Adoptable Senior Dog of the Week: Joan
Meet the family: Vintage dog show photos and a 9-yr-old wingman

Guest Post: How we handled separation anxiety with our older dog

One of the ways that Grouchy Puppy strives to educate is by being a linchpin between our readers and inspiring human-animal bond stories. Within those stories are incredible people, and experiences with dogs that we can all appreciate.

Editor's note: Every morning on Facebook and Twitter, between 9:15-9:25am PT, you'll find our question of the day. Each day everyone shares photos and gives each other valuable tips in the comments. It's a fun and engaged group. Sometimes a reader or follower has such a poignant story that we get them to come over to the blog so they can share in greater detail.

This is a special story from Gretchen, written in her own words. She shares her experience of adopting a senior dog, and how she and her husband has treated Baileys separation anxiety. It's a heartwarming story that many of us can relate, myself included.

Love and commitment

We were looking to adopt a dog an older dog. At the time my husband was on crutches and we needed a dog that could mind her manners around him. We visited the county shelter every other day for weeks. One day we visited the local humane society instead and there she was. The card read, 5 years, 20 lbs. mix breed. We took Baileys home the same day.

Two years later we have learned many things -- she wasn't 5 years old nor 20 lbs that day, but Baileys did have separation anxiety.

Building trust

One day we had decided to leave her out of the crate while we went out for two hours. When we returned she was in distress. While we were gone all the blinds had been destroyed and there was drool everywhere. I was confused and frustrated. Baileys was such a well-mannered dog from the start, why would she do that?

I started doing research on dog behavior and found something called separation anxiety. My co-workers mentioned this as a possible disorder too, so I decided to take her to the vet for help.

The vet provided some good literature and told me that she would probably have it forever. Also that it could improve, get worse or stay the same. I also spoke to the shelter. They recommended training classes and positive reinforcement to lessen her anxiety. Even though Baileys already knew basic commands and manners, I knew the time together and in a different environment would help build our bond and her trust.

I did not want to medicate her but rather build her confidence up. I wanted to encourage her to trust us, showing her that she was here to stay, safe within her new family.

Baileys snow

Using games to nurture Baileys confidence

At the beginning she was not food motivated and she did not play with toys. This was a challenge. Through the training classes we started rebuilding her confidence. One of the exercises was teaching a game called “find it” where you would hide a toy and the dog should find it. Because Baileys didn't play with toys, I skipped the toy and started hiding, at plain sight, treats. She warmed up to the game pretty quick.

I would hide them while she saw me doing it. We did played this game for about a month, a couple of times a week. One day I decided to hide a treat under a plastic cup, I would show her where I was hiding it and then I would say “find it”. Then I added two more cups, all with one treat each. Then only one cup would have the treat. This game evolved into finding treats around the first floor; I was always in her sight.

I would ask for a “stay” while she watched me at a distance placing treats, then I would ask her to “find it”

This process took weeks. If I walked out of sight she would not remain in the “stay” command but over time her anxiety has diminished as her confidence that I would return grew. When she was comfortable staying at a distance from me I started placing treats upstairs and sending her on a “find it” quest by herself.

We still play this game and now she is a pro with the cups. Just this February she went upstairs by herself one night while my husband and I watched television downstairs. We could not believe she was upstairs alone! She does not stay for long periods, but she is confident that we are going to be where she left us.

Our Reward

On February 15, 2014 we celebrated Baileys two year anniversary with us. Her separation anxiety has not gotten any worse. Separation anxiety is part of our family dynamic, but we are comfortable with the term and diagnosis. We are always looking for ways to improve Baileys quality of life. This journey with her has been a very rewarding experience. Baileys has enriched our lives in unimaginable ways.

Thanks to her I’m an active volunteer at our humane society where I adopted her. We walk every day, rain, shine or snow. As the days turn into weeks and her face continues to grow silver highlights, we can’t imagine our lives without her. It's been a rewarding experience having Baileys.

Learn more

Baileys came to Capital Area Humane Society in Hilliard, Ohio through their EmBARK program that brings dogs from overcrowded rural shelters. EmBARK (Engaging in the Mutually Beneficial Application of Resources & Knowledge) is the first program of its kind nationwide. They transfer dogs from overpopulated shelters around Ohio to the Capital Area Humane Society for adoption.

Can you relate to Gretchen and Baileys? Any special moments you'd like to share about your life with a senior dog? Tell us in the comments.

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