If you have been following my series on Separation Anxiety, then (spoiler alert) you know that we ultimately kept our adopted dog Escher and figured out how to manage his separation anxiety with patience, training, medication, and lots of fun treat-dispensing toys. All of those things were mostly within my realm of control; it was the things I couldn’t control that nearly drove me to return Escher to the shelter.
Even though I know there is no shame in admitting when you’re in over your head, I still cringe when I think back on how often I considered returning Escher in that first year. I had no doubt that the ASPCA would welcome him back and do whatever it took to find the right home for him, but it still shook me to the core every time the thought of giving him up crossed my mind. Those thoughts were usually triggered by a complaint from a neighbor. It made me feel like no matter how deeply I loved and cared for this dog, the world outside my apartment just moved too fast for the kind of rehabilitation that Escher needed.
If I could go back 5 years, I would tell myself that considering other options for him while still trying to make it work is the most responsible and sensible thing to do. I would tell myself to take it one day at a time. And I would tell myself something that would have been completely unfathomable at the time: Those neighbors will one day love Escher, too.
How to be a good neighbor with a noisy, anxious dog
I will not sugar-coat the fact that separation anxiety is especially difficult when you live in an apartment in the city. I cannot blame anyone who chooses not to adopt a dog with separation anxiety, or even someone who returns a dog with separation anxiety after trying really hard to manage it. But if you’re in it for the long haul, here are some tips for dealing with angry neighbors:
- Be a good neighbor in every other possible way: This should go without saying, but make sure you’re a five star neighbor to make up for the fact that your dog is not a good neighbor. Be friendly and polite, clean up after yourself, don’t slam doors, don’t make noise in common areas, be helpful when you can.
- Explain your training plan and make sure neighbors know that you’re actively working with your dog to make things better: It’s really easy for neighbors to assume that you don’t know or just don’t care about your dog being a nuisance. Try to appeal to their emotions by explaining the situation and exactly what you’re doing to change it. Don’t be afraid to tug at their heartstrings a little with things like “I just rescued him from the shelter” or “he’s really scared because he’s never had a home.”
- Beg for patience and apologize sincerely: Tell your neighbors how long you expect this process to take and tell them how much you appreciate their patience. If you have to apologize for something, take a deep breath first and make sure you approach your neighbor kindly. Try to see the situation from their angle and make a sincere apology.
- Be open to communication: Provide your email or phone number so neighbors can reach out to you when they’re concerned or annoyed. It’s a lot easier to respond to an email than an angry anonymous note left on your door. Plus, giving them your contact info shows them that you truly care about how your dog affects them.
- Give gifts: I know this sounds silly, but I once left flowers for a neighbor along with an apology card after she complained about Escher’s barking on a particularly difficult night. She never complained again.
- Hire a dog walker or ask a friend to visit: Try to shorten your dog’s alone time by having someone come visit or take him out for a walk. Keep in mind, though, that some dogs (like Escher) will just restart the barking after someone visits. In our case, we try to stay out as long as possible once Escher calms down and goes to sleep.
- Change your schedule or move: This is an extreme solution and not an option in most cases, but I give major props to anyone who is so dedicated to their dog that they change their job or move to another apartment.
What to do when you feel like giving up
Notice that I said “when”, not “if” you feel like giving up. Because this will happen if it hasn’t already happened. You have taken on a massive responsibility and very few people understand what it’s like. I hope that this blog post and my experiences have helped you feel less alone.
When you feel like giving up, remind yourself that you’re doing something extraordinary and changing a dog’s life. Review old videos or notes to remember how far you both have come and celebrate all those tiny victories. Take a break from all the bad stuff and focus on what your dog does well with a training game or cuddle session. Or maybe take a break from your dog with some exercise, a good drink, or a Netflix binge. Call a friend, join a support group, or talk to someone online when you feel alone and hopeless. Practice self-care and be aware of compassion fatigue. Reach out to me if you really need more advice or support.
If you make a good effort and ultimately decide to give up, then I thank you for trying and I applaud whatever progress you have made. Please return your dog to the rescue/shelter or surrender your dog responsibly. As long as you tried, then you have not failed.
Escher still has separation anxiety and we still have our bad days, but those are few and far between. It has been five years since we started this journey and about four years since my husband last had to pick me up from my puddle of tears on the kitchen floor. What was once a major challenge is just how we live our lives now.
So here, take my hand and get up off the kitchen floor. There is a dog who loves you and needs your help. You can do this!
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