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Out Foxed By a Dummy

Updated: Jul 16, 2023

One of the most common complaints of pet parents is that their dogs are disruptive or destructive when left alone. Their dogs might urinate, defecate, bark, howl, chew, dig, or try to escape. Separation anxiety is triggered when dogs become upset because of separation from their guardians, the people they're attached to.

Behavioral problems are the #1 reason for unsuccessful dog adoptions.

A recent study of 102 returned dogs at a Texas shelter found 56% of dogs were returned within six months due to behavioral issues. Returning senior dogs or bouncing them between rescue fosters is an emotional blow to their psyche and often worsens separation anxiety to the point of being labeled 'unadoptable.'

A good example is Lil' Debbie, an LGCR resident since 2021. Within one year, she was returned seven times due to separation anxiety. Thankfully, the rescue organization sought our assistance because she needed to feel 'whole.'

“For many reasons, some dogs are emotionally brittle and may require creative solutions versus pharmacology band-aids,” says Rhonda Minardi, LGCR Founder.

At Living Grace Canine Ranch, where Forever Fostering is an option to live away from the sanctuary, the best thing we can do for high-anxiety senior residents is to help them develop the confidence and comfort level to be alone.

Below is an example of effective-parenting creativity. Foxy is a future LGCR resident registered through our Forever Home Endowment Program*.

Meet Foxy

Foxy, a senior herself, was most likely a lifelong companion and the sole 'pet child' of a senior citizen that had entered hospice in late 2022. Not known at the time of adoption, signs of anxiety were attributed to being in an unfamiliar environment upon rehoming. As time passed, it became increasingly apparent to Mom and her veterinarian that Foxy suffered from severe separation anxiety, which affected her and her Mom's quality of life.

In Mom's Own Words

Foxy needs the presence of a human to feel safe. She becomes Mr. Hyde and displays opposite behaviors when separated from me, or no other human is present. She barks continuously, paces, shows the whites of her eyes and pants, and refuses to drink water or eat treats. Further, she chews on whatever she can get hold of (even the crate wires or the dog gate if left out in my office.

So, in a last-ditch effort, I found a Halloween prop site with soft-bodied dummies online. I bought one for about $90, and when it arrived, I dressed it in pajamas, underwear, and socks that I had worn and not washed, named her Saving Grace, and positioned her on the sofa.

During all this, I talked to Grace and Foxy (who showed strong interest in what was happening). Foxy immediately jumped on the sofa (she is not allowed unless invited, but she ignored that rule). Foxy laid down and looked at Grace, then checked out Grace. She smelled her, snuggled next to her leg, and then moved into her lap, went round and round, and settled for a nap!

Over the next three days after Grace arrived, I moved her around the house to various chairs and on the bed and even took her outside on the patio to be with Foxy when she was in the backyard. Foxy followed everywhere she went and continued to spend time with Grace. I had Grace pet her, hid treats on Grace, and offered them in her hand daily. At night I moved Grace into a chair in my bedroom, and Foxy slept at her feet on the rug or nearby in her bed.

After three days, I put Foxy in the crate (she hates the crate and normally chews, cries, howls, and tries to tear it up), put Grace in my office chair right in front of the crate, and left the house for the first time. I had the Furbo camera set up to check what was happening.

At first, Foxy was constantly barking (per usual), but after about 20 minutes, I noticed her demeanor changed. She laid down in the crate and looked at Grace as if to say, "Hey, let me out, will you? I am a good dog, and I don't like it in here. I would rather be with you." She just kept intently looking at Grace.

I called my next-door neighbor, who is aware of all the issues with the separation anxiety and who had kept Foxy many times when I had to be away from the house for an appointment or to run errands. I told her what I saw and asked if she would come over, put up the dog gate to keep Foxy in my office area, and let her out of the crate. I asked her not to talk to Foxy or give her any attention while there.

I watched, and what I consider a miracle happened before my eyes! Foxy went to Grace, laid down at her feet, and TOOK A NAP! After a little while, she got up, moved into her bed, and kept an eye on Grace but was not stressed, panting, or barking. Eventually, she went to sleep.

Since this happened, I have continued my routine with Grace regarding moving her around, having her hand pet Foxy, giving treats, etc. Foxy continues to respond in the same way. I have left her several times to shop, run errands, attend an appointment, or attend an event. No sign of separation anxiety. No panting, no vomiting after I return, no shaking violently, no constant barking. Just a calm, happy dog.

This has been a HUGE RELIEF for Foxy and definitely for me. This solution has made my life with Foxy much easier and less stressful.


Foxy's Mom & Saving Grace

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*About Forever Home

The program guarantees lifelong canine caregiving in case of a parent's incapacitation or death. Click this link to request further information.


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