Stanley’s Journey by Nicole
Dr Nicole Hoskin adopted a puppy from Save a Dog last year. “Stanley” is a Staffy x Jack Russell terrier (or so his DNA test tells us), this is Nicole’s blog on some of the challenges that come with raising a lively puppy!
As a vet, I have owned many animals and have dealt with a wide variety of health issues, but I realised that I have never owned a puppy of my own before. My parents used to breed Samoyeds, but I had never had the total responsibility of owning a new puppy. All of the animals that had come into my life were abandoned or in need of re-homing, and were consequently older pets.
Despite all my personal experience and veterinary knowledge, I really underestimated the impact a strong-willed puppy with profound separation anxiety could have on my life…
Stanley’s current destruction count includes: several cushions, childrens’ shoes, my husband’s shoes, the couch, our wooden staircase and the fly wire over the windows next to the door. Once he even collected a roll of toilet paper from the upstairs bathroom which he proceeded to tear into tiny strips and leave all over the house – it looked like someone had fired a confetti cannon! However, it is not just destruction that is the problem. He has injured himself by rubbing his nose on the door whilst trying to escape and find us.
He is not being naughty. He is not even just “being a puppy”. He is truly distressed when left alone. While of course it can be frustrating at times, I have to keep reminding myself that his behaviour is an anxiety disorder and that he cannot control it. Telling Stanley off when he’s chewed up a cushion or the house is covered in torn up paper may actually make the problem worse, and I have since learned that dogs with separation anxiety do better with a set routine and some structure in their day. I’m in the fortunate position where Stanley can come to work with me some days, and my husband is a stay-at-home dad so Stanley has company most of the time. He is fine when someone is with him, but when left alone whines, whimpers, scratches at the door, gets destructive and hurts himself.
To introduce some structure and burn off some of his puppy energy, Stanley started obedience training once a week with trainer Anna Lindars, she has been part of the Practice’s puppy pre school program for a long time. He loves the mind games and is doing quite well in the classes (if you don’t count last week, when he took off over the oval during off lead play and would not recall at all !). He also gets lots of exercise at the local dog park twice a day, where he chases his friends around until he can’t run any more.
At this stage we have not used medication as he seems to be responding well to obedience training, exercise and making our comings and goings from the house as low key as possible. He is strongly resisting my desire for him to sleep on his own bed, sneaking onto our bed during the night so that he can snuggle up to us. We will keep working on this one, teaching him that the world will not fall apart if he is on his own is a big part of the treatment. He needs to learn it is ok not to be physically touching part of his family group all the time.
He has lots of things to keep him occupied if we do have to go out and leave him for short periods: Kongs stuffed with food, chew sticks and toys as well.
For those of you that don’t have the luxury of being home all day to deal with this issue, and have to go to a workplace where you can’t take your pets, I would seriously consider doggy day care. There are lots of places that will look after and exercise your dog for the day and they are allowed time to play with other dogs. The fees are quite modest when you compare them to replacing the stairs, the door or your curtains repeatedly!
Every animal I have owned has taught me something and Stanley is no exception. He is teaching me patience, and has given me a deeper understanding of the anxiety disorders dogs can develop from being so attached to us.