Agh, the dangers of not logging things on the day is that you think you’ll remember them and you don’t. I can’t recall the details of Wednesday, but I know that I didn’t get away much. Because of the heat, I did close Spencer in the house in the afternoon, which is also something he needs to get used to. That went fairly well.
At the end of the afternoon, I decided to try something a bit different. I needed to go to the pharmacy, so I decided to take him and, if it wasn’t too busy, tie him up outside while I popped into the shop. Well, there was way too much going on around the pharmacy, and Spencer was too stressed for me to actually go in. But we used the occasion to work on the separation anyway. I tied him up and then walked a step away. When got up, I asked him to lie back down and then praised him when he obeyed. And then another step and another until I felt that I had reached his limit. I managed to make it up the steps the walkway in front of the shops. I was probably about 3-4 metres from him and visible. I had taken a toy so he could chew, but he ignored it. I then went back down and untied him and we went home, although I had to be very careful to to get too close to anyone because Spencer was clearly on edge.
Yesterday was a really good day for separations.
In the morning, I sprinkled his breakfast kibble across the living room floor and left. He went to the door immediately and then returned to the living room to continue eating. He didn’t bark or protest until he had finished eating, which is a really good sign since stressed dogs don’t eat. I was only outside for a couple of minutes, and looking in through the window, but it showed a major improvement over the beginning of the process when he would become anxious before I even left.
In the afternoon, we had a major breakthrough, I think. I had prepared his lunch as a frozen stuffed toy (I pulverized his kibble in a blender and mixed it with yogurt). Since it was hot, this “ice cream” treat would serve the dual purpose of helping to keep him cool and keeping him busy while I tried a longer absence.
He went to work on the toy, which I gave him outside (for fear of making a mess with yogurt all over the place), but found that his usual tactics of rolling and dropping it had no effect. So he starting sucking, licking and chewing it. He was very quickly engrossed. I went inside, closed up the house, took my handbag and keys, and locked the door. He looked up, watched me leave, and then went back to eating. He barked once about a minute later and then at two-minute intervals, until about the 18-minute mark when the barking became more insistent. This was the longest he had been alone since we started the process, so I decided not to push things too far. Plus I was curious why his barking sounded so distant.
Much to my surprise, he wasn’t anywhere near the gate when I returned. He was still lying near the corner of the patio, where I had given him his stuffed toy (thus explaining the muted voice). When I looked at the toy to see how far he had gotten, I realized that the core was very solidly frozen (it had been in the deep freezer), so I deduced that he barked whenever he reached a point where the stuffing was still too frozen to eat.
I went into the house and closed the door, and he didn’t even notice until the 56-minute mark, when he came to the front door, then tried the back and then the front. I finally let him in, and he went straight for his water dish. I realized that we need to keep a second water dish outside so that he can stay out long periods and putting water outside doesn’t become a departure cue.
By this time, it was getting quite hot, so I brought his toy inside, and he continued munching indoors while I worked upstairs. Unfortunately, the toy got wedged under the couch some point, so he was stuck until I came downstairs, found it and liberated it.
All told, it took him about two hours to finish the toy. If that keeps him happy and occupied while we’re away, that will already be a huge improvement.
My current analysis of the situation (again without the camera) is that while we do have separation and isolation issues, we also have boredom issues. It seems to me that the potential solutions to the latter are:
- A dog door so he can be in the garden or the house while we’re away. However, I am not sure they make big enough dog doors, and we would actually have to replace the front door to install one since the glass panel is to big on the current door to be able to add a Spencer-sized dog door.
- A dogsitter. At the moment, this is a little delicate since we also have territoriality issues to work through.
- Doggie daycare. As far as I can tell, the only doggie daycare in France is in central Paris, so too far away. But maybe we could find someone willing to take him at their house. It would have to be fairly close to be practical.
- A companion dog. There’s no guarantee this would work, but Spencer does seem to want to play with every dog we meet in the park. Before taking any permanent steps, we should try having a “friend” over for the day and seeing if that facilitates departures. However, I would hesitate to leave someone else’s dog unattended at my house since I am supposed to be responsible for that animal’s well-being.
Lots to think about!