Alpha-rolls for (reactive) dogs

Having a reactive dog is an emotional business. Not only are our dogs anxious about walks and outings but so are we. We know too well the looks we get from others when we have a setback with our dog in public. They’re the same looks parents get in grocery stores when their children are throwing a temper tantrum and are thrashing about on the floor, screaming and crying, even throwing things. Sometimes we get the look of compassion and empathy – “You poor thing”, “I feel your pain”, “It’s not easy but you’re doing great”. These looks can be helpful – they can give us a break and some space to manage.

Other times we get the look or horror and judgement. This one is the worst one we can imagine. There is no compassion nor empathy in this look. It sends us into a dark place with our dog, embarrasses us and even causes us to react in a way that is inappropriate, out of character, or even downright dangerous. When we get this look (and sometimes even when we don’t) we suddenly feel like we are expected to react – to stop this thrashing, screaming beast, gain control of him and “set him straight”. When we feel this pressure, we can act out of frustration and desperation.

I remember Parker’s early days when I had been taught to use punishment in order to put an end to his reactive behaviour. We would be out on a walk and I would be on edge, ready to give him a firm leash correction every time he reacted to another dog. I myself became reactive (because you are, if you are not proactive), I would see the other dog and regardless of his reaction or lack thereof, I would “correct” him. Eventually the behaviour intensified and I felt as many people do, who use punishment, that I would have to intensify the punishment because this level was ineffective. (Learn about the 8 rules of punishment here from my brilliant friend Steve White.)

I was taught by many, including TV stars on dog training programs and well-meaning people in the park, to “Alpha Roll” him. This entailed flipping him onto his back on the ground, holding him still and forcing him to stay and “submit” to me. This is to apparently show the dog who is “Alpha” and force them to stop misbehaving. It’s such an unhealthy thing to do and I learned my lesson early on in my career.

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My first solo behaviour consult almost 10 years ago was for a Great Dane / Pitbull mix and when he acted aggressively toward me, I did what I had been taught so many times over; I Alpha-rolled him. When I released him (once he “submitted” to me), he launched himself at my face, biting my face, chest, arm, stomach, and legs before they pulled him off me. It was well-deserved…in fact, the dog showed great restraint by not killing me. The bottom line is that I attacked him. It was not the other way around. He was defending himself against me, as he should have. I learned a lesson that day and still carry it with me.

At one point not long after the attack, Parker reacted to a dog while we were walking along the street and I reached for his collar as I didn’t have the strongest grip on his leash in the moment and he assumed I was going to Alpha-roll him (I wasn’t). Before I even made physical contact, he rolled himself. He lay on the ground on his back and put his front paws up in the air almost as if to say “okay, okay, I surrender – just don’t hurt me.” My heart broke in that exact moment. A man was walking by and he gasped as he saw it happen and he looked at me in such a way that made me want to crawl into a hole and die. I was mortified. It was as though someone caught me slapping my child across the face. I was a bad person in his eyes and I would never have an opportunity to change his perspective or prove him wrong. My heart broke for Parker too. He was scared of me. I was unpredictable and scary in his eyes. Things changed from that moment onward.

There is never a good time to Alpha-roll a dog. Here are some good reasons:

  • Dogs are not wolves. Plain and simple. They’re dogs.
  • Dogs are not wild animals and dominance is generally only a concern in wild groupings of animals rather than domestic ones. Dominance is also only an issue within a species and does not tend to be a cross-species concern.
  • Dogs know we are not dogs. They learn this early on. Like around 3-5 weeks of age. They’re not going to believe you’re the Alpha regardless.
  • “Alpha” is another term for “breeding pair”. Do you really want to be your dog’s Alpha now? I think it’s illegal in most countries. Gross.
  • Alpha-rolling your dog does not stop the behaviour. It might suppress it temporarily but it’s by no means a magical fix.
  • Alpha-rolling your dog causes your dog to view you as an unstable leader – unstable leaders lose their cool and lose control of the situation when they act out of anger or unpredictably. This is how your dog will view you after an Alpha-roll. Unpredictable, angry, scary, out of control. How does that feel?
  • It is insanely dangerous. (Re-read my story if you don’t believe me.) Once you let them up, they might take any chance they can to protect themselves and ensure you never do that again.
  • It might work for some dogs but if it works, it means you have just scared or intimidated your dog into avoidance. How effective is that as behaviour modification?
  • It can cause an emotional shutdown (which is quite difficult to “fix” later).
  • It can cause your dog to act even more aggressively in the future. (Want proof? Click here.)

Yes, in the moment you feel you need to leave the scene with your dignity, however most people when they see others Alpha-rolling their dogs don’t respect the person doing it – they too likely feel that you’ve lost control and they feel sorry for the dog on his back. Why? We all love dogs – that’s why we have them. You can leave with your dignity if you do a few things:

  • call your dog off successfully (work on “recall”)
  • leash them up if they are off-leash and get some distance
  • reward them for good behaviour (such as sitting or looking at you)
  • promise your dog that you won’t put him in that situation to fail again
  • promise yourself that you will work on this, for real.

There. Now you can leave with your dignity and no one had to be hurt or scared. There is so much we can do for dogs who overreact around other dogs whether on leash or off leash and none of it has to be detrimental to your trusting relationship with your dog. Rather than pinning your dog, seek help! It’s as much for you as it is for the dog. Let’s take the emotion out of the equation and help your dog learn what you’d rather he do instead.

We have a great class that helps people immensely with this behaviour and our success rate is extremely high because of the level of support provided in class and beyond. Please forward the details on to those who need it and consider it for your own reactive dog.


Old Dogs

ImageOld dogs.

On Wednesday, Parker had been full of beans, bounding through the condo, whipping around corners and racing down the halls, prancing on his walks and uber-friendly and playful to every dog we met. I couldn’t stop laughing at his antics and really taking joy in this behaviour. It beats the “old man” gig we usually have – stumbling around, tripping up, standing and staring at nothing. 

I laughed about it with a good friend over the phone, who is also a trainer, and in the silence between sentences we both knew what the other was thinking. “Uh oh…is this it?” Sometimes old dogs have a burst of energy before things take a turn for the worst and that’s what we always fear. The truth is, if he has that burst of energy I’m going to enjoy it with him. I’ll stop everything and really take it in. 

I know it sounds terribly light when I talk about it this way but I’m a pretty realistic person and I know that we may not have long together. I’ve come to terms with the idea that we might not have long and I say a little goodbye every night along with a goodnight just in case. There’s a chance he could live another few years of course but with old dogs it’s hard to tell. It’s not like they have a little clock installed with a countdown timer that we can see…we just enjoy every day together as best as we can. 

With an old dog you grieve a little bit every day. You grieve the loss of the activities you used to share, the energy and endurance, the able-bodied way he used to move, the interactions he used to have with the world. You even grieve the naughty things; barking and lunging at dogs across the street, “whoo-whoo-whoo”-ing at the knock at the door, the scattered, half-asleep race to the door at the sound of the doorbell on TV, getting into the garbage while you’re at work, sneaking into your bed and shedding all over your clean pillows, even counter-surfing. You grieve the loss of his hearing and sight, you grieve the deep sleeps that are now interrupted by restlessness and sometimes wandering confusion. You grieve the future because now it’s like muddy water – you can’t tell what’s in it but it doesn’t feel great.

It’s not to say that you’re in a constant state of sadness and that you can’t enjoy life – this grief is different. It’s just under your skin. It’s a thin layer that rests there. Sometimes it’s greatly exposed by a fresh wound and then once it’s healed it’s tucked away again. We live our day to day, enjoying all the things we can do. I am proud of him when he dares to sneak something off my plate as I get up to get a glass of water. I praise him for being such a phenomenal scavenger and I let him eat that half-slice of pizza. He barks at a dog who gets in his face and I tell him he’s a good old man for using his words. He begs at the table and I laugh and reinforce him with a toast crust. 

ImageParker is getting older. Every day I see little changes in him and it’s usually just a slowing down or a bit of confusion or a shortened walk. Today he insisted that we live in the condo down the hall and stood there for about 3 full minutes staring at the door and looking back at me. 

He does a lot of sitting on walks, he sleeps off and on during the day, if a piece of food is tossed to him and bounces off his nose, he doesn’t get up to get it – he looks to me as if to say “sorry Mama, try again and aim for my mouth this time.” Things are a little different. 

It’s not easy, but it’s beautiful. There’s something about old dogs that I love more than I could ever explain. There’s this gentleness, this deep love, this wisdom and grace. You can’t argue with an old dog – you let them have their way because they’ve earned it. You make life a little easier for them but you sure as hell don’t give up on them. You make sure they’re getting proper exercise and lots of mental stimulation. You practice modified tricks (like modified yoga) and you take care of their body and mind every single day with the intention of making it more resilient to aging. 

What I want to be sure of, is that whether we have a few weeks left or a few years left, they’re going to be wonderful for both of us. 

Isolation Distress Update

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to post for a couple reasons – one being it’s really tough to find the time to blog when you’re doing behaviour modification with your own dog and everyone else’s too! 

I was having a rough time with Parker’s isolation distress and so I made a few decisions that changed our world.

  • start Parker on medication to lower his anxiety (see my last blogpost)
  • hire a trainer to help me through behaviour modification

So I decided to hire a trainer. *GASP!!* A trainer hiring a trainer? We all need a hand sometimes and I have an incredible network of qualified trainers who I am lucky to rely on for personal and professional assistance. So I hired a Separation Anxiety expert in the USA who takes on separation anxiety cases exclusively and will only work with clients who can commit to the program. Malena is a fantastic speaker and a motivating trainer. I needed someone super-savvy but also a great people-trainer because I need to be motivated but also held accountable during this process so that I don’t give up on Parker or myself. It’s hard to be objective when it’s your own dog. This is why we hire trainers, right? 

The first order of business is management. I have to be able to manage Parker 100% which means he cannot be left alone until we have built up his “alone time” muscle enough that I can leave him for short trips. Impossible! You say. Nope. Not impossible. We have to get creative. I’m lucky enough to work for myself and have the ability to work from home for at least half of my day. So I do. When I do have to go into work for client sessions or classes, I have to set up a network of people who are able to dog-sit.

Lucky for me, Parker is generally okay as long as there’s another person here, regardless of who it is. So I have a list of nine people I know and trust who are wiling and able to dog-sit occasionally. Mostly friends and colleagues and some clients. I have a rotation and send out a weekly email with shift options.

That’s the easiest thing for me to do. Pricey, but easy and I know he’s in good hands. Otherwise I’d be looking at sending him to people’s homes, daycare, dog walkers, day-boarding at the vet, and various other options that would work for average dogs but not for a 3-legged, geriatric, deaf, somewhat blind dog who can’t move around a whole lot.

Management sounds hard and it is. It’s the hardest part but it’s the key to success. If you can’t manage your dog during the process, you’re constantly running in circles. Doing behaviour modification and then leaving them and setting them up for failure, setting yourself back to square one each time.

The second order of business is monitoring. I have to set up my devices to be able to watch Parker while I’m gone so that I can monitor his level of stress and stop before he is actually stressed. My goal in this “game” is to avoid letting him feel stress at all. Remember the board game “Operation“? Well, I want to avoid touching the sides and setting off that buzzer. Parker’s anxiety is that buzzer and I have to be slow and steady, watching carefully. 

So I install Presence on my iPhone and iPad and then my two old iPhones which run on Wifi and I set one device up in each room so that I have “eyes” everywhere. This way when I leave I can watch him the whole time and be sure to come back before I see signs of stress. The word “before” being the key here. Just like with everything else in dog training, you will find success working below threshold, never above. 


The third order of business is behaviour modification. This means I need to change Parker’s emotional response to me leaving him alone. I have to work on building his “alone time” muscle as I like to call it, and that is exactly how it sounds – just like a muscle at the gym. You don’t start out bench pressing 120lbs on day one – you work your way up because you know if you push too hard you’re going to do damage and have to stop everything, go to physio and then start from way below easy when you come back to it. 

So I start leaving Parker for short periods of time. 5 seconds, 10 seconds, 15 seconds, 2 seconds, 20 seconds, 1 second, 5 seconds, etc… and each time I am putting on my boots, coat, hat, gloves, picking up my purse, keys, cell phone, and then leaving, returning and putting it all away, taking a 1-2 minute break. Notice that my pattern of absences is unpredictable and short? I’m not leaving for 1s, 5s, 10s, 20s, 40s, 1m, 2m, 5m, etc… I have to start small and keep it successful. The goal is that he gets tired of me coming and going and instead of feeling stressed when I pack up to leave, he thinks “oh, you again? I don’t care. You’re weird.”. 

And I have to do this as often as I can during the time that I’m home. The more I do this, the sooner we’ll see success. When I miss a day, I set us back and waste the time with my trainer. 

I work at it and I’m cautious and in tune with him. We master management quite well. We have one minor setback (hey, life happens!) and loads of small successes. When we hit 60 seconds together on a Skype consultation with Malena and he is anxiety-free, we have a tiny dance party and we exhale. 60 seconds may sound ridiculous to you but it is HUGE to me and to Parker. 

Parker used to yawn and lick his lips (signs of stress and anxiety) when I would put my wallet into my purse – a cue that meant I was leaving shortly. Now, he doesn’t care. I’m building his alone-time muscle and he’s getting stronger every day. 

Separation Anxiety and Isolation Distress can be devastating. I’ve been living it for over ten years with Parker. I know better than many people how it can affect our lives and the quality of living for both dog and human. What I can also say is that the success in behaviour modification is sweeter than the failure is sour. 

We will get through this and we will be successful. 

Part three of the isolation diSTRESS saga

Set the scene: 4:56pm. I’m sitting on my couch with a bag of chips, two chocolate bars, a large Earl Grey tea and Mandog at my feet. We’ve just been to see our vet (which is a whole other blog post in itself) and he’s pretty exhausted from the trip. I need comfort food. Parker has just taken his anti-anxieties for the first time. I’m watching the clock with one eye and watching the dog with the other. 

I’m living my clients’ lives again. The last couple days have been tough. I worked pretty hard and was able to get Parker up to 30 minutes of calm while I’m out but that’s as far as I could go without triggering the howling and sad-sounds. So in desperation I take a giant leap, leave a few stuffed frozen peanut butter Kongs and I go to work for 3.5 hours.

This is where Trainer Caryn says “You went too far too fast. Back it up and work your way up slowly.”

While I’m at work, I’m Skype-ing with him to check in now and again to see if he’s doing ok and for the first hour he’s actually amazing. Then my home computer shuts itself off. I have 2.5 hours to go with zero contact with my dog. Suddenly I understand Separation Anxiety. I have it.

2 hours in, I have a minor medical emergency and have to cancel the rest of my evening and go to the ER. Ah, no problem. I’ll just check on my dog first. I’m sweating and shaking from pain but my dog is home alone and might be sad and anxious so that’s my priority. Sweet Cara (our new trainer-in-training) is there and takes me home to pick up Parker (who is a howling mess when I arrive) and we pop him in the car and drive to the Hospital. He hangs out in the car with her while I hang out in the ER for 3 hours. I know I’ve blown it. All the work I’ve done is down the drain and I have to really back up now. I curse myself while waiting and feel eternally grateful to Cara for her kindness and patience.

That night, Parker can’t sleep in the living room. He sleeps on the floor beside my bed for the first time in months. He’s terrified to let me out of his sight. The next day, I leave the room and Parker panics. He’s pacing, panting, shadowing me, pupils dilated, refuses peanut butter, and I feel like the worst Mama on the planet. I got greedy. I failed at management. I took a risk and it backfired. I can’t go to the bathroom alone anymore, so we start from scratch (see blog post number one). I spend the day working through the levels with him and I am not seeing progress like I did last week. Instead I see more anxiety. I can get up to 30 minutes again but it’s not a calm 30 minutes, it’s pacing, panting, hyper-vigilance, laying by the door, inability to settle.

Then I do something I wish I had done 10.5 years ago. I call my vet’s office and book an appointment. It’s time to medicate. No part of me can justify putting a geriatric dog through this much anxiety so I choose to help him.

Anyone who works with me knows that I don’t jump to medication first and it takes a lot for me to get to that point in most cases, however I won’t say that I use it as a “last resort” because I think that’s unfair and inaccurate too. It shouldn’t be the immediate go-to, but it certainly should never be a last resort – it should be a tool like any other that is used when necessary. My biggest regret with Parker is that I didn’t medicate him when I should have. It would have been a very different 10.5 years. For us both.

It has changed the way I run my behaviour practice and when I have clients whose dogs are in distress and behaviour modification just isn’t enough, I send them to their vet or to a veterinary behaviourist to discuss pharmaceutical options. Some take it, some don’t. I understand the fear. I really do. However what most people don’t understand is that when your dog acts in an extreme manner, whether it’s reactivity, aggression, fear, anxiety, it’s because they’re screaming for help. Yes, behaviour modification is paramount, but lessening the anxiety is even more important because the animal cannot learn when (s)he is anxious or overly emotional. What is also misunderstood is the fact that long-term, chronic stress can cause significant damage to the body – more than a low-dose anti-anxiety medication likely might. I try to explain this when I hear the famous response to my suggestion of medication, “oh, I could never do that to my dog!”…but it’s more often than not, unsuccessful.

There are ways of lessening anxiety without the use of medications, such as calming aids (Thundershirt, Adaptil, Rescue Remedy, calming music, etc…), nutraceuticals (5HTP, valerian root, etc…), or even massage or Ttouch, however if those don’t have a fairly rapid effect on the dog and results can’t be seen within a couple of weeks, it can really cause a setback in training because the dog continues to spend time feeling anxious and not progressing.

I’ll eventually write a blog post on behaviour modification and medication but for now I’ll sign off. It’s 7:00pm and Parker has been blissfully snoozing after a busy day, got up to eat dinner and have a snuggle and then back to bed for a bit. He’s visibly relaxed but he’s still the same dog; his personality has not changed. He continues to beg for food (which I happily reinforce) and bring me his toy goose when I leave for 20 seconds and come back, but he is sleeping more peacefully and his anxiety is clearly lower when I’m preparing to leave.

I have a lot of work to do because this medication is not forever; it’s not even going to happen every day, but it’s giving us both the relief we need in order for behaviour modification to be successful. Now I can go to work for 3-4 hours at a time knowing my dog is not having a panic attack or meltdown at home alone. When I am at home, we’ll be working our tails off on changing departure cues, gradual departures and other relaxation protocols.

More to come…

Let’s throw a wrench in it!

Day three and Mandog is much more relaxed for the most part. Doesn’t care at all about my departure cues. I haven’t left him today (thanks to almost 300 emails calling my name) but have given him some great exercise as well as some training (head halter training for fun) so he’ll be tired out tonight.

Around 4pm he came to me with a glassy-eyed look, panting, then went to the front door and rang the bell. I packed us up and we took off outside. Poor Mandog has diarrhea. Normally this isn’t a big deal except he has a long history of Colitis and it happens in the snap of a finger for him, especially with the stress of a move. It’s not surprising…in fact I was expecting it sooner.

Not only this, but the poor guy had a big walk this morning (bad Mama!) because he was feeling energetic and now he’s having a rough time walking. Missing his back right leg for the last 10.5 years is catching up to him and he’s starting to slow down and really have a rough time. I’ll be measuring him and ordering him a wheelchair this week so that he can take walks and enjoy life a little more.

Last month, he had a vestibular attack that almost made his Mama lose her mind with worry but has recovered to about 95%. That’s the best we’ll do. It’s been a difficult couple of months especially with all the snow and ice and cold weather…so I’m sure as we get closer to spring he’ll feel more like himself again.

So tonight I go to class, anxiously Skype-ing him before, between, and after. I’ve also made an area for newspapering in case he has a moment of panic “down there”…

One step forward, two steps back. Nothing we can’t handle. We just take it a day at a time and don’t lose sight of the goal and definitely don’t lose sight of the progress. This Mandog is worth all the work put into him, tenfold. I am the luckiest Mama.

Isolation Distress Part Two

Day two:

I woke up late today with a headache and was short three hours for training, which I kicked myself for later… It’s so important to commit to the plan and be consistent and not skip a day or miss an opportunity. It’s more important than I can even explain.

Even with a headache or a stomach flu, we’re still training.

I had to teach two classes today 1:30pm and 3:00pm and was starting to feel panicked. I called my parents and they agreed to come out and hang out with Mandog until I got home from teaching but they were going to be later than 1pm which meant he’d have to hang out alone for a little while, regardless.

I set up my Skype, did a few rounds of departure cue desensitization, gradual departures, left a surprise stuffed, frozen Kong on his bed when he wasn’t looking, and then took off. By the time the door was locked, he had found the Kong and was settled nicely on the bed without a care in the world. I got to work and he hadn’t moved. Five minutes later, the whining and pacing started.

The sound is awful. It’s a deep, mournful whine that sounds like what a heart would sound like if it were breaking in half very slowly. It continues intermittently for about 60 seconds and I debate going home but then he goes to his bed and resumes the Kongfest. Not a peep for the rest of the time I’m connected by Skype. Students start arriving and I hang up and hope for the best. My parents should be there in 20 minutes.

After class, I race home in a taxi (because clearly I have separation anxiety) to find out that my parents arrived and he was fast asleep on his bed.

Imagine my relief! This is great news. He’s starting to self-soothe and his stress is very short lived.

I have most of the day tomorrow to work on this even more, and then class and clients in the evening, so I’ll be recording him then to see what he’s up to.

Three stuffed Kongs in the freezer and fingers crossed!

Moving. With a geriatric dog. Who has isolation distress.

There is really no other title this blog post could possibly have. I sit here at my breakfast bar wearing my winter boots and coat, randomly picking up my keys and putting them down. All my students who are working through separation anxiety and isolation distress are likely doing the same thing this weekend. We could start a support group. 

Yesterday, Mandog and I moved back to Toronto into a condo where it’s just the two of us. Granted, we lived in this building from 2004 – 2010 so it’s familiar to him and I both. I should also mention that timeframe is when he suffered from isolation distress the most in his whole life. Hopefully it’s not the building…! 

Walk to door, pick up keys, walk back to stool and sit down, resume typing.

What is Isolation Distress? It’s an anxiety-disorder that occurs in dogs (or any animal, including people) who suffer from anxiety when left alone for a period of time. 

Separation Anxiety is similar, however it occurs in dogs (animals, people) who suffer from anxiety when separated from a specific person (or other animal). 

Parker (affectionately known as “Mandog”) has always suffered from isolation distress. His has been the most severe case I’ve seen to date and has gradually gotten much better over the years. We went through years of barking, howling, whining, pacing, tearing doorframes, baseboards, clawing doors, clawing through concrete, drywall, tearing screen doors and windows, jumping out of windows, locking himself in the bathroom, turning on the tub, explosive diarrhea, you name it. I would come home to a bloodbath from all the destruction. 

Take off coat and boots, open door, close door, resume typing. 

Neighbour complaints, eviction notices, repairs after repairs, sick days from corporate jobs, annoyed bosses, citronella spray collars, longer lunchbreaks, shock collar, exhaustion, depression, guilt, it nearly broke us. Then I got properly educated and became a force-free trainer, ditching the collars for a clicker and smarts.  

Go to door, pick up keys, touch door handle, put down keys, resume typing. 

When we moved in yesterday and he was a bit tired out so he seemed to be settling in quite nicely. I have an Adaptil plug-in that seems to be helping a bit. I would normally be playing Through a Dog’s Ear but sadly Mandog lost his hearing this past year so the music would just be calming me down instead. I’ve booked off a few days from work to help him settle in and work through this process with him before actually leaving him. This means my groceries will be delivered and he’ll come with me on dog-friendly errands for now. 

Put on hat and scarf, pick up keys, sit down, resume typing. 

 Earlier today I noticed he was shadowing me; following me around, laying outside the bathroom door while I showered, watching me like a hawk as I moved from desk to kitchen to bedroom to desk. If I was out of sight for longer than 1-2 minutes he would get up to move closer to me. You see…dogs with separation anxiety or isolation distress are seeking comfort and predictability. They cannot be rushed in this process so we have to take baby steps to build up their tolerance to being alone or without us. 

Put on coat and boots, pick up purse and keys, sit down, resume typing. 

Today I checked his baseline – I put on my coat, boots, hat, mitts, picked up my purse and keys, left, locking the door behind me, and walked down the hall and around the corner. I waited 3 minutes and then returned. I had video-recorded this so that I could see at what point he was becoming stressed but I didn’t really need to. The second I put my boots on and pick up my keys, he perks up and starts tongue-flicking. There. He is stressed. He whined for about 8 seconds when I was down the hall and then lay on the mat in the hall where he can watch the door. He wasn’t settled – he was alert and waiting. Had I left him for longer than 20 minutes that time, his anxiety would have built up and he would have started howling and barking. 

Take off coat and boots, jingle keys, sit down, resume typing. 

So today I will spend writing client notes and catching up on email and voicemail while desensitizing my departure cues. What does that mean? All the cues that mean “Mama is leaving” (such as picking up my purse, putting on my coat, putting on my boots, picking up my keys, even going toward the front door, and doing my makeup) now have to mean something different. So I pick up my keys and watch TV. I put on my coat and boots and work on my computer. I pick up my purse and make dinner. I do this so many times over and over again until he couldn’t care less what I’m doing. 

Put on coat and boots, pick up keys, open door, step into corridor, come back in, close door, resume typing. 

You can see how things are progressing. I have been doing this since 8:30am today and in between I return calls, answer emails, clean my new condo, make meals, unpack boxes, and look forward to leaving Mandog alone in the apartment long enough to go for dinner and a movie. In the same night. It’ll happen soon – this is just our refresher course since we’ve been doing it for almost 11 years now. 

It’s now 6:00pm and I have progressed even further than just stepping out into the corridor at this point. I’m doing graduated departures, which means that I (get winterized every time,) leave for 2 seconds, come back (de-winterize and settle every time). Then I leave for 5 seconds and come back. Then 10 seconds. Then 4 seconds. Then 8 seconds. 14 seconds. 5 seconds. 20 seconds. 10 seconds. 30 seconds. 40 seconds. 10 seconds. Change departures cues again (pick up keys, make a tea. Put on boots, go to washroom…etc…). Then I leave again for 1 minute. Then 2 minutes. and so on and so forth. 

I make it random but consistently increasing the time with easy breaks in between and longer breaks too (for both of us because man….is this tedious and dizzying!) 

I set up my Skype on my MacBook and my iPhone, started a video call and left to go to the convenience store for a snack. He didn’t show a single sign of stress as I laced up my boots, put on my coat, opened the door. I watched the whole way to the store and back. As soon as I was 10 feet from the door, he got up and went to his bed (great sign!) on the other side of the condo, away from the door. He stayed there, relaxing until I came back. His greeting at the door was happy but nowhere near frantic. 12 minutes on the button. 

I settled for 5 minutes at my computer and then put on my coat, boots, etc…again and called him to go for a walk. He was excited but not frantic.

Success. It’s never a straight line and it’s never a short line. It is a long, squiggly line that gets tangled in itself until it reaches its destination. 

I’m going to give it a rest tonight, order in some Thai and watch BBC’s Sherlock. Tomorrow, we begin again. We’ll get there. 

Stay tuned…