I should know better by now than to read articles in journals which claim to have ‘experts’ writing about dog behaviors and how to resolve them.
The lack of real knowledge and understanding is astounding…and infuriating.
This serves to remind me that very few people have truly studied canine behavior in a meaningful way; ways which would put the canine’s perspective front-and-center rather than continue to promote human projections that do nothing but disservice to dogs and continue to make matters worse by continually disseminating wrong information.
The most recent piece of misinformation I skimmed (cringing while doing so, dreading what I would read) was about Separation Anxiety, something that has become very common over the last 50 years or so in our domestic dogs. The cause has everything to do with our human behaviors and interactions with our dogs, which have devolved (won’t say ‘evolved’ since it is truly a deterioration in behaving correctly and kindly with them) into seeing and treating the dog as if they were children.
The author stated Separation Anxiety occurs because “the dog hates to be alone” and that just thirty years ago, “Mom stayed at home all day while Dad went off to work, so dogs were less exposed to isolation…”
Hmm…so are they saying as an entire species, dogs ALL had someone at home with them all the time? So the majority of them now exhibit SA as a result of no “Mom” at home?
That’s just silly and I don’t know about you, but this statement is rather sexist and, in my own experience, isn’t correct at all. Thirty years (and more) ago dogs were left to their own devices, allowed out in the morning to wander and do their own thing, coming back later to eat and to be safe in the home at night. That situation was much more common than any kind of “Donna Reed” or “Father Knows Best” lifestyle.
Even if one parent did stay at home, the dog was given free reign to come and go as they liked and it wasn’t questioned by the humans. In fact, the parents I know would shoo the dog out more often than welcome them in, because they recognized them as being animals, not children requiring constant care, oversight and *shudder*, “stimulation”. The dogs were most often found lying about in the yard, under the porch where it was cool, or taking in the sunshine while relaxing on the grass.
In reality, Separation Anxiety is panic and that panic is caused by the dog’s belief that their dependent, their ‘baby’, is going out ‘into the wild’ without the dog for protection. Simple.
Imagine if your toddler walked out the door and you weren’t allowed to follow. The panic you would feel would drive you mad! This is the reason for the dog’s behaviors in worrying about where you are and whether you’re alright…or even alive!
In the article the author touts the use of “training” to resolve Separation Anxiety (SA). Training does nothing to change the dog’s mind about what it’s doing and why. In fact, training can actually back fire because when we react and respond to a dog’s behaviors we reinforce the very behaviors we don’t want. This means when a dog begins to panic because they know you’re getting ready to leave and we respond to it by giving them food, reassuring them, talking at them, interacting with them, the dog’s understanding is that you, too, are very anxious about leaving.
Dog can also quickly figure out that the panic behavior will get 100% of your attention and focus thereby keeping you with them longer, when our goal should be to help the dog to become relaxed and unconcerned about our departure.
In reality, when we give the dog the right information they will get to the point where they don’t even notice you’ve gone!
Toileting in the home is common with SA. This behavior is simply the dog’s way of trying to help the missing family member find their way home. By laying down scent, the dog hopes it’s loved one will pick up the scent and find their way back home. It’s isn’t at all about any expression of anger or resentment on the dog’s part. Dogs just don’t think that way. Their goal is to preserve the group, keep the numbers consistent for the group’s survival. Yes, they can grow to love us, certainly, and that love encompasses that concern and worry for the missing person’s survival.
Destruction is also common with SA. The dog tries to find something which has its family member’s scent on it in order to feel closer to them. Imagine your child has gone missing, and you go into their room, pick up a piece of clothing or their pillow, put it to your face and inhale their scent. We all have done this at one time or another; it’s an instinctive behavior. For the dog in a white-hot panic, however, it may not be enough to just have the scent so they begin to chew whatever they find. Quite often it’s the television remote, or shoes or socks; anything that’s saturated with the human’s scent. The chewing is calming for the dog because it releases beneficial, calming hormones in the dog’s brain, meaning they are attempting to self-medicate. In human terms, people with a missing child might bite their nails, or eat, or perhaps take in alcohol to calm their nerves.
Howling and barking are expressions of anxiety but also used to call their missing person home. The howling is simply about hoping the ‘baby’ hears it and follows the howls home again, safely.
Besides training, another recommendation that is always given by ‘experts’ is to give the dog possession of a stuffed Kong. It’s thought the by giving the dog food it will “keep them busy and occupied” so they won’t be acting out, presumably it distracts them, too. As we know, humans are often prone to engaging in emotional eating, but even when that is done, it doesn’t relieve the worry and anxiety from our minds, correct?
Very often people will recount the experience of returning home, only to find the Kong completely untouched. At least until the dog decides to use it to gain its human’s attention.
Adding to this, giving a dog possession of a food item, whether it’s a filled food dish that is left down all the time, or a stuffed Kong gives the dog the information which reinforces their belief in being responsible for everyone. Food is an extremely potent signal in the canine world, and it is the leader who makes all decisions around it, controlling this most precious, life-preserving resource. If the dog can take food anytime it chooses, then in the dog’s mind that would naturally make them the leader, decision-maker, protector, provider.
In essence, when we give the dog a stuffed Kong and leave, we make matters exponentially worse emotionally for our dogs in terms of their state of mind and state of panic.
As far as how to resolve SA, which is truly quite a simple process, we need only to correct our interactions and make small changes in our own behavior with and around our dogs in order to send the information the dogs need to release the anxiety and panic about our absence. Learning to arrive and also to leave correctly is something that easily and simply begins the process of showing your dog you are confident and capable coming and going from the home. When all four areas of a dog’s greatest concern are addressed, the dog can then begin to trust your leadership and decision-making.
Also, a practice called Gesture Leaving shows the dog through concrete action that you can ‘disappear’ and still come back whole and healthy. Creating a separation between you and your dog such as walking into the next room and closing the door behind you re-enacts leaving. Stay behind the door for seconds at first, then come back into the room with your dog, all the while keeping your head up and going about your business as though nothing has happened. For the dog, however, this is a very big happening and the more it’s repeated, slowly lengthening the time of separation and successfully reappearing for your dog, the sooner he/she learns through experience that you are more than capable of taking care of yourself without their aid.
Learning through experience…observing your actions…not ‘training’ with food reward or “reassurance” to confound, complicate and distract.
Setting up an environment for learning; creating “teachable moments” when our dogs are calm and when we are calm so the dog can focus, observe and actually take in what we are attempting to show them with our actions.
This is how dogs learn.
This is how to resolve Separation Anxiety for your dog.
Once again, posts are appearing on Social Media depicting long lines at rescue and shelter facilities of people who are wanting or needing to surrender their pets. This seems to be a common occurrence during the summer months as well as during the holidays; times when people are expecting visitors or when they themselves are wanting to travel, or for whatever other reasons. Odd that there is this pattern, and some dispute this actually happens, but I tend to lean toward verifying it with the shelters and rescues themselves if there is a question of the veracity of their postings.
There are a myriad of reasons why surrendering occurs, and whether it’s out of convenience or need I would like to believe there is an emotional cost to the person having to make this terribly hard decision.
Some reasons are unavoidable such as a sudden illness and the need for hospitalization; sudden death and no one in the family can or desires to take the decedent’s pet; an opportunity to travel; a change in location that results in the inability to find a new home that will allow animals; a change in health, such as allergies developing, or a debilitating illness that disallows care to be given by the owner; the breakup of a family and the animal cannot be taken with either party; a change in work schedule that would leave the animal alone for extended periods of time; a change in income so appropriate care and/or feeding can no longer be provided to the animal; a new relationship in which one of the partners doesn’t match up well with the animal personality-wise or health-wise ( I know, I know…some would say “get rid of that partner” but that’s really sticky for anyone…); and on and on.
We cannot possibly predict what life will hand us and how our circumstances can change in a heartbeat. It’s for this reason it’s so important we reserve our judgement.
Having said this, however, it is incumbent upon us to really think hard BEFORE we decide to adopt a dog, or any animal for that matter whether we are currently healthy and stable in our lives or not.
Case in point: I currently have two dogs. One is thirteen years old, the other is approximately eight or nine years old. I am turning sixty this year, and my husband is sixty-two. Hopefully, both dogs continue to live healthy lives and end up passing on the high end of things; optimistically the youngest could live to maybe fifteen or a little past that. This means I will then be about sixty-six, and my husband will almost be seventy.
If we were to adopt another dog after our youngest passes and that dog lives a normal life span (small dogs: thirteen to fifteen years, tops, and larger dogs perhaps anywhere from ten to fifteen, depending upon the breed and size) this means we could be well into our eighties when the dog passes.
Certainly the hope is we would be hale and hearty and outlive our beloved animals, but who can say? Realistically speaking, it’s so important to think about the possibilities of things happening and if something were to happen to us, we don’t have anyone who would be able to, or would be willing to, take the animals.
So is it really fair to the animal(s) to adopt?
Why risk the animal’s future if it can be avoided by a simple, common sense approach of just considering what can and often does happen in the aging population and making a plan for what would become of the animals?
I can honestly say I’m not ecstatic at the prospect of becoming an animal-free household one day, but I also know there are lots of ways I can find to continue have happy interactions with them without bringing them into our home to live.
Please, think and plan BEFORE you adopt an animal. Plan ahead for the unexpected. Put the animal’s well-being at the forefront before you make what can be an impulsive, emotional decision to bring it home with you.
Yay! It’s National Dog Day!
All day long I’ve been seeing posts on all of the difference social media platforms, celebrating this special day to proclaim our love for our dogs! Lovely, right?
Not so fast.
People who believe and claim they love their dogs make some very interesting choices regarding the way they live with them and treat them.
They will spare no expense, buying little clothes to dress them up, buy the best food, buy cameras with which to watch them while we’re absent or enroll them in doggie daycare, take a million photos and videos, posting them to show the world how adored they are by their family, proclaiming them to be their “furbabies” or calling themselves the dog’s “mom”, and posting about the sacrifices they make for them.
And yet, many of these same people…
Will use collars that shock, vibrate, beep, poke, prong, choke to “train” or to issue “corrections” to manage their dog’s behaviors.
They will use halters that squeeze their dogs, restricting their natural movement and breathing, or halters that go around their dog’s muzzles designed to keep the dog from turning their heads because while on their sometimes twice-daily forced marches (walks) that people claim their dogs LOVE, because they react to every dog and person they see out of fear and pull like freight trains so this activity is a constant struggle for control.
They’ll use their leash to yank on the dog’s neck to get them to walk beside them or to stop them from sniffing at something while on the walk. This yank, too, is called “correction”.
They will put the dog outside for hours on end, alone, because their behavior inside the home is irritating and bothersome. Or, because they believe a dog should be given the opportunity to be outside in the fresh air, because they are dogs.
They will take their dogs on a walk or run in every kind of weather, sometimes twice a day, in extremes of hot or cold, in any kind of environment no matter how scary for the dog, sometimes for hours on end in an effort to exhaust the dog because they’ve been told, “a tired dog is a good dog”. Even when the dog resists going.
They’ll crate their dogs for the entire day, sometimes up to, or even beyond, ten hours a day while they’re at work.
They take their dog into every conceivable situation, face them with every kind of frightening environment for the dog, to make them get used to it and call this “socializing”. And correct them for what the people see as bad behavior, when in fact the dog is responding to the fear it is feeling.
They’ll shout at their dogs to shut them up or to make them behave, or use a loud, scary tone of voice to issue commands because they believe that’s how a “leader” should sound. They’ll use shouting and a scary, threatening demeanor when they find their dogs have toileted in the home or destroyed something in their absence claiming the dog “knows what they did”.
They will issue constant orders at their dog, known as commands, in an effort to control their every move so the dog doesn’t have the opportunity to behave naturally, learn naturally or relax.
They’ll hiss at their dog, or chop at it with their hand as a form of “correction”.
They will strive to constantly “stimulate” their dog, not allowing them the natural times of rest and relaxation which would normally comprise the bulk of the dog’s day, then become frustrated with their dog’s hyperactivity.
If we humans were on the receiving end of this treatment, would we perceive it as being “loved”? Would we feel celebrated?
On the whole, I can’t fault people for their choices because quite honestly I have made many, many mistakes myself. People can only do what they know, and often advice is issued by their veterinarians who aren’t schooled in dog behavior and training themselves, but rely upon trainers they know or have heard of from clients. Or, celebrity status has elevated individuals to the level of expert where they have no business being. There is a dizzying array of books, manuals and DVDs telling people how to achieve “success” with their dogs, how to produce the “perfect” dog through obedience training. And very much of this advice misses the mark when it comes to truly understanding the dog as an animal of high intelligence who acts out of strong, purposeful instincts.
Up until now all we’ve had are trainers who focus solely on the behavior of the dog, treating the behavior in isolation and treating the dog as if they’re stupid creatures who behave mechanically, so a mechanical approach is best, ignoring the fact that our dogs are intelligent, feeling animals with a culture all their own. And because of this, we aren’t addressing the true reason for the behavior itself.
Putting things in human terms, if our toddler is screaming, we search for the source of the distress; we deal calmly, patiently, proactively and lovingly with whatever it is that is causing the upset and we do it in such a way that the child understands and is calmed by our response. We don’t just scream at the child, or yank on his/her arm, or shove them outdoors, or put something on them that shocks/vibrates/sprays/chokes/prongs them to get them to stop, or shout at them if they’ve toppled a water glass 20 minutes before we find it when they won’t remember what happened and won’t understand why we’re upset with them and are scaring them. If we did any of these things, we could risk losing custody of our child.
But we cannot do better until we know there is a better way.
And there IS a better way to treat and train and live with your dog.
First, one must understand why the dog is doing what it’s doing in any given moment. Just knowing that your dog has a true reason behind its behavior opens a new connection between you. Understanding brings patience and compassion and real change.
So if we’re going to claim we love our dogs (and I have absolutely no doubt that most people truly DO love their dogs!), then we must open our minds to seeing our dogs in a different light, learn about how they see the world and why they do what they do.
When we do, we can discover that the love we thought we had for our dogs was nothing compared to what has been waiting for us on the other side of change, learning and growth.
Simple. Positive. Profoundly effective. #theABway
We, as so many others in the Eastern part of the U.S., have been living through an Arctic deep freeze. For us, this means that during the coldest parts of the night, our house ‘pops’. The cold makes our house make noises that, if one didn’t know what they were, could make a person think that someone is hurling bricks at it. This leads one of our dogs, Tinker, to begin barking.
Usually at about 3:30 AM.
In many people’s minds our dogs are being silly when they bark about such things. We of course know full well that there is no danger because we’re humans and we understand such things. But really, how can our dogs know there is no danger? They’re animals.
But many people do assume that because our dogs live in our homes that they, too, understand that these noises pose no real danger so being roused at 3:30 AM a few nights in a row is more along the lines of a reason to become frustrated, even angry with the dog. Some may lie in bed and shout at the dog to be quiet, or stomp over to the dog and show it by talking (shouting) angrily at it how angry they’re feeling at being awakened at that time of night.
But has this really provided clear reassurance to the dog that there is no threat and that there is nothing to be concerned about?
Quite the contrary. When we behave in these ways with our dogs, they look at us, see our upset and decide that their person is very concerned about the noise too and furthermore is looking to the dog to handle whatever this potential danger is because they’re simply too rattled to face the problem well. This precipitates more stress being experienced by the dog, and very often this greater experience of stress means increased vigilance by the dog, pairing with increased barked warnings. The situation has been made worse.
When in scary situations, we all look for assurance and information, don’t we? Someone to tell us that all is well and we can relax.
I think of a time when our boiler began making strange noises in the basement one night as it turned on to provide heat for the house. It would roar to life and shudder while doing so, rattling the house and I can tell you I was more than concerned; I was terrified. I ran to my husband in alarm, telling him something is terribly wrong and that I’m afraid the house will blow up. Of course he became alarmed as well. Neither of us is schooled in how boilers work or how to maintain them. So we called on those who do possess the knowledge and expertise…the authorities on boilers.
Thankfully, after explaining what was happening, the gentleman at our oil company told us what was happening which was a very simple thing of water somehow getting blown back into the exhaust and making a problem for the boiler. He then said that all we had to do was to push the “reset” button on the boiler and it would resume normal functioning.
He did all this in a calm, confident, relaxed and competent manner which immediately brought reassurance and calm to my husband and me. We pushed the button, and all was well once again.
My husband and I did exactly what our dog Tinker was doing: bringing to an authority’s attention that there was a possible threat to our safety and well-being in the hopes that we would receive support and information we needed in order to know whether there was further action to be taken.
In Tinker’s case, I simply walked through the rooms he inhabits, looked out of the windows in a relaxed and calm manner while he watched, uttered a calm, quiet, “Thank you”, and returned to bed. We all went back to sleep.
I did have to repeat it the next night, and this time our other dog, Emmett, got into the barking act. I did the very same thing for the both of them as I had done the first night. And we all went back to sleep.
Simple. Clear. Easy. Calm.
Think of the times you’ve been faced with a perplexing or alarming situation and see how your behavior is the same as your dog’s when he barks in alarm.
Calm communication providing information in the way our dogs can understand answers their needs and concerns in any situation with them, just as it does for us.
One of my clients reached out to me with a very upsetting experience this week, asking me what I think of “socialization”. Hmmm…
What had happened was that she and her husband had driven to a drop-off point, meeting their dog food distributor, and happened to have brought along their NewFoundland. While they had parked in a place that had been previously far enough away from other cars, for whatever reason other people began parking nearby. Their dog doesn’t spend lots of time riding in the car, but had accompanied his carers to food deliveries before but what occurred was completely frightening to the poor boy.
My client related that at first someone took their dog out of their car for bathroom break, and walked near to my client’s car. Her Newfie barked (appropriately) and was answered by my client, although she could then see he had been a bit ruffled and was now a bit more on alert. More cars began arriving. More concerned barking ensued.
Shortly after this little incident, a person approached my client’s truck, having heard him barking and began sticking their hand into my client’s car, while at the same time asking, “Can I pet him?Is he friendly?” The dog began to growl, while also trying to back away from the person’s hand. My client answered, “Yes, he is, but he doesn’t know you.” She also politely requested that they ignore the dog, and to not put their hand into the truck, because it’s the dog’s space. The person then began to instruct my client on socialization (apparently this individual has lived with Newfies, so of course believe they knew about the breed), how important it is for this type of dog to be “socialized”, etc., etc.
Then, shortly after, another person approached the truck and began to put their hand in through the open window to pet the dog, while the dog growled and backed up. My client’s husband asked the woman not to do this, that although he is a friendly dog, there is too much stimulation for him currently and he needed to calm down.
To put this scenario in a human perspective, suppose you’re sitting in your car, awaiting a delivery, as these folks were. Suddenly, someone you don’t know approaches your car and proceeds to put their hands in your face, your hair, and on your body. Think you would pull away? Perhaps even shout at the person, push away their hands and tell them off? I know I would!
Or suppose your children are sitting in their car seats in the back seat of your car and a stranger walks up and puts their hands on your children? In my mind, they would draw back a stump!
What is this bizarre notion that a dog is supposed to tolerate everyone’s hands on them? That somehow we should “make” them be instant friends with all they meet? Maybe train them to just put up with every person who wants to touch them, to get into their face and space. They are animals, concentrated on their survival every day. They cannot know who is kind and who isn’t by smell alone! And honestly, we share this same “stranger = danger” instinct with them. If a stranger comes to my door, I’m very cautious and keep the outer door closed to them until I learn what their presence means. If an unfamiliar person approaches my car, my window gets raised so I can feel safer. Imagine that you’re sitting at a stoplight and some random person jumps into your car with you. Are you going give him a big smile and ask where he needs a ride to? If he shows up in your living room unannounced, are you going invite him to tea?
Of course not!
It’s absolutely absurd for people to assume they can handle every dog they meet at that the dog “should” be thrilled about it. Dogs don’t have the language necessary to tell these kinds of pushy people to back off. They don’t have hands to push away those hands that are in their face. And often they are leashed so their ability to flee has been taken away or, in this case, they are in an enclosed space and have no means of escape.
They have teeth. That’s it.
The real crime is that if they should feel the need to use those teeth, after having given fair warning with a growl and demonstrated their wish to take flight by backing up as my client’s dog did as the intruder insisted they should be able to touch the dog, the one bitten would immediately cry foul, try to shame the dog’s carers by claiming they haven’t appropriately socialized their dog, and maybe even report the dog for a bite, saying there is something wrong with the dog and it’s vicious.
It happens every day.
It doesn’t have to. If people would learn about the true nature of their dogs, their dog’s perspective and survival needs, putting aside their own egos and investment as being seen as “dog people”, even take the time and interest necessary to learn what dog’s signals mean, then dogs would be given a choice, just as we given one another a choice about interaction, just as we give our children a choice about interaction.
It’s called empathy. It’s called compassion.
I often read the short, informational write-ups about dogs who are in need of a home and so many of them state the dog is the type that “needs to be with their person”, meaning the dog has suffered separation anxiety in the past, this is just a part of who they are, so they need to be adopted by a person who can be with them 24/7.
My heart sinks.
Not just because I know that separation anxiety is something that I regularly help my clients work through with their dogs to success, but also because I know that the dogs who are said to “have” separation anxiety will linger longer in shelters and rescues, some even to the point where they are put to sleep because a new family just can’t be found who can meet the dog’s needs. Those who seek to help the dog find a happy new home are without realizing it, dooming these dogs to lose out on a great home, just by typing those two dreaded words: Separation Anxiety.
People speak of separation anxiety as if it’s a kind of character flaw, something that is in the dog’s DNA make-up, something that just can’t be changed and is an integral part of who the dog is and it’s personality.
Separation anxiety occurs when a dog is mistakenly believing that it is responsible for the people in the household, so when the people leave and the dog can’t follow, the dog experiences very real panic. Think of yourself, watching your toddler walk out the door and you’re unable to follow to supervise and protect the baby. We could all honestly say we would ourselves go into a blind panic!
Dogs who are experiencing this separation anxiety will then try to find whatever has their person’s scent on it, in an effort to at least “feel” closer to the missing member. Very similar to a person going into their missing loved one’s room, finding an article of clothing that has been worn, and deeply inhaling their scent. (Interesting how we share instincts with our dogs, isn’t it?) Think of the items that are chewed most often; remote controllers, shoes, sofas. These are all thing which we spend lots of time handling/wearing/lounging on. Or, it may be the dog tries to tear through the door, the window casing, whatever is nearest to the exit the person regularly uses to leave the home, trying their level best to break out and find their “baby”.
Sadly, though, just finding their human’s scent isn’t enough, so the destruction begins. I’ve often been told by clients that they think the dog is “angry” or, “bored” and destroys to exact revenge or to just enjoy or busy themselves. This is far from the truth; chewing releases endorphins in the dog’s brain that help to calm them. In effect, our dogs will chew to self-medicate just to get through this horrible ordeal they’re experiencing. In human terms think of relieving stress by chewing fingernails, or even emotional eating!
What to do about separation anxiety? Simple. Communicate clearly to the dog, in the way the dog can actually understand, that they have no worries, no responsibilities for the people in the home and, in fact, the people are the ones responsible for keeping everyone safe and protected. When this is done consistently and calmly, establishing leadership and maintaining that position through every interaction of every day, the dog can then simply relax and take the opportunity to enjoy the quiet home, settling down for a good nap!
Want to learn how to communicate clearly with your dog? Call me.
Any changes in our dog’s environment can cause the dog to “ask questions”, that is display behaviors that we’ve either not seen in quite some time, or display new ones we’ve never seen. In our case, it was my husband’s schedule change once the new school year began.
John had been home all summer, all day every day, and the new school year meant he was once again leaving early in the morning and returning in the evening, sometimes late. I didn’t think too much about it until Emmett began some behaviors that I hadn’t seen in quite a long while. We’ve been applying Amichien Bonding with our dogs for approximately six years now and our dogs have calmed to such an extent that I hardly think about it anymore. So when Emmett began acting up, at first I didn’t quite catch on.
It began that first week with Emmett standing at the back door and barking as if asking to go out. Distracted, I would waited a few moments, then breezed by and opened the door to allow him outside. He didn’t go out but just stood there, sniffing the breeze. I closed the door. A few moments later he repeated this bark, looking at me expectantly once more. (I only know he looked at me because I checked in my peripheral vision). I didn’t comply, instead ignoring him. Emmett barked again. I left the room.
Now, the reason I did this was because Emmett had already been out that morning, just about an hour and a half earlier, so I thought this wasn’t a real “call of nature”, having given him the benefit of the doubt the first time. After all, we all have upsets from time to time. This time, however, I knew that this was his way of questioning and I answered in a way he immediately understood which was to not only ignore him, but to absent myself from him. Emmett is a very intelligent dog and one who leans toward the end of being an anxious dog as well, so my answers to him must be swift and unequivocal.
The next day, Emmett stood in the middle of our bedroom and issued a series of barks, just one or two, then would wait to see what would happen. Because I was in another room, I simply thanked him and kept on with what I was doing. Again, he barked. I walked into the room, looked out of the windows (without looking at him), said thank you once more and walked out. A few moments later, “Bark!” I walked past the doorway, pulled the door closed, made sure he was quiet, then counted slowly to five. I reopened the door and ignored him.
The week went on like this, with Emmett barking every so often, and at first I was just a bit exasperated because I didn’t understand why he was suddenly doing this questioning. In my mind, there was no reason that I could see that he should be uncertain of his place. Each time I gave him a clear answer, he would settle into his favorite nesting place and enjoy some downtime.
But then, it dawned on me. Of course! It was my husband’s schedule that had been a change, one that necessitated sorting out in Emmett’s mind. If he wasn’t satisfied that our pack had a trustworthy leader, regardless of the changes in the household, then he would have to step up and that is the last thing he wanted. The certainty of leadership is the key to the group’s survival. Emmett had no way of knowing whether John was going to return or not, so to Emmett the pack size had changed, meaning the roles of the individuals who are left must be sorted out. I told him what I needed to know.
It took Emmett a bit over a week to really understand the new rhythm of our schedule and now he’s stopped “asking” and is his old self again, snoozing in the sun, watching the birds through the window and enjoying life just being a dog. All because he knows I’m there, ready and capable of being the leader he needs.