Separation Anxiety

Constantly checking in on Mom for reassurance.
     Elsa has been an imperative essential for Luke in dealing with the loss of his lifelong companions. 

Well, I thought that I was going to be writing about dog washes this morning but it turns out that I'll be addressing separation anxiety.  I'd researched dog washes in the area; finding a good one and was about to head out with Elsa to give it a try when things changed.  We got to the bottom of the stairs and I was tying up my shoes when I heard it.  At first I wasn't sure if what I was hearing was in fact what I thought I was hearing.  A tiny whimper squeak sound; then a louder one as I listened closely.  It quickly turned into a heart wrenching, soulful howl.  I stopped mid shoe tie and looked at Elsa.  She was head turning at the sound and quite concerned.   I told her "we can't go, let's go see Luke." 

I unhooked her and we went back up the steps to the living room.  By the time we were at the top of the stairs Luke was full on howling; he was most definitely upset.  So, given this information from him I decided that it was best for him to stay home.  I had suspected that something like this might happen but I was still shocked by the immediacy of it.  We hadn't even left the door; Elsa and I were just at the bottom of the stairs but as far as Luke was concerned, we were gone.  We'd passed the baby gate which has been in place so that he does not fall down the stairs.  Once past there, we were gone in his head. 

The only other time that Luke has displayed this type of behavior was in Connecticut; after the loss of his lifelong companions.  Back then it was very sad indeed; as it was directly attributed to his sense of aloneness.  At that time Elsa was still in her ex-pen when we went anywhere so that quickly changed.  If she was out he was okay, not great but not suffering.  Then once we moved back to California he had a brief period of grieving; when he did not find Jessie or Tilley in the house on our return.  Since then he has been fine.  He is not happy when Elsa and I go out without him but he is fine.  He lays down in his spot and goes to sleep.  It is his house and he is comfortable there.  Where we are now is not home, not for Luke. 

As I ascended the steps to where my howling boy was; I quickly considered by approach.  I pushed the gate open and walked past him and into the kitchen.  He followed me quickly; pushing his muzzle against my leg over and over again.  He wanted eye contact but I did not give it to him.  I was doing my best job at making the moment a "non issue."  When a dog offers information like this; you must address where it comes from.  "Don't shoot the messenger," as they say.  The message is delivered via canine behavior display; take from that the information you need to work where the issue comes from.  For Luke it is aloneness is a strange place; sad, yes.  But I cannot relay that fact to him.

If he was a young dog, I would be addressing the situation in a much different manner.  Luke is now over thirteen and becoming more and more attached and needy.  It can happen as a natural aging process.  I have always been there for him and as time passes he needs me even more; he often just wants to know that I am there.  That said I will not indulge or fuel this anxiety by coddling him.  If he was younger, Elsa and I would have left and quickly returned.  We would have done it several times, showing him that we were not leaving forever. 

Separation anxiety is very real and needs to be addressed.  Creating a non issue about your leaving and returning is the first step to helping your dog.  If every time you return home; you create a welcome home party celebration because your dog is soooo happy to see you, you are fueling the fire.  Many times when I come home; I walk right past Luke and Elsa and into the kitchen where I precede to putter around. 

When dealing with separation anxiety you must repeat, over and over again.  Depending on the severity, tiny baby steps may need to be broken down into more baby steps.  In really bad cases, progress must be measured in the lack of getting worse.  Creating a 'no big deal' sense of your leaving is an absolute must.  This can often be enough to change it all for the better.

When a dog displays a behavior, we must look at that behavior as a message into how your dog is feeling and dealing.  Like I said before "don't shoot the messenger;" it brings us the information needed to help our dogs.