Barking Demons

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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?

Nope.

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.

Fool.

“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.

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