Yesterday, we had a visit from our dog trainer. I’d called her because I wanted to get some tips on getting the dogs adjusted for when the baby comes—and there is tons of stuff you can do, it turns out, including buying a CD of baby sounds—but also to get her help with something else: The Hysteria.
The Hysteria is what we now call the manic-anxiety behavior displayed by our dogs whenever they think they’re going to be separated from us. If I’m leaving the house to go out, I put them in their crates, which isn’t so bad: Coco goes in willingly, and Monkey can usually be easily coaxed by a biscuit. But it’s when I just want to step out in the yard to get the mail, or have to put them outside when someone comes over, that we hit trouble. In fact, it happens even before that, like when I go pick up my shoes: Coco, spying this leaving behavior, immediately leaps up and runs over to Monkey and attacks him. Not violently, just, you know, kind of a flying Wallenda move, paired with a yelp. Which of course gets him all riled up, and the next thing I know they’re both racing madly to the door, slamming themselves against the glass, to prevent me from going. I have to battle through them—and the yelping, and whimpering—to get out, and when once I do, they bark endlessly on the other side of the glass, freaking out until I return. Which can either be ten minutes or an hour, it doesn’t matter, it just goes on and on and on.
As it turns out, this is not something that can be fixed with a simple command or more biscuits. In our trainer’s words, “It’s not training, it’s management.” Which means we have to take steps to stop the behavior from even happening, such as another gate that keeps them from the door, putting them in the crate whenever we leave, and desensitizing them to leaving behavior, i.e. me putting on my shoes or walking around with my purse and keys without leaving. Also, we could try citronella collars, which are non-toxic bark deterrers. And then, finally, there’s medication.
Yep, that’s right. We can consider putting the dogs on some kind of anti-anxiety drug. My trainer says that she doesn’t recommend this unless, like us, you HAVE tried just about everything else—obedience, gates, etc—and still have the problem. And maybe it would work, and calm them down. But I still wonder. I mean, they’re DOGS. Do they really need pharmaceutical help? Or maybe this is just how they are, and we should embrace it as best we can and leave it at that. (This is easier written than done, especially when your dog is gnawing your purse as you head for the door, desperately trying to stop you from going.) I told the trainer I was hesitant, and she said, “Yes, but if someone is very anxious, constantly, that’s not good. I mean, can you imagine living like that, all the time?”
I don’t know. I guess we’ll call the vet and discuss it, see what she says. I certainly don’t want to keep my dogs from a better, calmer life. Isn’t that what we all want? But maybe, first, I’ll put up another gate and look into those collars. One step at a time, right?