This is a story of an old dog, a new dog, anxiety issues, a thunderstorm, and a very nervous dog mom.
Scout is my 10-year old yellow Lab mix. Scout has anxiety issues. She also had pillow-eating issues long after she should have passed through the puppy stage of misbehaving. She would tear the house apart to find a stray cookie crumb. That combination led to Scout always staying in a kennel when she was home alone, even as an adult.
She was comfortable in the kennel, and it gave me peace of mind while I was gone. I didn’t have to worry if she was eating the shoes or socks. Worse, getting stuck under the bed searching for the tiny crumb that might have fallen behind the headboard from my most recent midnight snack.
I also knew that when there was a thunderstorm, being in the kennel was the best place for Scout. We’ve tried a ThunderShirt vest, Benadryl and some over the counter medication, but nothing seemed to help her. At least when she was in her kennel she couldn’t knock over tables trying to hide behind the couch, pull down the shower curtain trying to get in the bathtub, or relentlessly pace. I can’t say that she liked being in the kennel during a thunderstorm, but she did seem to recognize that she couldn’t pace and just had to lay down until it was over.
The kennel worked well for both of us, until I started thinking about getting a second dog. I really didn’t want to deal with kenneling two dogs at the same time. We lived in a smaller townhouse and there wasn’t room to have two kennels. If possible, I wanted to avoid setting them up each time.
Could I trust Scout to stay outside of the kennel?
Scout was 10 years old now. I could certainly trust her to stay out of the kennel by herself by now, right? It was finally time to find out.
I started experimenting with leaving Scout free in the house when I would only be gone for a short time.
The first few times, she was pacing when I got home. That made me worry that she was anxious. What if she paced the entire time I was gone? So, I started to look into ways I could spy on her to see what was really happening.
There are a lot of “spy cams” on the market. I just wanted to check on her occasionally to see if she was freaking out. Didn’t want to spend a lot of money on technology. I wasn’t looking in anything that required a monthly payment.
How the Presence mobile app helped
I eventually stumbled upon a phone app called Presence. It’s a phone app, and it’s free if you happen to have an old cell phone that is no longer being used.
This allowed me to take an old iPhone that was sitting in a drawer and use it as a video camera. Once I installed the app on my old phone, I could use my current phone to check on Scout. It also worked as a motion detector and would send me a notification anytime there was movement.
It was exactly what we needed. Over the next few weeks I could see Scout became more comfortable. Finally being free in the house when I was gone. Eventually anytime I left the house, I could see that Scout either slept on the bed or laid in front of the door. He’s patiently waiting for me to come home.
When the new puppy (Ripley, from the old Alien movies) came home with us, I continued to use the Presence app. Ripley was a puppy so she stayed in a kennel. Scout continued to be free, but just alternated between the bed and laying by the door.
The good news with these types of cameras is that you can see what your dogs are doing when you’re not home. That is also the bad news.
It’s good news when you check in and see that both dogs are doing what you expect them to do.
However, it’s bad news if you go to a movie, and check the app after it’s over to find both dogs romping and wrestling all over the bedroom. It’s even worse when you’re 30 minutes from home. That was an anxious car ride home.
Surprisingly and thankfully, when I finally arrived home, I saw that no pillows, furniture, socks, carpet or dogs were harmed during this adventure. Note: if you have the type of kennel that has two doors on it, and you’re using it for an energetic puppy, it’s a good idea to check BOTH doors before you leave!
Thunder and lightning
The next time the Presence app really came in handy was during an unexpected thunderstorm.
Like many dogs, Scout doesn’t like thunderstorms. She gets anxious and tries to hide behind furniture, climb on the back of the couch, get up on the desk, and generally does things that make me think she’s a cat.
After I only had Ripley for a few months, I left for the evening to go to a volleyball game when an unexpected thunderstorm popped up. Had I known this was coming, I would have put Scout’s kennel back up so she could have a safe and comfortable space to ride out the storm.
When I heard the storm mid-way through the volleyball game, I was surprised and immediately concerned, but couldn’t get to my phone. This was Scout’s first storm as a free dog, and would have to manage the terrors of the scary noises without her kennel.
I was sure that one of three things were happening – Scout was terrified and shaking, she was frantically pacing around the house, or she was destroying things. I wasn’t sure which of those would have been the best case scenario.
Once I could, I grabbed my phone to open the Presence app. I hoped for the best, but expected the worst. and was absolutely unprepared for what I saw.
I did not see a dog traumatized by being alone in a scary situation. What I saw was a beautiful image of Ripley relaxing in her kennel, and Scout peacefully laying down next to Ripley’s kennel.
That gave me the peace of mind to finish my night out, without having to worry about the dogs, or the house for the rest of the evening. Unfortunately, the screen capture from the video isn’t good enough to print out and hang on my wall. But I will never erase it from my phone.