Separation Anxiety

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This is something many husky owners talk about. I think at least once a day I see a picture of some part of a person’s house destroyed, a crate destroyed, or tales of possible eviction due to howling.

There are a lot of ideas and articles on how to fix this. As of yet I haven’t seen one on how to prevent it in the first place. Logic would say you have to know what causes it in order to fix it.

Keep in mind I don’t pretend I have all the answers, but I can give you a look into my own life with huskies. I might have stumbled on to the answer, or at least one that explains my dogs. Then you can compare it to your situation and see if it might help.

I’ve never had this problem before that some experience. But recently that started to change, and I had to look back and see why. This is long but you need to see the whole story in order to understand my reasoning.

My wife and her mom took a trip a few weeks back and that left me in charge of the dogs and cats for 10 days. Typically, my wife looks after the huskies during the day while she works on the computer from home. I drive into D.C. to put in my time and then look after the dogs when I get home.

Clue number 1: Until this trip the huskies never had 24-hour connection with either one of us. Their typical day is split between us. Mom during the day and me at night.

The huskies sleep in the basement with me in the summer when it’s too hot outside. I originally started to stay with them to make sure they didn’t eat the house. They never did, and I sort of got used to spending that time with them.

During the week when my alarm goes off I get up and tell them, “Time for work.” Then I run them out the back door and take my shower etc. I wanted my first cup of coffee in silence but that wasn’t to be unless I gave soup bones to them.

This bribe allowed me to wake up in peace, and let my wife sleep who has later hours than me. Forgetting the bone means a very loud squawk outside from Nikki to remind me. Loud enough to wake the dead I might add.

In order to keep my morning ritual nice and peaceful I ran downstairs cussing… but pay the bribe to the queen. This allows me time to finish my coffee and head off to work. Second shift (my wife) will have to deal with it after I’m gone.

On the weekends, I don’t tell them “Work” and we all sleep in. For a long time, this system seemed to work very well.

Now we come to the 10 days of me with them all the time.

I began to notice changes by day 3. Previously the dogs slept on the floor or in their beds. Day 3 Nikki decides to jump on the bed with me and I let her. She doesn’t stay long because she gets too warm. So, we sleep in and I mess with them all day and night. We walk, and we do bike runs and pretty much we are all together all the time.

Clue number 2:

The behavior of my huskies keeps changing. This new pack dynamic allows them to attach themselves emotionally to me even more than ever. In a few days Cooper (Mr. Aloof) even spends some bed time with me.

Nikki is beginning to squawk even if I just go to the garage for a few minutes. She is attaching herself to me so much that I have to be in eyesight to keep her happy. I don’t mind the attention but I didn’t stop to think about what would happen when we returned to the old schedule.

Mistake 1: Paying tribute to keep Nikki quiet is doing just the opposite of what I want. I’m teaching her that squawking is going to get her a treat. I’m actually teaching her to squawk more not less. I’m reminded of being a new parent. Every time my daughter would cry we would run to the crib and see what was wrong. Most of the time nothing was wrong and in fact we were being trained by a newborn.

Eventually we were so tired that we didn’t get up and actually could tell the type of crying. The needy cry went unanswered and low and behold it gradually stopped. The first night we all slept through a whole night was like winning the lottery!

Dogs are creatures of habit just like us. They learn a routine, and they have atomic clocks inside their heads to wake them. To this day there is a 2-3 AM potty break that I’m woken up for.

On the other end of the spectrum when the sun goes down its time for sleep. The dogs are used to me going to bed early because I get up so early. When the sun goes down they are ready for bed just like me.

So here we are after this 10 days and we switch back to the old schedule. Nikki doesn’t like the fact that she can’t spend all day with me doing fun things. Cooper even though not as affected shows similar signs of missing all our time together.

Conclusion: By spending too much time with them they have become needy. They don’t like the fact that I’m not here all the time. They show it in non-destructive ways but annoying just the same. Squawking and Roo-Rooing at 4:30 AM does not make good neighbors.

Solution: Gradually I’ve ignored the squawking. I don’t come running every time there is a disturbance in the force. Let serenity be broken… so that they learn I’m not as well-trained as they thought.

If the age-old rule, “All things in moderation.”  It also holds true for these dogs. You cannot fawn over them 24 hours a day during puppy hood, and then suddenly disappear without some kind of repercussion.

I think Cooper is more laid back because when he was a puppy I had him sleep alone on our deck at night. He may not have liked it so much but it certainly did not hurt him. He had time to learn to be alone, and time to be a dog…not my little baby boy.

Nikki as a puppy slept on the bed with us. To this day she is more attached and needy. Is this a golden rule? No, because it could be she is a female, and Cooper a male. It could even be their unique personalities. There is not enough data to make a call, but this is how it is with my dogs.

Working sled dogs sleep in a kennel. A post and chain and dog house is their home. They grew up that way and they don’t mind. It also makes them want to get out and run when they are unhooked. I’m not here to debate whether you think that is right or wrong. It’s a fact, they are working dogs and that’s what they do.

They are not house pets and they don’t know any difference. To them its normal and they are fine with it. They are dogs not people, and they don’t look at the world like we do. They don’t think in terms of fair or not. If their needs are met (Food, shelter, exercise, love) they are happy.

My Conclusion: We create separation anxiety, or we inherit it from a rescue dog. To fix it means to slowly adjust the dog back to a happy balance between our world and theirs. The dog has to learn to be alone at times, and it has to accept that it will not be fawned over constantly. Don’t fall into the trap of bribing them like I did.

They have to have time to be a dog, and be with other dogs. How you do this depends on your dog and how you live. I gave you the clues and you have to find the answer that works in your own pack. There is no easy quick fix way to do it. They need to be weaned off of the constant attention they have. For that is what caused the problem in the first place.

For me, I’ve let Nikki squawk more and soon she gives up. We still have quality time, we run the bike, and I groom them and they sleep with me. But, I’ve cut back on responding to every whim they have. It seems to be working. I keep them tired with running and that helps as well.

Sometimes you have to let the baby cry if nothing else seems wrong.

Exercise, distractions with toys, even being tied outside can help. An active mind needs to be stimulated in some way to keep from going insane. The husky has an active mind, find a way to keep it busy while you are gone.

TJ

3 Comments on “Separation Anxiety

  1. I go through this every fall when I return to school after being home all summer (I am a teacher). I treat the change in schedule with a firm voice and a biscuit in the crate each day as I leave for work. Kubla sleeps all day and is ready for our exercise, dinner together and walks at the end of the day. The first week is a bit nerve-wracking, but then all is well. Great post as always!

    Like

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