I sent this note to Maryam Faresh, dog psychic and cohost of the new podcast “The Psychic & The Trainer” on UBN Radio:
I have a 2.5-year-old dog with severe separation anxiety. My Vizsla tries to escape from the house to come find me if I ever leave her home alone. She’s destroyed her crate and has even jumped through a window when left alone. This is heartbreaking and very stressful for me and for her. Please help us.
Raising a pup who completely unravels any time I walk out the front door has tested my resolve and my patience. I’ve read every book on the topic ever published, tried every product on the market, and even brought Finley to a veterinary behaviorist to be evaluated. The only thing I hadn’t yet considered? Having her energy read by a psychic.
Faresh and celebrity trainer Cora Wittekind agreed to take my call on their fascinating show (currently in the process of becoming a segment of a larger program called Medium … Done Well), which chronicles their conversations with pet parents from across the country who are managing troubled dogs, cats, parakeets, and cows – just about any furry, scaly, or slimy family member with a behavior or training issue. The problem might be something as simple as begging at the table, or more serious stuff like aggression or nonstop barking.
Before calling in, I was asked to send photos of Finley with her eyes looking straight at the camera. “I use the eyes to read,” Maryam wrote to me in our email correspondence. I was moderately skeptical of the whole process because I don’t really believe in anything supernatural. If it can’t be scientifically proven or I can’t see it with my own eyes, I tend to think it’s not real. That being said, I’ve had psychic readings performed on myself and there have been a few instances in which I found the reader to be eerily on point.
On the 13-minute call, I told Maryam about the separation anxiety Finley has had from the very beginning. She confirmed for me that my dog carries fear and has abandonment issues before saying that animals can simply be born with personality sets like humans are. I have to admit, I was relieved to hear that my dog’s anxiety may be nature instead of nurture. I’ve often worried that I may have inadvertently done something to cause her distress.
Thankfully, Maryam acknowledged that I’ve been fostering an environment of stability. “Your household is methodical already – your lifestyle and work ethic. [Finley] wants to emulate that and fit into that,” Maryam said. Hearing this was like opening a window in a smoky room for me. Suddenly, the air cleared.
I’ve read about working dogs needing structure but I never considered it in light of how the household is run. Finley must feel incredibly confused as she sees me and my husband busily going about our day. We try to give her as much attention as our schedules will allow, but she’s probably left wondering what she’s supposed to be doing most of the time.
“Finley wants a job. She doesn’t understand her purpose; she’s not understanding her role. It needs to be clear and consistent,” Maryam stressed. This is where Cora, the trainer, jumped in. Unlike Maryam, Cora asked for some information on Finley ahead of time, so she looked up her breeder and determined that Finley comes from a long line of working dogs. Essentially, the energy and drive to work is in her blood. This means that roughhousing at the park on the weekends just won’t cut it.
“A job means not just running around and interacting with other dogs and going off of instinct. She needs a job to do where she focuses on something else and is challenged mentally and physically,” Cora said. Since I’m not going to take Finley hunting – which is what Vizslas were originally intended to do – Cora suggested constructive exercise like agility work, sheepherding, and hiking with her wearing a backpack. Getting Finley so dog-tired before the humans leave the house will help with her separation anxiety, so Cora’s goal was to help us make sure she’s exhausted on a daily basis. This should also involve find-it games, which I’ve already been doing with treats, so Cora gave me pointers on how to get Finley hooked on finding toys instead of tasty morsels.
Finally, she recommended figuring out Finley’s triggers, whether it’s picking up my keys or getting in the shower, and then desensitizing her to them. “There’s no specific formula. What works for one dog doesn’t necessarily work for another,” Cora said. “You have to get creative.” She mentioned taking my pooch to a friend’s house or a good dog daycare when I have to leave and practicing her being left in a down-stay in a room as I leave and come back, all while making no big deal of coming and going.
“Don’t worry about working her too much!” Maryam added, while advising me not to be heavy-handed and to use a lot of positive reinforcement.
I took a deep breath when the call ended. Whether or not Finley was truly communicating with me through the podcast isn’t what’s important. I felt a renewed sense of purpose after more than two years of false starts in dealing with my dog’s anxiety. I have my work cut out for me, but, luckily, Finley does too.
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About the author: Whitney C. Harris is a New York-based freelance writer for websites including StrollerTraffic, Brides.com, and WhattoExpect.com. A former book and magazine editor, she enjoys running (with her dog, Finley), watching movies (also with Finley), and cooking meatless meals (usually with Finley watching close by). She and her husband (and Finley, too) welcomed a baby girl named Rowan in August.