The blog has been dead quiet for the past few months- primarily because I haven’t been fostering, but also because I’ve moved to start my first job out of school. I thought Galen would be a wreck with the changes in scenery and schedule, but he just rolled right along with everything. Since he didn’t backslide in his separation anxiety, my hope for more progress was renewed.
A little bit (OK, it’s a lot) of background on this journey: when I was researching and preparing to adopt a dog, I had decided that the two things I couldn’t handle were true aggression and destructive separation anxiety. I’m not sure what got into me when I met Galen. It wasn’t love at first sight or an instant connection, and his demeanor wasn’t what I was looking for, but I heard the words come out of my mouth, “This is my guy,” and signed the paperwork.
It was clear he had never had boundaries, and just about everything represented excitement. He would jump up, and the knee-to-the-chest method had clearly been unsuccessfully tried, so I ended up ignoring him unless he was sleeping for about 2 weeks. He also paced a lot those first weeks, to the point where I had to put him somewhere and make him stay there until he calmed down. In the first few months I became an expert at cleaning all manner of bodily excretions that came out when I left him alone, and started reading and researching like crazy about separation anxiety.
I got a plan in place and started working every day on desensitizing Galen to all of the things surrounding my departure. After about 6 months he had stopped literally losing his shit when I left, but still occasionally licked or bit the bars, or tried to escape the crate by pushing at the bottom of the door with his nose. Over the next year, with the help of a wifi camera, we got to the point where he wasn’t howling the entire time I was gone, and would actually relax enough to sleep.
We hit a plateau about 10 months ago. His separation anxiety was about 85% managed, but he would still hyperventilate and show other signs of high stress for up to and hour and half after I left. He had come a long way with strange dogs off leash, but still became tense when it came time to move away from being sniffed and would sometimes growl as he ran away. Dogs on leash were OK as long as there was no indication that the dog noticed him; he was no longer reactive on leash, but on leash greetings were one of his biggest challenges. We had a routine for meet and greets with fosters, and usually he was so worried about the surroundings that he didn’t react to being sniffed. I love to eat out with my dogs, but it became un-enjoyable when I had to focus all of my energy and attention on keeping him calm, so I stopped going to hang out as much.
Now that you’ve gotten most of the history, fast forward to recent history. I had tried most of the can’t hurt might help solutions like rescue remedy and various herbal and other supplements. I got a bit discouraged at none of them helping, and was considering talking to a behavioral vet about pharmaceutical help. As a last-ditch effort, I tried one last thing- adaptil, almost convinced that Galen would be in the roughly 50% of dogs (based on reviews) that weren’t helped by it. Since his anxieties are in and out of the house (separation and “social” anxiety), I opted for the collar.
After a couple weeks of wearing the collar, I noticed he wasn’t as crazy about the cats in my apartment complex. After about a month, the time it took him to settle before I leave had shortened by about 10 minutes, although he was still panting before I left. He’s now almost through his second collar (they last a month), and he has had days in the past couple weeks where he either goes to sleep or starts working on his Kong right after I leave. I’m working on desensitizing the final couple of departure cues: picking up my purse, and closing the door. Of course some days are faster than others, but the general trend is great!
I’ve taken him to a few dog-friendly venues (with one or no other dogs), and he is so much calmer. He doesn’t whine the whole time, he can sit still a little bit, will take treats, and focuses on me more and more. Today I took him to Lowe’s (which happens to be right across the street) and he was just about perfect! Strolled along next to the buggy (most of the time hands free), only whined once or twice, easily held sit or down stays when I stopped, was the most engaged with me he’s ever been, and was very sweet to people who wanted to pet him. He saw another dog, they looked at each other, and went their separate ways. No tension, no worry. It’s finally getting so fun and even relaxing to take him places.
Since strange dogs were the biggest challenge, it’s taken more time to achieve breakthroughs, but the progress is now starting to pick up. Some of the city nature preserves we hike on the weekends have quite a few dogs, but since most of them stay on the paved paths we get just enough exposure to make positive associations. Occasionally Galen will become a bit tense and pull toward a passing dog, but more recently that has come down a notch. Just yesterday, on our hike at a local park with a bunch of really cool trails, Galen passed a dog so perfectly I wasn’t even sure if he really understood there was a dog there! He also didn’t even notice a few dogs coming out of side trails, but had a huge challenge when the classic “he’s friendly” off-leash dog (there is a 6 foot leash law that is posted at every entrance to this park, but that’s a topic for another post) ran up to us. I responded with “Mine’s not!” and kept myself between Galen and the other dog while one of the owners climbed the hill to retrieve their dog. At first Galen wanted to jump on the dog (his usual response to a dog approaching him on leash), but after a second or two he figured out that staying behind me was the way to go. This week we’re headed to the vet for a checkup and vaccine, but I’m not expecting it to be super busy, so hopefully it won’t be too much of a challenge.