Photo by Josh Hild
Question from Sgt. Claudia:
My name is Sgt. Claudia. I am deployed in Afghanistan right now. We have saved three puppies here and have made arrangements to take them home to the States with the help of The Puppy Rescue Mission and No Pups Left Behind. Our question is we have to be very careful because if we get caught with them they will be killed. They have separation anxiety really bad. They cry when we leave them in the day when we run missions. What is the best course of action to calm them? We need all the help we can get. Thank you for any help that you can provide. Having these pups here makes us feel like we are home. Please help us!
Advice from Cheri Lucas:
Thank you for your brave and selfless service to our country. I commend you for going the extra mile to rescue three pups from Afghanistan, and I’m glad they provide comfort for you in what must be an extremely stressful environment.
As counterintuitive as it may seem, your pups will feel more secure and have less anxiety when they view you as a leader, rather than a lover. The energy you and the other troops project to these puppies will determine how they feel about their current situation. Primarily sharing overly emotional, nervous or fearful energy with pups while you’re at the base, will signal a “weakness” to them. If the humans are perceived to be weak or soft, then the rest of the pack must step up to the plate in order for the pack to survive. Imagine how powerful the burden would be on a dog that feels he is charged with the very survival of his human pack. Fear and anxiety often develop when the dog realizes he’s not equipped for the task he’s been the base, will signal not a complete substitute, teaching the pups basic obedience skills is “weakness” to them. If the humans are perceived to be weak or soft, then the rest of the pack must step up to the plate in order for the pack to survive. Imagine how powerful the burden would be on a dog that feels he is charged with the very survival of his human pack. Fear and anxiety often develop when the dog realizes he’s not equipped for the task he’s been inadvertently given.
Pack leaders are always fair, and consistently do what’s in the best interest of the entire pack. An effective pack leader understands that a disciplined pack is more likely to survive than one without rules and boundaries. Implementing structure into your puppy’s daily life while you’re at base will show him that you are capable and in control.
Make sure your interactions with the pups are about more than just affection. Use calm, deliberate, and assertive energy when you’re caring for them. Introduce the puppies to dog crates if they are available to you. Perhaps you could build a makeshift crate as I’m sure you’re limited to what you have available on base. Chances are they will have had no prior experience spending time in a crate, so proceed slowly and patiently, gradually increasing the time the dogs spend crated every day. Crates are like dens for dogs in their natural world. They go a long way towards helping a dog feel safe and secure. If they adapt well to the crates, they could be a great place for the pups to stay when you leave for short missions.
The most important and probably most difficult next step will be for you to not make a big deal about leaving for a mission, or returning from one. If you go into an emotional state because you feel guilty about leaving the dogs behind, or you’re worried about how they might feel, they will sense something is wrong and act accordingly. If you respond by using “soft energy” to comfort them, it will only nurture any fears they might have. Remember that dogs are hardwired to keep the pack stable. As a pack leader, your job is to help them achieve that goal, while remaining calm and assertive.
Exercise is a very important component in fulfilling a dog, but it may be an unrealistic goal under your current living situation. While not a complete substitute, teaching the pups basic obedience skills is a way to “psychologically exercise” them and tire them out before you leave. The pups will have the additional advantage of having basic manners when they finally arrive in the States. This will make them much more adoptable!
Separation anxiety is not an uncommon issue, even when a dog lives in a calm, traditional family setting. But these issues are resolvable, even in your high-stress environment. Just remember that YOUR interactions with the pups must be balanced, if THEY are to be balanced. If you present yourselves with calm, assertive leadership, and give the pups affection only when they are in a calm, submissive state of mind, you will be behaving like true pack leaders! Keep up the good work! Stay safe and return home soon!