Sunday, October 01, 2006
The Trouble with Being Troubled
Smiley is one of the friendliest, well tempered dogs we have in the shelter right now. She does well with other dogs, and helps some of our young puppies learn how to play. She's great with kids. She's got a killer smile. She's a bit older, so she doesn't pull on leash or bounce off the walls, is done with her chewing stage, is housebroken - even lives in our 'real life habitat' complete with table, bookshelf & books, and a comfy wicker dog bed without making the room messy.
Smiley has been in our shelter for nearly six months.
The reason Smiley is still here: she doesn't want to be alone. Smiley is among the dogs we sometimes see in shelters who have developed serious anxiety problems, most likely as a result of being rehomed multiple times. Smiley's anxiety is almost entirely restricted to being on her own, a problem most commonly known as 'separation anxiety.' Many dogs bark or whine a bit when their owners leave, or chew things up because their families never properly trained them to be home alone. Dogs with separation anxiety however, have a much harder time. Many people who have heard of separation anxiety are aware that their stress can result in destruction of property or house soiling problems. This can be extremely hard on owners, but what is arguably worse is what these dogs can do to themselves. Their level of stress is visible in excess drool inability to eat even the tasties treats when no one is home. Many of them damage their teeth trying to chew out of crates or mutilate themselves when under stress.
Five months ago, this was Smiley. If crated, her chin, front legs and the floor of her crate would be soaked. If left alone in a new place she was excessively destructive. Due to her level of stress when she was alone in her kennel, Smiley, though the same friendly dog she'd always been, seemed anxious even when we were with her.
We put together a training plan for Smiley, based on one that had been successfully completed with another separation anxiety dog who was adopted by a staff member a year earlier. Smiley has an anti-anxietal drug which she may need to take for quite a while, at least while she adjusts to a new home. We have also used a dog pheromone to help keep her calm in her habitat. Through special feeding, exercise and crating time, she is able to stay alone in a room we've selected for her for extended periods of time, and has worked her way from 1-5 stress free minutes in her crate to 1-2 hours - sometimes longer.
The transition to a new home will be difficult for Smiley, but certainly not unmanageable. She'll need to live in a home which is not empty eight hours a day, and will likely need extra help in the beginning. On the other hand, she has a well established plan which we have seen be successful for her while at our facility. Our staff are available to assist her new family with the transition. Most importantly, Smiley's strengths, including the amount of love she will provide her new family far outweigh the challenges ahead. Smiley is just waiting for the person who is willing to take the time to discover that.