Layla, the aforementioned shaggy dog, has a friend: Canyon, a 13-year-old wolf mix. Not only are they friends, they are inseparable. So inseparable that when one decides it’s time to escape the yard, the other always follows along (this had made for some interesting searches during thunderstorms). Canyon is so motherly that she regularly licks the drool or eye goop from Layla’s face.
This closeness made me worry about just the few hours Layla would be away from Canyon getting her fur shaved. Their relationship is so close that I feared Canyon would try to claw through the fence and go find her. But what happens if one day Layla dies and leaves her friend behind? I shudder to think about Canyon’s nervous breakdown.
Since they are old dogs and unlikely to learn new tricks, I have little hope I can break Canyon of this emotional attachment. A couple of local trainers gave me hope for them, however, but their advice is geared toward dogs that are younger and not yet set in their ways.
Malaika Heinbaugh, a private dog trainer who works as the on-site trainer at A Doggie’s Dream pet grooming on Mill Street in Reno, said she encourages people to work with their dogs on comfortable separation from the time they are puppies.
Many people acquire litter mates when they purchase a puppy, which Heinbaugh said can lead to the dogs being dependent on each other because they are so close from birth. Whether or not two dogs that live together are siblings, she recommends some steps to condition them to be more independent.
The basic idea, she said, is to get each animal used to the idea of being without the other. Heinbaugh suggests several things. First, take one for a walk without the other. Another possibility is to let them in and out of the house at different times. An owner also can just pretend to take the other for a walk; just stepping out the door with one of the animals for a few minutes and then coming back in can help with the gradual conditioning.
“It needs to be done in real slow processes,” Heinbaugh said.
Trainer P.J. Wangsness, owner of Dog Training by P.J. in Reno, echoed Heinbaugh’s recommendation.
‘The best thing you can do early on is take them out for their little outings individually so it isn’t a big deal as they grow older,” she said.
The separation should also be accompanied by something the dog enjoys, Wangsness added. For example, she said, if a dog is motivated by food, try giving one a juicy bone while the other is gone so the time apart is associated with something good. Or, when they are apart, play ball with them.
Each trainer also had a couple of other suggestions. Heinbaugh said she endorses crate training, though I would not do that with dogs the age and size of mine (more than 10 years old and 60 and 130 pounds). Several training websites suggested using a crate for an animals to sleep in close to the object of its dependence and slowly moving it away.
Wangsness suggests occupying a dog’s mind when it is alone by using a Bob-A-Lot, which is chew toy into which an owner can stuff treats. This occupies a dog’s mind and body, Wangsness said, taking it off their companion’s absence.
In extreme cases, both trainers said there are pharmaceutical options — doggie depression pills — that a veterinarian can prescribe.
For more information, visit www.doggoneamazing.com or www.dogtrainingbypj.com.