An Old Dog’s New Tricks

Our sweet Sargent turned nine this past week.

For a Great Dane, that’s pretty old, but Sargent is in great health–physically, anyway. I guess aging can bring new problems whether you’re a dog or a person, and Sargent has developed some anxiety issues lately.

A few years ago, he started getting anxious during thunderstorms. I’ve read and researched and tried so many things, but nothing has “fixed” it. About the only thing I haven’t tried is that jacket thing. Let me know if you’ve tried it. All I know for sure is that it gets worse every year–and it’s definitely the thunder that bothers him.

This was the day we brought Sargent home. At 5.5 weeks, he weighed 10 pounds.

Sargent’s newest anxiety-caused behavior has wreaked havoc on our back gate…

This started about a month ago–out of the blue. We had been outside together for most of the afternoon, and we left Sargent in the back yard while we made a quick trip to Home Depot. When we came home, Harper asked if a branch had fallen on the gate. Upon closer inspection, we realized that it was definitely done by Sargent. We were baffled. He has never been destructive like that.

I could be angry that the gate is ruined, but really it just breaks my heart. I can see that he is not doing it for attention or out of boredom. He’s really that stressed when we leave. A few days after the first incident, Tice and I came home to Sargent sitting there waiting for us in the driveway. This is how he escaped…

He pushed and rattled the gate until it fell apart. Then, he pushed the gate open, which is not easy. He’s strong, and, apparently, he was determined.

I know the biggest factor in all of this is his age. But I also know that he’s always had some separation anxiety issues–they just haven’t resulted in destructive behavior until now (well, actually he used to chew on my panties…). I think dependency issues can be common in Great Danes, but his are probably more extreme than most. They are very emotionally needy dogs–they love their people and need lots of attention. This past year, he’s had to adjust to having Tice around, but he’s also gotten very used to having us at home. For the most part, I’ve been working from home since Tice was born, and Sargent is always with us. I suspect that makes it harder when we leave, but I have no idea what (if anything) brought on this most recent state of panic.

We’ve been having such beautiful weather, but he’s been pretty much staying inside when I have to go run errands or go somewhere for work. Sad.

I’ve been taking him on long morning walks several times a week, because I’ve read that an exercise routine can help. Our next step is to talk to our vet about medication.

Sargent and Mia napped "together" at our old house on the window seat when Sarge was eight weeks old. His weight doubled to 20 pounds in the first two weeks we had him.

One thing is for sure, he gets a lot of attention when we’re home, which is most of the time. This afternoon, he was entertaining Tice by chasing squirrels and rolling around on his back in the sun. We sure love him, and I hope he has many happy birthdays ahead of him.

You can see more of him in last year’s birthday post.

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3 Responses to An Old Dog’s New Tricks

  1. Nevie says:

    We had this happen with Foxy. We finally began crating her everyday. We would give her a reward when she went in the crate. After a year or so of doing this, her pattern of behavior was changed, and we could again let her stay out when we were gone. She once chewed the facing away on our back door during a thunder storm! Then she began chewing things up any time we left, regardless of the weather. The crating was hard for us to do at first, but it worked for us. Good luck finding your solution.

    • Natalie says:

      Thank you for sharing that, Aunt Nevie! I’ve wondered if going back to crate would help Sargent, but I’m not sure if we can go back. He was crate trained from the time we got him until he was out of the puppy stage. He was very dependent on the crate and couldn’t sleep without it (I see a pattern…). We didn’t keep it closed anymore, but he would still curl up in it whenever he napped or slept at night. The problem is that even the largest crates are really cramped on space for a Great Dane. And it was so loud when he’d get in and out at night. We finally were able to get rid of it when we moved to this house. Maybe I should set it up for him on our porch and see if he’ll even go in it anymore. I’ll let you know! Thanks, again!

  2. Christi says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about this. It is heart breaking. We have a border collie, shepherd mix that is like this. We got her from a rescue group a few years ago, and we have often thought this may have been how she ended up homeless. — If she is ever outside when a storm is approaching, she will escape the yard. I don’t know how she gets out, but she does, and at that point she is gone. Sometimes the storm is far off, and we have no idea it’s approaching, but she knows and will start unraveling.

    I keep some medication on hand from our vet, and that helps. It isn’t a full cure, but it sedates/relaxes her enough that it takes a considerable amount of the edge off of her fear. I don’t give it to her every time, just the times when she really needs it.

    We will also confine her to the bathroom at times, and surprisingly, that seems to help her. I have heard that this approach does not work at all for some dogs.

    I am really curious about the storm jackets. Let me know if you ever try one.

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