When we first got Cassie she had such severe separation anxiety that whenever one of us left the room she would stress out and if one of us left the house she worked herself up into a huge panic. She would beg to go outside a dozen times and then run up and down the stairs and mostly whimper and let the other person know that in her mind, the pack should always stay together. I wondered if we would ever reach the point where we could leave her home alone.
At first she would whine would we put her in the crate but over time she just accepted it and calmed down. We got to the point where we could leave the room and didn’t always have her following at our heels (unless we head to the kitchen but that’s another whole issue.) So it was a big deal a few months ago when we decided we could finally leave her alone in the house without locking her in her crate. We took the door off the crate so she still had a den to go to but when we left the house we gave her free rein. We never leave her for very long, a couple of hours is about it. She’s always been great about it. She doesn’t destroy anything. Doesn’t get into the garbage. She pretty much just hangs out and waits for us to come home. And when we do come home she makes us feel like the most important people in the universe with her five minutes of welcome home love. For the last few months we’ve been leaving her on her own a few times a week for a couple of hours each time with no problems at all.
But something changed recently. My husband left for work one day and Cassie was fine hanging out with me. Not long after that I had to leave too. It seemed like a norm exit. I left and she was happily sitting on her rug by the door, watching me go. She wasn’t excited or frantic (we’ve long since learned to put on our shoes a while before we’re going to leave.) I thought everything was fine. Then I came home a few hours later and the welcome home love attack that normally lasts just five minutes turned into I’m going to glue myself to your leg and never let you out of my sight. She tried to climb in my lap. I invited her onto the couch with me and she jumped up and then tried to climb down it the other side. I moved to work at the table and she straddled the feet of the table, which couldn’t have been very comfy, in order to get as close to me as possible. Every so often she would whimper and nuzzle me. It was a worse anxiety attack than she had had when she was brand new to us. Even a bully stick couldn’t get her attention. She totally ignored it. I took her for a walk. I didn’t help. She continued to follow me everywhere, never settling down, never closing her eyes. I thought when my husband came home and she saw the pack was all together that she would calm down but she just switched back and forth between the two of us.
Bedtime is usually a pretty basic routine and once we’re all upstairs together Cassie crashes on her bed. Not that night. While we sat in bed and read, she paced back and forth from each side, whining, occasionally putting a paw up on the bed. We’ve never allowed her on the bed, not once, so I was shocked to see her try to jump on the bed to get in-between the two of us. Finally, when the lights went out, she settled into her bed and slept. In the morning it was like nothing had ever happened.
This has happened a couple of times now and the last episode was so bad that I know we have a problem to deal with. It’s like she’s forgotten that she has stayed home alone just fine many times without an incident and is thrust back into the feelings and fears she had when she first came to live with us.
I’m in a bit of a writing funk write now. I have a few ideas about how and why but that’s for another post. The thing is right now I’ve forgotten what it is like to be in the middle of a book and have no idea where I am going with it. I’ve forgotten that it really is darkest before the dawn. I’ve forgotten that I’ve written books, finished books, sold books. I’ve forgotten it all and am just all alone, right there in the middle of story that scares the hell out of me for one reason or another. And once that fear grabs you, that irrational fear that doesn’t listen to all your friends and peers telling you how you did it before and you can do it again, well, once that fear grabs you, it’s hard to shake it loose. I can know in my head that the important thing is to just get a crappy draft down but then my heart says a bunch of other stuff and, well, most of us have been on that merry-go-round before.
Most dog training advice centers around repetition so I’m going to try that for myself. Baby steps. Ten minutes. Ten sentences. Ten words. Even if they are the same ten words every day for a while until I break the funk I hope to remind myself of what I know is true, I’ve done this before.
I can do it again.