Nemo, who is much happier these days. Photo: Jason Weisberger.
My dog Nemo came to me from the adoption organization Great Pyrenees Rescue of Northern California. He had rescue-itis.
He was a young pup who had a slew of health issues during his rescue and rehabilitation. Nemo had never been away from the rest of his 7 pup litter. He really didn't understand the idea of being alone at all when he was torn away from his brothers and sisters and brought to me, where a whole world of new sounds, smells, and hardwood floors confused him.
His answer? Cry all night.
Poor Nemo, he had never slept alone. He'd never really been alone in his life, and even with my Cavalier King Charles Spaniels around he felt abandoned. They were all older and much smaller, and could sleep in the bed. Nemo still needed crate training--and honestly, I still don't let him onto the bed, though he sometimes gets up there anyway. In the beginning, Nemo cried and howled all night. Neither of us was getting any sleep. The lack of sleep at night wasn't such a problem for Nemo. He would sleep all day next to my desk while I faded.
I had to try something.
After talking to my vet and the folks at the rescue organization, the first recommendation I tried was a Thundershirt. It's a spandex and cotton-y shirt for dogs and cats that sort of emulates a big, constricting hug for your pet. The shirt worked wonders for Nemo's in-car anxiety and screaming. He went from being a nightmare on drives to the vet or during visits to off-leash dog parks, to being able to handle situations like that with no problem. However, the Thundershirt didn't help at all with his sleeping issues (or mine).
My frustration grew as my sleep-debt increased. I didn't want to cave in; I knew that letting Nemo out of the crate at night could create massive (and I mean massive, because he's a Great Pyrenees) house training issues. I started to sleep on the hard tile floor next to Nemo's crate. He'd settle down and we could both sleep, but my back soon vetoed this. I needed a solution.
Maybe there was an herbal remedy gentle enough for a puppy, something to help calm his nerves? My vet suggested Bach's Rescue Remedy. This product is a homeopathic "flower essence" blend, which means that it purportedly contains extracts of various plants diluted to concentrations so tiny, no measurable trace of the initial extract is present. I know it's homeopathy, and might be bunk, but I didn't want to give him a bonking big dose of melatonin or something. This could not harm him. The worst that could happen is I'd be out a few bucks, and still in need of a solution to our mutual problem.
The Flower Remedy lacked the punch of a sedative, but correlated with him calming him down a bit. Who knows if the actual product helped, or the ritual that accompanied it did. I started by putting a few drops on a treat before putting Nemo in his crate, laying next to him on the floor until he passed out, and then moving just me to my bed. This seemed to work for a few weeks, but Nemo still woke several times a night and howled like an entire pack of wolves. It was better than before, but it was not a long-term solution. Nemo hated the crate.
As Nemo became house-trained, I decided to get rid of the crate. That wasn't, however, the end of our problems. The big guy hated my bedroom and wanted to sleep in the guest bedroom. For a few months, guests at my home were treated to the best view in the house while Nemo and I slept downstairs. At first I was so happy to be getting 8 hours of sleep that I did not care. But after a while this too became tedious.
I decided to use my daughter as bait. Nemo is willing to sleep on the floor next to me in bed, but he sneaks into bed with my 6-year-old every night that she is at my house. I started putting her upstairs. Nemo started sleeping there. Pretty soon, he was willing to sleep in a giant bean bag chair next to the bed, even if she wasn't there.
Nemo is amazingly mellow now.
The Thundershirt really helped with his car anxiety, the Rescue Remedy seemed to have a mildly sedative effect (or who knows, maybe a great placebo effect).
But what really helped was just time, attention and patience. And probably the constant love Nemo received from me and my kid.