“Walkiessssss”, a word that is almost guaranteed to prompt an uncontrollable excited response from almost any dog; except Charlie it would seem!
For weeks Paul and I have been waiting for the big day, we planned the route we would take him on, checked the weather, cooed over how much he’s going to LOVE the lake and LOVE the canal and LOVE the park; well what an anti-climax. He hated his harness, he hated his lead and he wanted to be carried the whole time; on all the socialisation ‘carry walks’ he cried to be put down and NOW he cries to be picked up? Classic lad behaviour, doesn’t know what we wants!
If you say “walkiessss” to our little spaniel you will be met with a cowering, flat, pancake pup giving you their best puppy dog eyes. What does get Charlie “walkies” level excited though is “Do you want to go outside for wee wee poo poo?”. Yep, he is SO gassed for a bowel movement (pun absolutely intended). As a result mine and Paul’s main topic of regular conversation now sounds like this “Did he go?”, “Yeah he went”, “How was it?”, “Yeah solid, bit pale”. Who knew that Bristol Stool chart training from my ward based days would come so in handy. Needless to say Charlie would, currently, rather stay (harness free) within the confines of
our his garden. He goes out, does his business and then sits by the door waiting to come back in to his house.
“Alexa, Is our spaniel broken?”
Prior to getting Charlie, Paul and I were (I want to say) ‘keen walkers’ but I feel like that makes us sound like those old couples with the walking poles that you see; probably will be us in the future though, no point denying it. We enjoy walking and finding new places; fun fact we have a shared collection on Apple Maps which we titled “walks” (I know, imaginative!) where we pin new places we want to go to.
On the weeks that led up to getting Charlie and before the world started going crazy, my Fitbit would be clocking 20,000 steps a day. The first two weeks of life with Charlie, our routine was so out of whack, I’d be lucky to clock 2,000 steps a day; it was sofa, fridge, sofa with the dog again vibes for a while.
So what did I do about it? I stopped wearing my Fitbit.
Over the following weeks, Paul and I kept getting tagged in circulating Facebook posts about “Separation Anxiety in Dogs”. All the posts were about an anticipated rise in ‘Canine Separation Anxiety’ when the Covid-19 pandemic becomes under control and pet owners return to work. You may have seen this topic resurface over the last few days. Now, this may sound strange given that I work in a Mental Health setting but I didn’t ever really consider Separation Anxiety being something that affected dogs; every days a school day. Perhaps this was my naivety or perhaps it was due to the positive experiences I’ve had with previous family dogs being independent and OK with being left for periods of time. Now, this is not to say Paul and I hadn’t already started talking about US needing to get used to leaving HIM (who is it that experiences the separation anxiety again?) because we had.
In the news, we are constantly reminded of the “unprecedented” times that we are in; unprecedented is a word I’ve come to have an irrational hatred for. I don’t want to say we’ve been lucky to have had all this time with Charlie because I would be undermining the devastating effects that Covid-19 has had on people’s lives, families and businesses; but we are somewhat grateful (eeekk I even wince saying that) for the knock-on effect of ‘Lockdown’ in that it’s given us more time than usual with Charlie.
Paul and I had begun discussing that gross thing called “real life” (yuck!). Regardless of how flexible our employers are and regardless of the plans we have for the future we are never going to be around as much as we are right now. Therefore, by not leaving Charlie for periods of time we were almost being cruel by filling him with false hope for a future that we wouldn’t be able to maintain. Thus the decision was made; we need to get out more (literally).
The first time we left Charlie it was for about an hour whilst we went for a walk. We set up the laptop in front of the crate and we Zoom called it from my mobile so we could watch him alone (creepier than I anticipated it would sound); the outcome was very boring, he slept the entire time! Like the creeps we apparently are, we also snuck back into the house and peaked around the corner to spy on him before loudly running into the room like “CHARLIE, WE ARE BACKKK”, “CHARLIE HAVE YOU MISSED USSSS????”, “LOOK CHARLIE WE COME BACK WHEN WE LEAVEEEEEE!!!”. I’m worried for the next time we have to see our neighbours to be honest.
After a few weeks of these “little leaves” we made the bolder move to leave Charlie for a few hours. I know a milestone moment in any dog parent’s life. I’m not going to lie I was dreading it, I tried to convince Paul multiple times that we shouldn’t do it but realistically I knew it needed to be tried and tested (and hopefully failed so I can quit my job and fulfill the dream of being a stay at home dog parent).
We had made the decision that we didn’t want to leave Charlie in a crate for that long a period of time; not that there is anything wrong with this. In an ideal world we just hope to get rid of the crate completely and trust Charlie to have free reign over some areas of the house; though we are a long, long way off this. Right now we are at the ‘given half the chance he would make a bee line for my sofa cushions and shred them to smithereens’ stage. Literally, as I’m typing his I’m clocking him moving his toy ever closer to the edge of the cushion ready to do the old switcheroo when I’m not looking. So yeah, definitely a while off!
So, somewhere between a crate and a whole house we struck a happy medium; we cornered off a section of the living room for Charlie and moved anything electrical out of reach. We barricaded Charlie into said section using a very high tech device called, the back of the sofa. Our sofa is the perfect size to wedge between the wall and the breakfast bar so he can’t get around it and it’s too high for him to jump over it (cue evil mwhahahah).
Although, in hindsight this could have been a risky move if he decided to do a “we can’t go round it, we can’t go over it, we’ve got to go through it!” , ‘Bear Hunt’ chewing rampage; if you don’t know this reference you clearly don’t have nursery/early primary aged children in your life and it shows.
Thankfully, the back of our sofa is still intact.
Next: some things to keep
him from chewing up the house entertained.
The area was equipped with every variety of toy imaginable; rope, squeaky, teddy, bones the lot. We stuffed his Kong full of kibble and left a Jumbone in his basket but I feel the real winner here was his LickiMat. If you aren’t familiar with the LickiMat, don’t worry, I wasn’t either less than 8 weeks ago. In short they are a textured rubber mat that you can smoother food and treats on. There are a few different designs all with proven benefits including oral health and mental stimulation. The repetitive licking action encouraged by the LickiMat releases endorphins, which is apparently soothing for stressing dogs.
I smothered Charlie’s LickiMat with natural peanut butter and kefir yoghurt a few hours before and put it in the freezer. Charlie has the ‘LickiMat Buddy’ which is rated by DogLab as the ‘Best All-round’ mat; they report ‘average lick times’ for frozen treats at 25 minutes! 25 minutes of peace when you need to get something done or 25 minutes of them not chewing your skirting boards, sofa’s, slippers or *insert favourite non edible chew item*; either way it’s worth every penny! I promise I don’t work for LickiMat nor am I getting any commission! Honestly, I was still in the house a solid 5 minutes after giving Charlie his LickiMat and the boy literally didn’t even notice. I was like “I’m going now Charlie, OK”, “I’m going out for a bit now darling”, “Charlie?”, “BYE THEN”; he barely even lifted his eyes to glance at me. Ouch.
“Alexa, play Charlie’s play list”.
That’s right Charlie has his own Apple Music playlist. A 2017 study by Bowman and Evans showed that playing music reduces stress in dogs, with less barking, lower respiratory rates and lower levels of Cortisol present (the stress hormone). I’d love to say I read this study and considered the findings and thus created a playlist of the back of it. I didn’t. A 2020 study by Paul and Rachael just happened to stumble across how chilled Charlie became when certain songs came on our different play lists; so we created him one of his own which we put on throughout the day but particularly when we are going out.
So Charlie’s new set up was something Paul could only dream of; his own space, chilled music, supplies of food and a few hours away from me. I doubt we even crossed Charlie’s mind, us on the other hand, for those few hours we left Charlie, he was the obvious topic of discussion. “I wonder what he’s up to.” , “What do you think he’s doing RIGHT NOW?”, “Do you think he’s OK?”, “I wonder if he’s chewing everything.” Honestly I’m talking about easing Charlie’s anxieties but it really would ease ours if we actually just did what we keep saying we will do and ORDER A DOGGY CAM; it’s been on the list for ages. Needless to say Charlie survived the three hours without us and we just about survived the three hours without him. When we got home, for the first time we had that butterfly ‘walking in to an excited dog’ moment; it was lovely.
So you might be thinking, all is well a good hey? Look at these two parents hmmmmm, leaving their dog so he doesn’t develop Separation Anxiety. What a smug pair. WRONG. We were leaving him; were being the key word in that sentence. Now Charlie
is being dragged can actually come on the dreaded walkies, it means we have quite quickly gotten out of the habit of leaving him AT ALL because wherever we are going he can just come; yaay perfect! back to square one.
I don’t know about you guys but I’ve evidently found it difficult to strike a balance between *cue Boris Johnson accent* taking him on walks, not taking him on walks, taking him in the car if you can but if you can’t then don’t, leaving him on his own but absolutely not leaving him on his own.
This week we’ve really tried to get back on top of the whole ‘leaving him for periods of time’ thing again but we’ve also decided to try something else. With restrictions starting to somewhat ease in England and therefore some businesses opening up again, we have decided to book Charlie in for his first day of school aka ‘Doggy Day Care’. Unlike literally ever other decision in my life, I found this one really easy to make. For me, doggy day care was the best and obvious way for Charlie to have fun and socialise with other dogs in a safe controlled environment whilst learning to be away from us.
Although Paul and I are still ‘full-time working from home’ for the foreseeable so we don’t actually need to use a day care service, it is something we are more than likely going to use for the odd day at some point in the future; so it’s best to get
us used to it Charlie to experience this as early as possible. Honestly, Paul and I are going to be LOST when we drop him for his first day and we have to spend all day at home without him.
So that’s the (anxie)TEA this week with us.
In Keith Lemon style “Yeah yeah but what’s the message?” The message is
ignore it all and spend more time with your dog don’t feel guilty for spending too much time with your pup, don’t feel guilty for leaving them either. We are all just trying to do what’s best for us our dogs in our individual situations and that, my friends, is all anyone can ask!
Rachael, Paul and Charlie x