Got My Dog Over Sep Anx. Now I Need a Life!

Dear Diary,

I’m feeling blue.

Now that Emma the Beagle is all but cured of her separation anxiety, I feel like life has passed me by. I was so focused on helping Ems, that I became out of step with everyone around me.

See, our challenge was a little different than what most people face when they realize their dog has separation anxiety. In addition to being afraid of being alone, Emma was also afraid to go anywhere. So I couldn’t take her with me to join a friend for a coffee or meal, and if friends called to grab lunch on a whim, I couldn’t do that either, because without planning, I wouldn’t have someone to stay with Emma.

She was also afraid of other dogs, so going on walks with friends and their dogs or going to the dog park was not a possibility.

Emma can now stay home alone for multiple hours, snoozing peacefully all the while, so I can finally get out of the house when I need to. Most of the time when I’m out though, it’s for work. So I still feel a bit like I’m stranded without social connections.

Thus, my next mission is to get MY life back. I’m attending a conference in Portland next week and will visit with some friends while i’m there, so that’s a big win. But when I come home, I need to get my social life back on the rails here.

In the Academy for Dog Trainers we learn that to change a dog’s behavior, we must write up a plan and work it. Every plan starts with the “terminal behavior” we’re aiming to achieve — what we want the dog to be able to do by the end of the training program. And then we figure out what parameters will affect the dog’s ability to succeed.

For example, with Emma’s separation anxiety, my terminal behavior for her was to be able to stay home alone for four hours without feeling anxious. (Uh, mission accomplished!) The parameters that affected her success included:

  • length of duration
  • how much exercise
  • change of food
  • new medications
  • were the windows open or closed
  • who did the training (me, Hubz, both of us, pet sitter?)
  • health issues
  • when did she eat

So, what do I want my terminal behavior to be for my Mission to Get a Life? It’s kind of tricky, because it’s more a feeling than an action, but… how about something like “Rebuild relationships with old friends and make new friends so that I can do at least one social activity a week.”

My god that sounds so pathetic. But what can I do? It’s where I am.

And what are my parameters? Maybe something like …

  • Number of client visits per week
  • Number of exercise hours per week
  • Number of nights I cook dinner
  • Number of hours Emma can stay home alone
  • Whether I schedule regular pet sitter visits
  • Emma’s ability to be around other dogs

I’m already starting to work on helping Emma overcome her fears of other dogs, so that we can hang out in friends’ yards or in the dog park. It’s going to be a slow process, but at least we’re moving in the right direction. Emma really wants to go inside. I let her vote with her feet. If she eagerly bounces to go in, who am I to argue? I just need to help her feel safe when other dogs get too close.

Most of these parameters deal with time management. Basically, I need to make sure I have time available for a social life. I’m going to start tracking each of these parameters to see if I can find the sweet spot of life/health/work balance.

So that’s where we are. I’ve now announced to you, Diary, that I am going to create a spreadsheet to collect data in order to give myself a life. I think that officially lands me in the “nerd” category. It’s a good thing I’m writing this privately to you, rather than for the world to see, because I might have just reduced my chances for a social life — unless I have other nerd friends out there. They’d understand. And actually, the ones that do get it are the ones I want to spend my time with anyway.

Thank you for listening, Diary. I feel much better.

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