Did you ever notice how living with a problem is much different from reading about it? Bubba is urinating in the house now when I leave him.
I counsel pet owners weekly about how to handle their dog’s anxiety when they leave. We talk about increasing the dog’s exercise, behavior modification training, counter conditioning, pheromones, and when all else fails drugs.
I listen to my clients anguish over these behaviors their beloved companions display. I read as many behavior articles as I can. I help them come up with a plan that fits their lifestyle. I sympathize. It’s nothing until you experience it yourself.
Bubba has always been slightly difficult, as I have previously written. Over the years he has been responsible for chewed up plants and antique rugs. He dropped my cell phone in the toilet when he wanted my attention, and in one fit of pique, turned on the stove top burners while I was gone. Up until the last two weeks however, I’ve felt he did these things out of annoyance of my absence rather than fear of it.
Peeing in the house is different as he’s always good about holding it when we’re home. He hates to go out if it’s raining and is content to wait indefinitely. His record of bladder strength was 17 hours during a particularly cold and rainy day. While his distress ended when I came home, mine started when I found these new ‘accidents’. I checked urine and blood samples on him to make sure there was nothing physically wrong. The fact that he’s breaking house rules now means something has changed in his mental pathways.
“Now what do I do with him?” This must be what my clients think too. Crate him while I’m gone? I haven’t done that for years, and when I did it was with his brother Gunner. Put him on anti-anxiety meds? He’s already on two intestinal protectants, thyroid medication, heart medication, joint medication, arthritis medicine, special food. How will he tolerate it with his other meds? What will it cost? Is it right to change his personality or behavior in response to my schedule? My formal veterinary education didn’t feel it was necessary to include what happens when philosophy runs into real life.
For now I’m treating him as I did when I first adopted him. I’m reinforcing happy, calm behaviors. Trying not to fall too much for the attention seeking ones. I’m putting his urination on command with a small treat as a reward when he goes outside. I’m increasing his (and my) exercise. I’m making sure he has an empty bladder before I leave, even if it means a quick walk around the block. Hopefully this will keep his anxious feelings at bay. We’ll see if it works. No matter what he does I love my old dog.