It seems that Sprout has developed a bad case of separation anxiety, aka, she pees on the floor every time I leave. It doesn't matter if she's just been on an hour long walk, or whether I'm gone 5 minutes or 5 hours, I can pretty much guarantee to find pee upon my return. At least she's thoughtful enough to chose the exact same spot, so I've been able to move all carpets out of the danger zone. By now, I have read just about every online article and advice column on how to treat separation anxiety in dogs, and have tried just about every recommended tactic to help calm her nerves and save my floors.
It started out simple enough, with basic behavioral techniques: ignoring her for the 20 minutes before I leave, and also when I return so that she doesn't associate my coming and going with an excited state-of-mind. I also try and change up my routine: putting my shoes on before I'm actually leaving, randomly picking up my keys and walking around with them when I'm home, basically trying to desensitize any of the triggers that set her off. Either she's really smart, or I'm ridiculously predictable in my habits, because she doesn't fall for any of it. She knows when I'm getting ready to leave and starts to whimper and squeak.
I've used various cleaning concoctions in an effort to eliminate any lingering smells that might give her the idea that it's OK to pee there. The "no-go" spray recommended by Petco doesn't work. Wiping the area down with vinegar as recommended by a dog trainer also doesn't work-- but does make my living room smell like an Easter egg!
I read that a dog's anxiety is the worst in the first 30 minutes of being alone, and if you can distract them during that crucial time, they'll settle down. So I got her a Kong, the so-called amazing dog toy that everyone raves about. The idea with this toy is that you hide treats inside it, and leave just a little bit of treat poking out as an incentive. The funny shape and bounciness of the toy creates a fun and rewarding challenge for the dog, and they must work hard to get the rest of the delicious liver snaps or peanut butter or whatever out of the Kong. Turns out Sprout is satisfied with nibbling on the incentive bite, and then abandons the task to go pee on the floor instead.
But the idea of giving her a "job" to work on while I'm away seemed smart and sounded like something Cesar Milan would recommend. My neverending internet search led me to the testimonical of one lady who swore by hiding kibble around the house for the dog to find while she was away. So I've set up a kibble hunt for Sprout several times. This method is by far the most charming-- I love coming home to find that she has sniffed out every last piece, even those hidden on the window sill. At first I thought the kibble hunt was the solution, and there were actually a few days of no pee, but the unrealistic side of this approach quickly revealed itself. Like when my roommate stops home during the day, and (obviously) doesn't set up a fresh kibble hunt for Sprout before leaving, all the work is undone and again, pee.
I figured that maybe food was not the answer to Sprout's troubles, and began to look into aromatherapy for dogs. I never thought my crazy dog lady-ness would have reached this point, but there are lots of natural and holistic websites that swear by the aromatherapy approach. I was very close to ordering some essential oils for Sprout online, but then came across a little contraption called a DAP diffuser. The "Dog Appeasing Pheramone," which comes in a neat little air-freshener like package, seemed a whole lot easier than massaging lavender and sweet marjoram onto Sprout each morning. The idea of the DAP is actually kind of gross: it mimics the smell of a lactactating dog mother, and allegedly soothes the jangled nerves of anxious dogs. Supposedly only dogs can smell it, but I swear I catch the faintest whiff of hot dogs whenever it is plugged in. I have no idea whether it is causing Sprout to have happy memories of her mama. Oh well.
This situation has become my number one concern of late (get it? number one concern?) and I have spent many hours complaining about it to Meredith. Yesterday, with the help of some French theorists and today's latest technologies, she helped me enact a brilliant plan to catch Sprout in the act. You should read her full detailed account of our attempted e-intervention, which, as you will see, failed miserably.
But today-- a ray of hope! I left this morning for brunch with Meng, and put Sprout's carrier (which she has taken quite a liking to) exactly on the spot where she pees. I don't know if the sight of her happy place was comforting, or if its presence was merely a physical obstacle in her way, but there was no pee on the floor this time! Hallelujah! I'll feel kind of silly if, after so much time and energy, the solution is to simply block off the spot. The special calming dog chews I ordered haven't even arrived in the mail yet! But I will be thrilled if this phase in her life is indeed over. I always thought it was somewhat bizzare how focused parents become on their child's potty training. I get it now.