So, it turns out that I’ve been keeping a little secret from you.
Remember when I posted awhile back that we were shipping our dog off to South Carolina because he was stressed out and eating our house and we just didn’t think we could ever give him what he needed to live the well-adjusted and happy dog life that he deserved (see here)?
Well, we chickened out.
He never went to South Carolina.
His adorable little (er, big) self has been here with us the whole time.
The night before we were supposed to drive him down to South Carolina, we were loading up the car with all of his stuff and basically feeling like the WORST PEOPLE EVER. We really couldn’t bear the idea of him not being a part of our lives anymore. And we couldn’t kick the nagging feeling that maybe (just maybe) we hadn’t tried EVERYTHING and that if we just kept trying, we’d nip the separation anxiety in the bud and he would stop (literally!) eating us out of house and home. So, we called the whole thing off and decided to give it another go.
We took matters into our own hands and asked the vet to put him on some new medication. We’d previously tried diazepam, which is essentially Valium. It’s a benzodiazepine and is supposed to work quickly and treat anxiety within a short period of time, but it didn’t make any difference in Eco at all. So, we started him on clomipramine, which is an antidepressant but also works to reduce anxiety. This medication actually makes chemical changes in the brain, so it has to be taken for at least two or three weeks before it actually produces noticeable results. So, we started the new medication and held our breath.
We also doubled down on the training/dominance exercises that we’d learned from our behavioralist. Every night for a few weeks, both my husband and I would work with him separately and go through the training regime. No exceptions. We’d been pretty consistent with the exercises before but I’ll admit that, some nights, we skipped them because we were too busy or too tired. And we certainly didn’t both do them each night.
A few weeks after starting the new medication and doing our training exercises religiously, his separation anxiety all but disappeared. He doesn’t exhibit any stress now when we leave him during the day. And it’s been about 3 months and we haven’t had any damage. It’s a miracle, people!
We’ve also done a few other things that may – or may not – be contributing to our success. First, we started feeding him his breakfast in a gigantic treat ball (the Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball) and giving it to him a few minutes before we’re set to walk out the door. The treat ball keeps him busy so that he hardly even notices when we’re heading out. We also leave a new bully stick or pizzle stick or pig’s ear out for him when we leave so he can work on that for awhile after he finishes his breakfast and keep himself occupied. I’m literally spending $40 each week on sticks and ears (which is so insane!) but I don’t want to mess with what seems to be working.
Our plan is to keep him on the drugs for approximately 6 months total and then slowly reduce the dosage over time (you can’t just stop the medication or the dog will go into withdrawal) and hope (PRAY!) that he will have forgotten that he’s supposed to be stressed out when we leave and we can put the separation anxiety behind us for good. We simply have no interest in keeping him medicated for his entire life.
I haven’t said anything before now because I’ve been so scared that just saying something would cause everything to fall apart. And I didn’t want to conclude definitively that we’d solved the problems and were keeping him FOREVER AND EVER only to have to announce a few weeks later that he was up to his old antics again and, well, we were sending him off. So, all of that is to say that you can’t even begin to imagine how insanely hard I am knocking on wood right now as I hit the “publish” button on this post.