The Old Shirt Technique
OK, I've taught folks this method for dealing with anxiety when leaving a dog home alone, or traveling, or whatever, but never had need to do it myself. You know, take an old piece of clothing, leave it in their kennel or on the couch or in their dog bed, so they can smell you. Well... let me share with you an experiment I did the past two weeks.
Luna Belle, when I'm away, curls up and sleeps by the back door the whole time I'm gone. Nothing but sleeps, in this really tiny, tight ball, doesn't move a muscle, never changes position. I have some "Petcam" devices (an inexpensive brand of monitoring camera) so I can watch her while I'm gone. I've learned a lot about her this way when I'm not home. But it has worried me because she seems so tense and never moves from that spot or that position for up to 3 or 4 hours. That can't be good for her, no! No sounds, no moving, just frozen in that tiny ball during every moment I was gone.
So two weeks ago, I decided to do an experiment: I had an old T-shirt I was going to put in a bag of other clothes for the thrift store. Instead, I decided to wear it for two days while I did work on my house and in my workshop. I got it good and sweaty and stinky. Then I laid it out on the futon couch to see if it changed her behavior at all while I was gone. That futon is one of her favorite sleeping spots. She spends most of her nights stretched out full length on it, super mega relaxed.
I work part-time at a local church on Sunday mornings live streaming their services. So these past two Sundays were my big tests.
During this experiment, each Sunday, while working at the church, I would check in on her from time to time with the Petcam devices I have installed around my home. The results? There were two very significant behavioral changes that she has adopted, and one she retained.
First; I found that both Sundays she NEVER spent a moment by that back door waiting for me at all. She stayed on the futon, at first curled up, loosely, yet relaxed, right on top of my shirt and sleeps. After a short time she will stretch out long and relaxed like she normally does, and sleep more. She will adjust her position from time to time, as is normal. She seemed much more relaxed, NOT all curled up in a tight, tight, tight ball by the back door, like she used to do. She sleeps like she normally does at night, pretty much.
As for the second significant behavioral change; before this experiment, every Sunday when I got home, she is at the door, wide awake, and of course happy to see me, and would be a bit energetic, and sometimes give one tiny little whine. I would stay calm, rub her ear a little bit after putting my things away, and she would then calm down a bit over the next few minutes, but not right away.
These past two Sundays, leaving my shirt on the futon, when I come in, she does NOT greet me at the door (which hurts my ego, but hey, she's a dog, that's her job, LOL). I now have to actually call out to her to wake her up. Once she realizes I am home, she has to stretch her legs and body first, long and hard on the futon, takes a very deep breath, and only then very slowly gets up and comes to see me, eyes half closed, walking very slowly, looking a little bit annoyed with me. Once I rubbed her ears a little bit, she goes right back to the futon and lies down, as if I never left.
The one behavior has NOT changed, thank goodness, is when I get home from work, I'm very tired, so I go lie in my bed to nap. She still, as before, jumps up on the bed with me, and naps right next to me. Well, at least she let's me have that little bit of reassurance that she needs me. Dogs, ugh...
I now leave that shirt on the futon all the time. I think every week or two, when I go work in my workshop or do renovations around the house, I'll wear it, to renew my scent, as scent wears off over time, of course. It really seems to relax her more than ever. Not that she was a tense dog, no, she never was, she is the Mistress of Relaxing! Well, except for when I was gone. But now it's like she is SO relaxed sleeping on top of that shirt when I'm away from home, I'm just so happy to see that.
This was interesting, and I now have a first hand example to tell my clients when I suggest using this with their own dogs for various reasons. Please use this for any situation you feel it will help you and your dog reduce stress and anxiety!