“I have a dog who was abused in his past and now has behavioral issues. He is very attached to me and doesn’t like when I leave. My BF moved in about 8 months ago, and whenever I leave to go anywhere- the gym, hike, see friends- and my boyfriend is home, the dog pesters him and won’t relax or leave him alone until I get home. I guess he follows him and pants and whines and won’t just lay down and be quiet. I’m not sure what I would do in my BF’s position. He says he just wants a quiet place to lay down and I don’t blame him. When the dog is sectioned away from him, he either barks or has accidents. This is very distressing for me. My BF always lets me know there’s trouble and I feel like I need to leave wherever I am and come back home.
But from my end, it sucks that I can’t go anywhere. I’ve resorted to taking the dog with me places like CVS to pick up meds and instead of going to the gym, hiking the dog. Today we had a big fight about it as I told him this all makes me feel really controlled like I can’t have my freedoms and I can’t go anywhere or see friends (pre- and post-pandemic) because this has been going on for a long time. What is the right thing where? Am I being unreasonable? I understand my BF’s side- he wants to feel relaxed and safe in his own house and not bothered by the dog.
The dog also can’t go to dog parks right now cause of the pandemic and he is even more anxious than usual. He is not aggressive in the slightest but rather painfully anxious and he jumps up when he hears car doors slam because he thinks it’s me. We don’t have a yard for the dog to go outside in. My BF has gone so far as to say that if I insist on going places and leaving him with the dog, he may want to live somewhere else. I am so deeply wounded by this. We are/were planning a life together. He says that I am threatening his psychological well being by not allowing him to have a quiet place to lay down. I know that my dog is an anxious handful. Yes he already has doggie Xanax. What should I do here?”
Dear Didn’t Start the Fire,
Poor little anxious pup.
One of the most challenging aspects of any relationship is in establishing healthy boundaries, enforcing those agreed-upon boundaries, and developing contingency plans for the unexpected. It can be difficult to communicate, especially in such pressured times like this. But it is an absolute necessity in order for you to have a healthy relationship. And I don’t mean just your relationship with your boyfriend. I also mean this in regards to your relationship with your dog as well.
My dog also used to have mild separation anxiety symptoms – symptoms that I know will come back once life gets back to normal. And my vet friend once told me to consider putting a blanket on top of his crate and crate him even when I was home. She told me that doing so could help normalize his crate space as his living space rather than a space he has to go to be alone. The first couple times were very challenging, but he eventually got used to his crate to the point where he’d just chill there even when he wasn’t necessarily being “trained.”
And dog training is often like that. It seems impossible and unmanageable until it isn’t.
It sounds like your pup has severe separation anxiety. You said that your pup is already on canine Xanax. That is a good start to help manage anxiety, but it won’t be the solution to the anxiety caused by the act of separation.
There are a couple ways to actively work at fixing the core issues at hand.
First is by properly establishing expectation with yourself and your boyfriend. It is not your boyfriend’s responsibility to look after your dog; your dog is your sole responsibility. Dog ownership comes with a lot of unwritten expectations, and actively managing and training your canine companion – often at very little recognition or award – is one of those unwritten expectations. Communicate so with your partner and let him know that you’ll be managing your pup’s training on your own.
Next is by determining how you would like to manage your dog’s separation anxiety. Counterconditioning (by aligning good feelings and rewards with being alone) and desensitization (by slowly removing yourself a little further, for longer amount of time each time) are both really great places for you and your pup to start managing his separation anxiety. But if you feel that his separation anxiety is too severe for you to manage on your own, I would advise for you to contact a certified animal or a veterinary behaviorist who can help correct this behavior with you.
Once you have settled on a plan of action, stick with it. Behavior adaptation can be very difficult, especially if it is with an older dog that you’ve been with for a while. Communicate with your boyfriend that these are the steps that you’d like to follow. He does not necessarily need to participate in the correcting your pup’s behavioral routines, but he too needs to understand that you’re doing your best to manage this.
Like I mentioned, it is wholly your responsibility to manage your dog’s anxiety, as his primary owner. So his feelings about not wanting to be around your dog while his anxiety is not as well-managed is fair. And his potential decision to live elsewhere while his constant psychological well-being is threatened by the state of your dog’s anxiety, try not to read it as a slight on your relationship. Just because you two are planning on building a life together does not necessarily mean that you two have to cohabitate in the same home together.
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