Monthly Archives: October 2011

Barking Demons


Currently 57% of Americans under the age of 34 rent their home (whether apartment or otherwise).

I am one of those.

I live in an apartment that is in an old house and I love it. I love the view, I love the patio, I love the quiet, I love the character, I love that my landlord is my neighbor, and I love the price. For all of these reasons I have been here for over three years.

Then I got a dog.

The first time I put Nala in her crate when preparing to leave, she seemed happy about it. She loves her crate. She sleeps soundly inside at night and even goes in there on her own throughout the day for doggie naps.

Around day four of our new life together, I left for an hour to go to the gym. A good test run on the whole leaving thing. Upon my return I found that she had broken out of said crate and run a muck through the 500 square feet that I call home. She didn’t really destroy anything, but knocked everything she could (a lamp, pillows, and a number of random papers) to the floor. Message heard loud and clear, “f**k you, I do what I want.”

Plan B. Paddle locks.

It seemed to work, no more breaking out. Until the day I forgot my purse. I returned to retrieve it and realized she was barking. Loud and non-stop.

She’ll grow out of it right? Get tired? Realize it’s pointless before my landlord or the people upstairs freak out?


Why? Why would a dog that enjoys her crate, is tired from a long walk, is full from a good meal, and has plenty of chew toys bark when in a crate?

I asked these very questions when standing in front of a case at Petco (with Nala at my side since I couldn’t leave her to annoy anyone within earshot) looking at bark collars with a clerk. The clerk’s answer, “separation anxiety.”

Oh. Didn’t think of that.

I didn’t think of that because I never really considered it a real thing. I always thought dogs that dug holes in couches when their masters left were board, over enthusiastic, or simply “bad dogs.” If your dog has this so called separation anxiety, just put him/her in a crate. Problem solved.


“Just put her in there and go in and out of the room and the apartment calmly,” the Petco worker started to tell me. “She’ll get used to the fact that you are coming back. Our trainer suggests giving them some PetEase to settle them down a bit too.”

“So I’m supposed to drug her every time I put her in there?”

“Not forever. Eventually she’ll get use to being calm when in the crate.”

I thought it over for about 20 seconds and left with an expensive citronella spay collar AND some PetEase.

Once home I assembled the collar, filled it with the orangey smelling solution, tested it (it worked), and put it on Nala’s 14-inch neck. I left and stood with my ear next to the door like some kind of stalker.

Bark, pause, bark, pause, barkbarkbarkbarkbark. Long pause.

Okay! We have a winner! She stopped.

The next day I was gone for 3 hours for class (I’m a teacher). When I returned I let the happy, wiggly Nala out of her crate, and realized the entire room smelled orangey. Checked the collar. Empty. She had barked until there was no spray left in the stupid thing.

No reason to be hasty. Perhaps she needs to learn. She’ll give up.

What I am learning, however, is separation anxiety is not about giving up. It is not about a determined dog. It’s about an irrational dog. It is fear and fear is an extremely compelling and illogical emotion. Consider the people you know with phobias.

According to Dr. Stephanie Sarkis (2011) in an article for Psychology Today, severe cases of claustrophobia may even result in a different way of seeing. These suffers can go so far as to judge distances differently or develop panic attacks from experiences the rest of us ignore: going through tunnels or riding in an elevator. If trapped in a confined space (not unlike a crate) these people could hurt themselves, or others, in their desperate attempt to escape.

Now, I know Nala is not claustrophobic. But imagine this:

You are a child. You live with your mother or care-givers. They touch you, feed you, talk to you. They do leave you for a number of hours each day, but they always come back. Then, one day, when you are around 5 years old, they take you to a daycare facility. They never come back. You keep waiting, but it never happens.  Some weeks later someone comes and gets you, someone you have never seen before. They take you home. They feed you, they talk to you, and they seem to genuinely care. But you’ve experienced this before. Who’s to say they won’t leave you? Logically, based on prior experience, you will be abandoned again.

Separation anxiety, like claustrophobia, agoraphobia, apiphobia, and so many others, is usually considered to be developed because of a previous experience.

No mystery there. Some of us ladies might even develop androphobia (fear of men) after enough bad relationships.

The lesson.

How can I blame Nala for barking when left? Does it cause me to have my own anxiety? Sure. Am I frustrated? Hell yes. Am I in constant fear that my landlord will start to hate me? Uh huh. Do I wish I lived in a house where she could just work this out on her own? You bet. But Nala has her own demons she needs to work through. She’s 10 months old, a five year old in many respects, who has already experienced abandonment. Perhaps even abuse. I adopted a dog. And as with any relationship that didn’t start with birth… we have baggage.  That goes for both of us.

The battle with the barking demons continues.


Health and a Short Memory


I am by no means new to the hair-covered, slobbery-sticky world of dog ownership.

I grew up with a ridiculously big Golden Retriever, who was my parents’ first child. When I was ten, and he was gone, we got Sandy, another Golden. She was with us until I was 20. By then I was dating someone whose father raised and trained English Pointers, sometimes more than 30 at a time. I saw countless births, deaths, training methods, and mishaps. (I once witnessed a dog run around a pigeon coop until the pads of its feet were raw and bloody. It was an interesting lesson in passion.) I have watched my father train and work two German Wire Haired Pointers, or in his words, “Nazi dogs from Hell,” in addition to the countless labs and pointers of his friends. My grandparents had a Vizsla, my uncle had a Weimaraner, and I am blessed with plenty of friends with varieties of dogs.

But when I was 21 I found Miko, a Husky / German Shepherd mix at the local shelter. She was the first dog I purchased and solely owned. I would have her for 12 years, during which I would drag her through my life – college, grad school, relationships, a marriage, and countless moves.  And for the back half of those years I would tell people how easy she was to train. How she was the perfect dog.

This is kind of true.

Someone once said that happiness is health and a short memory. Albert Schweitzer perhaps?

It’s true that Miko was protective without being aggressive, lazy without being lethargic, and snuggly without being needy. But it’s also true that there were times I would come home to find a steamy, smelly pile on the living room floor. But I blamed myself. Perhaps I was gone too long? Miko also had a passion for one corner of my current boyfriend’s basement. She was compelled to mark it over and over with her unrealistically strong smelling pee. But it was the fault of another dog that MUST have marked there in the past. Right?

Enter Nala. Eight months old and full of energy (eventually also full of toy stuffing and cat turds from the back yard). And with each rip of a sock or violent tug of a leash, my memory started to serve me more accurately.

What was Miko really like as a puppy?

  • She dug a hole in my mother’s carpet one evening out of boredom.
  • She would run from me and never look back (Husky remember)
  • She HATED car rides and would pant to the point of drooling all over the dash
  • She would panic at the very mention of “bath”… that one never went away
  • She was afraid of bridges (no kidding) and when we drove under them she would panic and try to get in my lap, which made driving less than safe.
  • She once attacked a friend’s dog because it tried to exist within a five foot radius of her food dish
  • Every time we moved she would poop in the place the first night… never failed. Also never went away.
  • She was TERRIFIED of storms and would keep me up all night when one came through. I eventually started drugging her, which is the only reason that one went away.


Yes, I have been around dogs for each of the 33 years of my life. I have owned dogs, but not this dog.  And Nala is, in fact, a dog. She wants to run, she is going to bark, and if the mood strikes her, she is going to eat my kindle charger.

This is what I signed up for.