I wish I could say that I had some altruistic rescue story, but in truth, my dog, Sakari, had a very privileged life. I adopted her at 8-weeks old, she was never abused, and she was loved beyond measure. Four years ago, I bought a new house and got a roommate, who was retired and loved Sakari as much as I did. In fact, they had an incredible bond, spending every day together while I was at work — until my roommate decided to move out of state. That, combined with a series of other stressors, seemed to give separation anxiety Sakari, who was then an 8-year-old Shiba Inu/Husky mix.
My perfect angel, who had never had a behavioral issue before, was suddenly trying to escape the house every day. I came home one night, and Sakari was completely tangled up in the cord from the blinds as well as one power cord — she was yelping and she couldn’t move. I was lucky she hadn’t strangled herself.
So I tried crating her. Sakari busted out. In fact, she split the crate completely in two. When I came home, she had a broken tooth and bloody paws, and she was panting like she had just run 10 miles.
Any time I tried to leave the house Sakari was glued to my side. I would shove her back in through the door, and later find signs of her escape attempts made throughout the day, as well as a chewed-up couch.
What had happened to her?
By just a few weeks into this journey, I realized I had no idea what to do, and that I needed a trainer. I found one person in town who was willing to take on a separation anxiety case and she told me about Malena’s book and training method. I began working the protocol of desensitization and false departures, following the book religiously.
After several weeks of this, I was feeling pretty crazy — facing serious pressure from family and friends regarding my “over-commitment” to my dog. Shouldn’t I be prioritizing my relationship with my significant other ahead of my dog and her anxiety? How much money is a dog worth?! Seriously, am I going to miss another family function? Did I want to spend the rest of my life with my dog, rather than a man? Couldn’t I just re-home her? (Forget that she’s been with me since she was a puppy!)
A couple of months later, well into the separation anxiety protocol, I was still struggling to manage all parts of my life, and by then my boss was telling me, “It’s just a dog!”
I told myself, “It’s okay, I can handle the pressure because clearly this is getting better. After all, it’s been only three short months, and I can now leave the house for nine minutes!” Sigh. I really did feel like there was no end in sight. And I thought that maybe I truly was crazy for continuing down this path of training with what felt like minimal results. My own anxiety had worsened, and I was as afraid to leave my dog as she was for me to leave her. I did countless departures — pick up the keys, put on the coat, walk out the door, leave for ten seconds, then eventually three minutes, seven minutes, five minutes… staring at the video from my car just a few blocks from home so I could bolt back at any moment if she panicked again.
By month four, I felt so alone, with a family who loved me but didn’t understand the whole dog thing and who wasn’t helping, a boyfriend who left because he felt like everything revolved around my dog, and two best friends who had moved out of state and couldn’t help, even if they wanted to. Did I mention that I’m not made of money? My mid-life crisis and spiritual journey had led me to a career change and a fulfilling job that paid barely enough to get by.
And then there was my trainer, as well as Malena herself, telling me that outside of training missions, I shouldn’t leave Sakari alone, ever — which meant boarding expenses since I didn’t have much help from family or friends. I was completely overwhelmed, stressed out, and anxious. And I was terrified that if she didn’t get better, I couldn’t afford to keep her in daycare/boarding forever.
Fast forward seven months, and everything has changed. Miraculously, everything started coming together. I held relentlessly to the treatment plan, and departures became less drama filled. There was less barking, whining, pawing at the gate, and more sleeping — less sitting up, and more lying down. Eventually, she was sleeping and/or peacefully looking out the window for the duration of almost every absence. With her calmness came my own sense of peace. I was able to breathe, and I could almost envision a day when I could leave my dog at home while I went to work, without having to worry about her eating the couch, busting out the window, or setting off the house alarm by frantically knocking things over.
It was hard for me to even believe that I had reached the four-hour mark. I felt empowered by my commitment to myself and my dog. And today I can say that I have left her at home all day while I was at work for the past two weeks. (I come home at lunch) I have succeeded in overcoming this thing that felt so completely overwhelming and exhausting. I almost gave up, but didn’t. I can imagine this must be what it feels like to run a marathon after months of training. We can do what we put our minds to. We can accomplish great things. And we have to keep trying, and to persevere no matter how hard it is.
Much like Sakari, we understand that having the support of a trainer for separation anxiety can be so helpful for guardians and their dogs. If you’re in need of a separation anxiety expert, let us know. We’d love to help!