Thursday, July 9, 2009

Fear and Separation Anxiety

I think Darlin’ has some separation anxiety. I’ve had concerns about this for the last month because when I come home from shopping or going out for a while she whimpers for me. Yesterday I went to the grocery store. As soon as I get my purse Toby always runs to the front door and sits there wagging his tail looking back over his shoulder like I’m going to pick him and take him with me. Like so many other times, I tell him I’ll be right back and I tell the dogs that follow me to the door to get back. Well, I say “back”. The door becomes my space. My Eskie (Chloe) use to bolt out the door so I’ve learned to claim the space which helped control the times I had to chase Chloe through the neighborhood. She is the most challenging dog I have ever owned.

Just like the day before when I went to Pet Smart, Darlin' followed me to the front door. That was one of the reasons I chose to walk her that night, I thought it was time she saw what was out there on the other side. I stuck my foot out and told her to get back. She practically had her nose in the door as I closed it behind me! She let out a yelp for the first time that I know of when I left the house. What followed next really surprised me! I heard someone scratching at the front door and I have never in all my years of owning dogs heard a dog scratch at my door!

I put my purse in the car and started the air conditioner. I went back inside as though I forgot something to see what was going on and to look at the door for scratches. That door is not something I care to replace because it was expensive. All of the dogs, Darlin’ included, acted like I had been gone all day and I wasn't outside more than a minute. So I walked out again telling her to get back. I was gone less than an hour and when I returned I walked up the steps with bags in my hand. The first thing I did was look through the beveled glass to see if I could get a glimpse of the dogs waiting for me. What do I see? A brown dogs head trying to look through the glass! She was standing there on her hind legs! Not at the door, but trying to look out the glass! I’ve seen her standing at the door at night and that’s why I thought she looked like a kangaroo. I went inside and she was just as excited as the rest of the dogs, but she yelped and barked too! She was calling attention to herself because everyone else was getting attention.

This may not seem like a big deal if you are new to reading this blog, but this same dog will defecate if a stranger handles her. She did last week when I asked my husband to bring her to me. He sat her down on the couch next to me and I immediately asked “What’s that smell?” She was fine two days ago when my husband carried her home for me. She is an extremely fearful dog that is still learning to trust people.

I think one of the great things about having a pack of dogs is that they learn from each other and they have each other when people are not around. However, Darlin' bonded with me, not the dogs. It was my intention to have her learn to trust me before the dogs. I actually read that keeping a feral dog separated from other dogs was the way to go so that the dog would learn to trust the handler first. That was easy enough considering I had my other dog’s safety in mind too. Now I’m wondering if she is too attached to me.

I have two days to help correct this situation because I’m going out of town all day on Sunday and the dogs will be alone. The dogs will have access to the backyard. No one can get in our yard and they would be crazy to try with five dogs. Besides that, our lawn maintenance guy attempted to unlock the gate once without checking to see if the dogs were out. Sam (our blue heeler) jumped up for his arm as he reached across and I have never seen a man come away from a fence so fast! We were all outside. Sam’s bark is enough to scare most people off. He’s a big baby though. If you enter through the front door he will love you and submit to you by turning over and offering his tummy. Darlin’ doesn’t stay outside with the dogs much, nor does she follow them, but I’m sure if I’m not around she’ll catch on. I can’t help but have some concerns about her scratching at the front door and I hope it will be a good day for her even though I’m not home.

I told my daughter about Darlin’s behavior yesterday. She said, “Mom, you are everything to Darlin’, she had nothing before you.” That’s true, but my hopes for her is that she learns to live as a pack member and family pet and that she doesn’t develop an unhealthy attachment to me.

I spoil my dogs, I can’t help it. Mostly with affection, then I spoil with the food and treats, toys are last on my list. Each dog has his/her own story. Chloe was born to parents that lived in the same home. I adopted her as a puppy so she has never known any hardships. She’ll be six years old soon and has terrible health problems already. Sam loved his family, but they had a baby so he had to be re-homed. Bonnie was pulled from a rabbit hutch in Missouri. I beat myself up for not pulling all the dogs, but I tried to get help. Sweet affectionate Toby was a stray that wound up urgent at a pound in Tennessee. If you knew him you would wonder like I do how that could ever happen. Darlin’, fearful, starving, abandoned, living in the woods behind a rock yard for 6 months that I know of, yet the people at the grocery store told me she had been coming there for years. That life was enough to make any dog fear people. Her past makes it easy for me to spoil her and her trusting me makes it easier for me to give her more of everything. We have both gained something through it all. I swear I must have been a sheep herder in another lifetime!

I love them all, but I can’t keep my hands off of Darlin’. I pet, pat, kiss, stroke, hug, and rub her down every second I get. I do it so much I catch the others dogs watching me and I have had momentary guilt. It doesn’t take much to realize I need to give to them all equally. Thank goodness I have two hands, though I could use a few more. Darlin’ came from nothing, she had nothing, she acted like she never had humane contact, but I know she had some contact because she’s been spayed. Her experiences must have been awful because her fears are so deep rooted. Yesterday when my husband came home she sat by my feet while I was cooking just shaking like a leaf. It’s been almost four months since she’s been here and she still has fear of my family. If I move too fast or raise my hands she becomes frightened by my actions. I told someone on Petfinder when they suggested I withhold her food until she eats from my hands that my nature is to nurture, but I don’t want to nurture an unhealthy attachment to me which may cause separation anxiety issues.

I think I’ll go shopping for a bit and give Darlin’ some time alone at home with the other dogs. I’m going to try and keep the level excitement lower. I will ignore everyone when I leave and not give anyone attention when I come back home until I put my things away.


  1. That is a worry about the separation anxiety. My first dog had it VERY VERY badly. Strange you mentioned why some dogs get it....we have strong reason to believe she had been abused. I was the first stable owner she had ever had. I always figured that's why she attached to me. :)

  2. Sounds reasonable to me. I left her outside more today with the dogs. She sat at the back door, even stood up on her hind legs looking in the glass, but I made her wait. I'm working on teaching her to be more confident.

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  4. Links to websites must be approved and added by me. All links are subject to removal unless it is a true pet blog.

  5. Beautiful Dog! "The Tank" wishes he could meet more humans such as yourself.

    Benny "The Tank"

  6. Fear and sadness lead to anxiety. One should try and avoid the cause of sadness and fear.

    Some other natural anxiety remedies to look into are St.John's Wort, SAMe, L-Theanine, and Tryptophan. There's also cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and programs like Panic Away and The Linden Method, to name a few. Hope this helps!

  7. I have been doing some research about anxiety and I found out that depth researches have been done about it in order to find a cure. I hope they do it soon!

  8. Separation anxiety is common in dogs, correct?

  9. Oh you do such wonderful things. Please keep it up, I love it!