September 23, 2018 8:20 AM
Last night, I did something that I haven’t done in probably fifteen years; I babysat. The dogs. I guess, technically, it’s not babysitting when they’re your own furry kids, but it still felt like it. There was some place I would rather have been, but I couldn’t go, because Sammy can’t be left alone for over an hour without barking. Dennis got to go and I got stuck at home minding the kids. This wasn’t what I had in mind when I got a dog.
Sammy, the problem child.
Although, I have to admit, a lot things came along with parenting my non-furry child, as well, that I didn’t expect. I guess that’s just part of being a parent regardless of the species you’re parenting. Being there for whatever comes along, good or bad.
The rewarding part of parenthood. Sammy, snuggled on my lap outside by the fire.
I am especially happy that I didn’t grumble at my kennel for the mix-up when Dennis and I traveled to Philadelphia the week before last, because they saved me this week. You can read about it here Bucking the Universe – Part 3. There is someplace important that Dennis and I need to be on Thursday. Instead of just picking up and going, which is what most 50-something empty-nesters do, I had to arrange for childcare. My kennel was the only option given the amount of time we needed to be gone.
I called them and explained the situation. Even though it was a last-minute arrangement, they agreed to take the dogs for the day. That was a relief, however it also means that our day needs to revolve around the time frame of the pick-up and drop-off times at the kennel. Because of our situation, the kennel was very nice and agreed to let me drop the dogs off at 7 am (normally, the drop off is 8, but there’s a three hour drive involved in our destination, so we needed to leave as early as possible.) An overnight wasn’t possible on Wednesday or Thursday at the kennel; I checked. So, we’ll do what every parent does. We’ll do what we have to do and make the best of it.
However, this means that we will drive six hours-ish and we’ll have about 3 1/2 hours at our destination. Not ideal, but it’s the best option I could come up with, other than me staying home again, which isn’t an option I’m willing to consider this time. I’m crossing my fingers that we don’t hit heavy traffic on the way home and miss our pick up time. I honestly don’t know what the kennel would do if that happened since they don’t have space for them to stay the night. I figure that the travel gods owe me one after the Philadelphia trip, so, hopefully, it’ll be okay.
We do need to come up with a long-term solution to this problem, however. Last time this happened, we put Sammy on 10 mg of Prozac for six weeks. It did solve the problem, we were able to leave for a day, have a pet sitter check in with him a couple of times, and he was fine. No barking. However, it took away his personality, too. There was no Sammy-spark. He didn’t play with toys and he slept most of the time. It was like he went from age 2 to age 15 overnight. That’s not a good long-term solution.
This time, we’re still trying Prozac, but the vet cut the dosage to 5 mg. We have noticed a marginal improvement in the barking when we’re gone, but only for about an hour to an hour and a half, max. He starts to get nervous at 1 hour and he starts pacing the house. When he does that, I know that barking isn’t far behind.
Other options we’ve considered:
1. Enroll the dogs in doggy daycare. Probably won’t work since neither one gets along with other dogs. Charlie barks and growls at other dogs, Sammy just barks. They would both get a ‘N’ for Needs Improvement in the Works and Plays well with Others category on their kindergarten report card.
2. Hire a babysitter to stay with them. This one might have merit, although it sounds really dumb to have to hire a babysitter to stay with a dog. I have to think it would be a pretty sweet babysitting gig for a 14-year-old. The problem with this one goes back to the doggy day care problem. In addition to not getting along with other dogs, Sammy doesn’t like new people. And by new people I mean he barks his head off at anyone that comes into the house that isn’t Dennis or me or our pet sitter. It doesn’t matter how many times he’s seen them, he still barks non-stop. The barking duration will be shorter, say fifteen minutes, if he’s somewhat familiar with a person. Fifteen ear-splitting, brain piercing, teeth-grinding minutes. The pitch Sammy hits when he barks is just a tad higher than a smoke alarm’s shriek and he’s easily as loud. This is the best case scenario. If the person is a stranger, he’ll bark non-stop until they leave. Maybe this wouldn’t be such a sweet gig for a baby sitter.
To avoid the constant barking at the babysitter, I’d have to get Sammy to get comfortable with them before we left him alone. I’d have to have the babysitter over several times a week, in half hour stints until Sammy got to know them. Which would take a couple of months. That sounds like a lot to expect from a 14-year-old baby sitter. Not to mention we’d have to teenager-proof our house. Lock up the liquor and lock down all the smutty cable channels. (I was flipping through stations looking for something to watch last night and I was amazed at the amount of porn available for only $9.99 at the click of a button. Even the descriptions of the programs were R-rated!)
3. Build them their own space apart from the house, so when Sammy barks, the cats aren’t affected. Poor Charlie would still have to deal with it, though. This idea is actually new; a friend suggested it Dennis last night. It is doable since we have a lot of room in our now-clean, 3-car garage. That empty space was meant for the pool, which probably isn’t happening now, and even if it does, it’ll go in rec room not the basement.
Dennis could build a wall and parse off a smaller room in the garage where we could insulate and put carpeting down. We can heat and air condition it through a free-standing heater that’s safe to run all the time (we have them in the bedroom because it always seems to be too hot or too cold on the second floor). We could bring up the old love seat from the rec room and put it by the window. They could look out the window and sleep on it (assuming Sammy ever calms down enough to sleep). I’m not sure this would work in the dead of winter because I think the floors would still be too cold, but it’s definitely an idea that has merit. I am concerned about Charlie being stuck with the barking, but he is anyway in the house, so I don’t know that it matters that much. I would leave Charlie in the house, and put Sammy in the his doggy-den, but Charlie barks non-stop without Sammy.
4. Put the dogs in the rec room so there’s more distance between the barking and the cats. We’ve tried this and both dogs bark non-stop in the rec room. Charlie is louder than Sammy, so the barking is still pretty loud even on the second floor.
5. Do nothing, let Sammy bark; it’s not like it’s a life or death situation. This is the one option I cannot do. Frankie, one of our cats (and Dennis would say my favorite animal although, like any mother, I say I love all my animals equally) gets very stressed with the barking. Even if we didn’t have cameras in the house to monitor what the dogs do when they’re alone, I would know if Sammy barked a lot just by how Frankie acts when we get home. He’s reluctant to come down stairs and when he does, he slinks around and is clearly nervous. This passes in a few hours if Sammy has been barking a short time. The one time we let Sammy bark for 5 hours when we were gone, it took Frankie days to recover and I was afraid he never would. I was so happy when he got back to normal. (Okay, maybe there is a teeny bit of favoritism, but don’t tell the others.)
Frankie, my buddy.
6. Hope he grows out of it. The is the last-ditch resort, but it is possible. Sammy is still young, and like raising kids, some challenges just have to run their course.
7. Train him not to bark when we are home, so I could give the command to be quiet through the camera’s when we’re gone (they have two-way microphones). Sounds great in theory, but like many child-rearing philosophies, it’s not so easy to put into practice. I’ve tried saying “no” firmly, but I don’t even think he hears me over his own barking and having me scream “No” at the top of my lungs combined with Sammy’s barking, isn’t something the cats or Dennis want to experience.
I’ve tried threatening to put him outside if he doesn’t stop. This wouldn’t help when we’re not home, but it would help when people come over. I even followed through on my threat, because, you know you have to follow through if you want the kid to know you mean business. All that putting him outside did was to get the neighbor’s 3 dogs to join into the barking. While this whole “doggie grapevine” thing is cute in Disney movies, it’s as annoying as hell in reality.
I admit it, I’ve even tried bribery. There are gadgets which allow you to talk to your pets and dispense treats remotely. I gave him a chew toy filled with cheese to distract him. It didn’t. I tried throwing down his doggie treats. He ignored them. I fed him some deli meat which he stopped barking long enough to choke down, about 2 seconds, before he started barking again.
There’re shock collars, which I won’t do. No corporeal punishment in our house. There’s a citronella collar that our vet recommended that spritzes citronella every time he barks. The theory is dogs don’t like the smell of the citronella so they don’t bark. I would consider this option except for one thing. I have two dogs and both dogs bark. Sometimes Charlie barks first, when Sammy is quiet. This means Sammy will be spritzed with Citronella regardless of whether he barks or Charlie barks. Sounds like a pretty fun game for Charlie, but I don’t think I can do that to Sammy.
I was researching this problem online last night and several sites suggested that we trade-off dog watching services with friends who have dogs. We keep their dogs for a weekend and they keep ours a different weekend. I can just imagine asking a friend to take my yappy, unfriendly dogs; one who needs a special diet and eye drops once a day and the other who needs Metamucil and a pill everyday. Oh, and by the way, did I mention that they both both piddle around a new house to mark their territory? Charlie will claim the leg of the couch then Sammy will claim the leg of the couch and the footstool, then Charlie claims the leg of the couch, the footstool and the end table and so on. Remember that memory game where each person adds an item to a list and the first person who forgets an item loses? My dogs would rock at that game.
Trading off dog watching services probably isn’t in our future. I’m just hoping that one of these other solutions works so I’m not stuck home, babysitting the dog for the next fifteen years or so.
Much like becoming a parent for the first time, I had no idea what I was in for when I got a dog.