten thus far.
In general, Dahls separation anxiety has improved. She seems less stressed out when we leave now that she has company and a wide variety of chew toys. There is still a couple barks when we leave, and definitely some barks if they hear you come home and not immediately go down to let them out, but in general the entire situation has improved. It took a little bit of creativity and a whole lot of patience, but I feel like we are getting somewhere.
Is this the final solution? Probably not. Dogs never fail to surprise us. So we will probably have a 100 other solutions over the course of our life with Dahl. I am writing this little blog post on our adventures in separation anxiety so far just to share with folks that having a dog isn’t all sunshine and rainbows like what we so typically see on social media. Is it worth all the struggle? All the shredded beds and toys, all the frustration that comes with not knowing what disaster you are going to come home to? 100%. Dahlia is such a loving, snuggly dog and I know she has been through so much in her life. She needs a family who won’t give up on her, who will work with her to improve her quality of life. I wish it was as easy as just being able to talk to her and tell her that we will always come home to her, but dogs just don’t speak our language. So we will continue to show her through our actions.
Do you have any other tips on working with separation anxiety in a dog? I would love to hear them!
I would also like to make a shout out to the rescue organization that I found Dahlia through: CARES, located in Leduc, Alberta. They just found their 2000th dog a home. I have worked in a Humane Society (in Ontario) and visited countless others, but I have never found one like CARES. The volunteers were so helpful and completely honest about the behavior challenges that might come with each dog. Their goal is very obviously to find the right home for each dog, not just any home. If you are looking for your furry soul mate, I definitely recommend checking them out. They are also super active on social media, constantly posting their available dogs.