Dealing with dog anxiety and bad habits
July 3, 2016 9:46 PM   Subscribe

My parents' dog is not allowed inside the house. I let her inside for two nights because it was very hot -- 105F -- outside. But now any time I go inside and leave her alone, she's frantic and begs to be let in. She already has separation anxiety.

I'm watching my parents' house for a few weeks while they are out of the country. Their nine-month old dog has some anxiety and when exacerbated, she's very difficult to control. She scratches at the window when we all go inside. Over the past several days I let her in our house for two nights when it was 105 degrees outside. Unfortunately, now when I go inside she tries to rush inside the house and claws at the doors and windows even more desperately to try to get inside.

On top of that, the fourth of July means fireworks have been going off for the past week and it makes her panic. Any time one goes off she starts scratching again.

Usually she is very good about understanding that she can't come inside and waits at the door. She likes being outside too, but what she really likes is to be around people and watch what they are doing, and has a lot of separation anxiety. I have also been spending more time with her than my parents normally do (because I've had to take her to work a few times). So since I let her inside she's been rushing through the door between my legs when I open the door (not every time -- during the day she'll listen when I tell her to stay, at night all bets are off) and scratching at the door and windows frantically -- splintering the wood of the door.

I'm worried she's going to hurt herself scratching the door and that she's dealing with so much anxiety. I'm also worried my parents will just exacerbate her behavior by doing what they know best, yelling at her. At first I tried spritzing her with a water bottle when she started scratching like we do when she barks too much, but that doesn't work. She eventually stops but it is a grueling ritual.

Also, I'm not sure how to train her when she is nervous. When she's anxious she refuses to eat or drink anything, and won't pay attention to me; she doesn't care about treats or toys when, so it's difficult to distract her. She fixates on what is making her nervous. I have been doing exercises with her to help her focus, but it has been difficult.

I regret letting her inside since it's caused so much anxiety for her, but it was also dangerously hot outside. My parents are not going to let the dog live indoors, ever. Culturally they just aren't comfortable with it (where they grew up, dogs were basically strays that came home to eat and guard your property at night) and my dad's also very neurotic and needs his environment to be very controlled. He has anger issues and could barely deal with the unpredictable nature of having his children indoors.

I have already done things things:
-Made her kennel as comfy as possible and surrounded by her favorite toys; I put heavy blankets on top of it to muffle some of the sounds.
-Put on a thundershirt during the fireworks and at night when she begins to get anxious about the fact that I will go inside; saw little improvement
-tried blocking the windows so she can't see inside and get anxious (but she climbs on top of things to try to see into the house)
-Tried giving her favorite toys at night when she gets the most upset
-Tried sitting in the room furthest away from the windows and doors so she can't see me and get frustrated

I ignore her when she scratches and she eventually stops, although she will stop and start again several times before giving up for the night.

What else can do to I calm her anxiety and teach her to stop begging to come inside? At the least, how can I stop her from scratching on the door so she doesn't hurt herself?
posted by mmmleaf to Pets & Animals (37 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This is an unfair and untenable situation. Rehome the dog immediately.
posted by littlewater at 9:58 PM on July 3, 2016 [87 favorites]

This poor puppy--literal puppy. Someone is actually giving her some of the attention and care that dogs, especially young dogs, need, and she's afraid of losing it. Someone has actually offered her shelter from potentially-lethal heat, and now she wants it all the time.

Dogs do get separation anxiety. Many dogs are terribly frightened by fireworks, as well. These issues can be worked on, and ameliorated, if not eliminated for all. But your parents are keeping this sweet creature in unacceptable conditions. You have to persuade them to find her a home that actually gives a damn whether she lives or dies.
posted by praemunire at 10:02 PM on July 3, 2016 [30 favorites]

Best answer: Yeah this is really bad. I don't understand why your parents have a dog at all. Maybe that's how it was back in the day, but this dog isn't a stray who shows up when he feels like it. This isn't a dog who's chill with living outside. Your parents chose him, and it's cruel to make him suffer like this. There is no way to convince a pack animal to be comfortable without their pack. This is like asking how to calm a child's "anxiety" who is being made to live outside. It can't be done. The anxiety isn't the problem, it's appropriate.
posted by bleep at 10:02 PM on July 3, 2016 [65 favorites]

Oh my God. I am thisclose to asking the mods to put a content warning on this post because this is an incredibly upsetting description of animal abuse, full stop.

Please, take this opportunity of your parents being out of town to rehome this suffering dog.
posted by lalex at 10:06 PM on July 3, 2016 [37 favorites]

(In the meantime, if you feel you can't have her in the house on a regular basis, please make sure that the dog has access to shaded areas and a religiously-maintained supply of cool fresh water. Even then, you have to understand that you are risking her life having her out in that heat. Seriously, this dog could die. I read stories from various animal rescues every summer about the tragedies that have resulted from dogs being kept outdoors despite extreme conditions.)
posted by praemunire at 10:08 PM on July 3, 2016 [12 favorites]

Yes, please. This is not the right home for this dog. I don't understand why your parents would want a dog that can never come inside and would cause your father frustration and anxiety just by its very existence. Please, please help this dog find a home where she can live a life that's more than constant fear. This is no way for any creature to live.
posted by Barnifer at 10:12 PM on July 3, 2016 [12 favorites]

This is absolutely animal abuse. Please make sure that the dog has cool, fresh water and a shady area at all times. Dogs are not supposed to be kept outside. I'm going to go hug my dog now, who is happily nested next to me on the couch.
posted by Marinara at 10:14 PM on July 3, 2016 [11 favorites]

Do you think it will be possible to convince your parents to let this pet live inside? Can they articulate their specific concerns about what might happen if the dog goes inside?

It's going to be really difficult for this dog to become bonded with the family if they're always suffering. Bonding aside, it's not right to let a dog suffer. Is there any way you can discuss this with your parents, and possibly change their minds?

In the meantime, while they're away, I would heed the advice above to keep the dog cool and hydrated as much as possible. In fact, I'd go ahead and let the dog inside where it's cool. If your parents keep the dog under humane conditions, this will be happening anyway; if they decide to rehome the dog, so much the better. But for now, the dog needs safety and comfort.
posted by witchen at 10:15 PM on July 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The dog needs shade and water but she also needs companionship. Dogs are genetically selected to be happy in the company of people. If they can't give her that, she really does need to find a new home.

I hear those stories about the dog being outside all the time too from my elderly relatives - for one, that was a different and more open era and for two the mortality rate among those dogs was much higher.

She needs your help. Make her immediate environment comfortable - shade with some kind of airflow, fresh water, a place to lie down - but if she's going to be locked outside 24x7 and not get any human interaction you are developing a very poorly socialized dog that will be a problem and possibly a danger to others.

You're concerned enough to post on AskMeFi and you're getting the feedback that your concerns are justified. Please do the right thing by this dog.
posted by lon_star at 10:17 PM on July 3, 2016 [19 favorites]

Response by poster: A couple comments --my parents come from third world poverty so it's hard for them to treat animals the way Americans do. So she doesn't live inside with them (my dad has OCD and PTSD) but I do think she is comfortable outside. She enjoys the space to run and play. It has rarely been this hot, which is why I bring her inside or take her to work with me where it is cool. But she always has a lot of shade and cool water.

The dog is very bonded with the family as my parents spend most of their time outside. This is the first time they have been gone for a long time, and as I work long hours, I think she is very confused. Coupled with the fireworks going off intermittently for the past week.

I don't think it's a lack of compassion...they just simultaneously don't understand anxiety and have a hard time adjusting their views. I am working on helping them understand the ways they can treat her better - but they are also two people with substantial mental health problems and with the dog, all three of them have been getting better.

I think it is a cultural difference that people think dogs cannot live outside. I do think her personality and anxiety issues makes it untenable, but I do need some advice about how to calm her in the short term.

Maybe I am too apologetic on their behalf because I don't know what to do.
posted by mmmleaf at 10:25 PM on July 3, 2016 [9 favorites]

It's not that dogs can't live outside ever, it's that a lone little puppy can't be left by itself in dangerous heat with loud noises going off.

I think based on what you said, you should be staying outside with her if that's what she's used to. If it's too hot for you, it's too hot for her.
posted by bleep at 10:31 PM on July 3, 2016 [21 favorites]

Is there a compromise such as a garage she can be let into to make her feel safer from the fireworks and that will put you out of sight so she does not try to claw her way in?
posted by AugustWest at 10:32 PM on July 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think it is a cultural difference that people think dogs cannot live outside.

You need to see past this. Animal cruelty is not a cultural or subjective thing. Keeping an animal outside at 105 is OBJECTIVELY CRUEL. Keeping a social animal separated from her pack? OBJECTIVELY CRUEL.

I'm going to go hug my dog now.
posted by mochapickle at 10:37 PM on July 3, 2016 [25 favorites]

Best answer: I know people that never have dogs inside but they are adult working dogs. They live outdoors, guard livestock and property. Having a young dog outside by itself is hard to wrap my head around. So this what I would do. Starting tonight give her 50 mg of Benadryl. See how she reacts. If she is just sleepy give her more tomorrow. I'd pretty much knock her out for the holiday. My dog is starting to howl right now with the firecrackers. He is getting knocked out tonight.

Can you crate her inside the house? It is an option but unless she is crated trained it will cause a whole lot crying and barking, and usually the training is done in steps over time.

I think the rushing the door and scratching is just to get to you. She doesn't want to be alone and the fireworks are just going make her more needy. I think trying to train her to stop her annoying behavior while she is so stressed is going to be very difficult. But you can try heavily rewarding the behavior you want and basically redirecting her from the unwanted behavior. I am a big believer in treats. Not everybody is.

You are in a difficult situation. I don't envy you. Good luck.
posted by cairnoflore at 10:43 PM on July 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

Do not let the overwhelming cries of 'cruelty' guilt you too much. You nailed it exactly when you talked about the lifestyle your parents come from and people here (western world) have a hard time understanding that. All the bluster aside, you're getting good advice, the dog needs its pack, its parents are away and at this time there are frequent loud noises that it has little experience with. Spend as much time as you can with her and assume that your comfort levels are her comfort levels as far as heat goes.
posted by deadwater at 10:44 PM on July 3, 2016 [9 favorites]

A compassionate person can still harm others if they don't know how not to. A good outcome is not the automatic result of being a good person.
posted by amtho at 10:47 PM on July 3, 2016 [19 favorites]

Dogs can be outside in mild weather, no extreme heat or cold. Leaving a dog outside in that temperature could mean them dying of heat exhaustion. Cultural difference isn't a great excuse to treat a dog like that. If you couldn't spend a day out there in a fur coat, then they certainly cannot.

Honestly, they seem like a poor fit for dog ownership. This kind of treatment would prevent them from being suitable adopters according to most dog rescues and breeders.

There's only one fair option if they will not let the dog in: Built a large shaded/sheltered dog run with a doggie pool(or some source of cooling), and get the dog a companion. Anything short of doing that is not going to be a proper way to keep an outdoor dog. Even hardened hunting dogs have the benefit of large roaming areas with a pack, and plenty of shade.

Honestly I vote giving the dog to a family that will let her inside to learn and socialise properly, and protect her from getting sick from living outside.
posted by InkDrinker at 10:48 PM on July 3, 2016 [10 favorites]

Culturally they just aren't comfortable with it (where they grew up, dogs were basically strays that came home to eat and guard your property at night) and my dad's also very neurotic and needs his environment to be very controlled.

My parents grew up in poverty in the Philippines, and they would never treat a dog this way. Regardless of what culture your parents are from, this is the USA where dogs have a right to be humanely treated.

Depending on the county and state of your parents' home, they could be charged with animal abuse. If an animal lover sees or hears your puppy in distress (not just now, but any time in the future) they could report it to the authorities. Do you really want to wait until it gets to the point where your parents have a charge of animal abuse recorded in their names?
posted by invisible ink at 10:48 PM on July 3, 2016 [24 favorites]

Yes, it's cruel to keep a domesticated dog outside in 105 degree heat. Yes, it's cruel to force a dog to be outside constantly when it doesn't want to be. Yes, it's cruel to yell at a dog in lieu of training.

Are outdoor dogs a thing? Sure. Do dogs like to be outside? Sure. Should you force a dog to remain outside who clearly wants to be inside? No! I mean--does she have shelter? Does she have access to water at all times?

This situation is ridiculous and your parents should not have a dog.
posted by Automocar at 10:50 PM on July 3, 2016 [18 favorites]

I've known people who grew up with the same kind of cultural norms about dogs, who changed their attitudes in the new country; I think the mental health issues are the more significant barrier.

Maybe film her when she's distressed, to show them how bad it is, and pass some literature or websites along? Unlikely to work if there's just going to be yelling, though.

2nd making some kind of snug, dark, safe place (as quiet as you can make it) and sitting with her, with some water. My dog never got over her fear of thunder and fireworks; I'd stay with her in a particular closet until it was over. But she chose the place, I couldn't make her go anywhere else.

Idk, you have to be consistent with everything with dogs... she's had a taste of the pack comfort she craves, and it may be hard to get her to forget it :/ (can you take her to your place? Maybe forever? Just say you're taking her?)
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:55 PM on July 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Idk, you have to be consistent with everything with dogs... she's had a taste of the pack comfort she craves, and it may be hard to get her to forget it :/ (can you take her to your place? Maybe forever? Just say you're taking her?)

Yeah, this is what I'm struggling with the most. I'm going to try to explain it to them and see how it goes. Dad has gotten better about the yelling, he has learned faster with the dog than he did with his children. Mom is gentle with the dog but the inconsistency is what confuses her.
posted by mmmleaf at 11:01 PM on July 3, 2016 [5 favorites]

Mod note: A few comments deleted. Folks, I know this is a fraught question and people are worried about the dog. Still this is Ask Metafilter, where we answer questions and try to help, and not a discussion space. Please be calm and offer helpful suggestions. Do not debate each other, do not comment just to show how angry you are. If your advice is to find a different option, that's fine, but don't flame out here.
posted by taz (staff) at 11:07 PM on July 3, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Mom is gentle with the dog but the inconsistency is what confuses her.

Dogs learn. My dog is welcome on the furniture at my house, but not at my mom's -- after consistent correction at my mom's, my dog learned not to jump up when she's over there but knows it's fine at my house. Another example: My mom feeds the dogs table scraps, so the dogs sit right by her at the table and beg, but I don't feed scraps at all, so they don't beg from me at all.

If you're not able to help rehome the dog at this point as others have suggested, please do bring the dog inside for comfort while your folks are away. Most dogs are able to figure out the acceptable behavior from each person they live with.
posted by mochapickle at 11:17 PM on July 3, 2016 [14 favorites]

Best answer: Yes. Dogs are absolutely able to understand different rules for different people.

Your parents spend most of their time outside - but you don't. You are inside. The puppy wants to be with you - inside. If your parents were there, it would want to be with them - outside. Bring the puppy inside and love on it. Your relationship with the puppy is different than your parents relationship with the puppy.

If it helps, consider that part of dog sitting is providing the love that is really crucial at that age. Several weeks is too long for a baby like that to go without her pack. She really needs you.

In addition, even people with outdoor dogs usually bring them inside for July 4 weekend. Just let her in. This problem won't come up again until next year when she's nearly 2 and will be more settled.
posted by corb at 11:24 PM on July 3, 2016 [31 favorites]

Hi OP, some thoughts for you:

1) There is no evidence for any extrapolations about "packs" in relation to domestic dogs. It's not really relevant and certainly not established fact. It's a pernicious myth that animal behaviouralists have been trying to counter for years.

2) Was it really 104' overnight? Death Valley was only 88 overnight . The overnight record of all time is 107 (also Death Valley). It would be really, really unusual , if not unprecedented to have an overnight temp that high in virtually the entire United States.

3) Here are some tips for separation anxiety: 1, 2. I hope they help, best of luck OP. If you don't want to bring it in, make sure the dog has plenty of water and shade, and is not exerting itself.

PS - I am not debating cruelty or no, just noting that many dogs here in Australia are "outside dogs", and temperatures regularly get that high here over summer. If your dog is a snub nosed variety like a bulldog or a pug, or longer haired, I would be extra vigilant for signs of heat stroke.
posted by smoke at 11:42 PM on July 3, 2016 [10 favorites]

Does she have the correct kind of summer cut? Some breeds of dog should be nearly shaved in the summers, while others should have trims in heat-trapping areas. It will be easier for her to be outside if her coat is optimized for the weather.

Although, honestly, I'm with the commenters who point out that dogs are good at having different rules for different people and you should just bring her inside while your parents are gone.
posted by Rush-That-Speaks at 11:45 PM on July 3, 2016

Response by poster: Smoke- it was 105 during the day and I kept her in there overnight. It's actually pretty cool at night.

She is a short hair with a very light coat.

The notion that she can learn what's appropriate behavior for different people is somewhat comforting. I'll have to deal with them when they return.
posted by mmmleaf at 11:45 PM on July 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

I would not leave this dog on it's own outside in high heat, especially if the dog is freaking out, jumping around, clawing at the door, etc. The Humane Society warns about exercise or physical exertion in hot weather. If I were you, I'd bring the dog in, and begin to put together some information for your parents to make a decision going forward.

Also see the Humane Society's warnings about pets and fireworks. Fourth of July in the US (also New Year's Eve) can be a dangerous time for pets.

If your parents aren't comfortable with information online, you can print out some material for them, or perhaps your local ASPCA (or similar) has guidelines that will help your parents understand the issues involved with pet ownership. Without trying to sound too alarmist, one thing to remember is that neighbors may be concerned and call authorities if they think the dog is being mistreated or neglected.

It's completely possible to train the dog not to scratch, etc., but it requires learning something about dog training -- which is not difficult, because there are many good books, online articles and videos that can help people to learn how to train dogs humanely, with positive reinforcement, but it requires some effort and attention. The idea that a dog will just understand and obey without patient training is just not realistic, unless perhaps it's an older dog that has already been trained ... but even then, scary new situation and different people, different behavior, loss of reassuring routine can cause even a well-trained dog to behave differently.

For what it's worth, I think most rescue agencies will not allow you to adopt if you plan on keeping the dog outdoors all the time, so this is an indication of the state of understanding about humane pet care in most urban/suburban settings (as opposed to say, farms and similar). For now, let the dog be inside with you while it's extra hot and/or scary with fireworks, and then begin putting together information that will help your parents decide if having a dog is a good idea, depending on if they are able to spend the time to properly care for and train it. I know they don't want to be cruel to the dog, and just have a different understanding, but I would help them to learn more about the standards of pet ownership based on current standards.
posted by taz at 12:04 AM on July 4, 2016 [7 favorites]

The notion that she can learn what's appropriate behavior for different people is somewhat comforting. I'll have to deal with them when they return.

I'm so glad, OP. Dogs don't forget people who treat them well and your kindness will earn you a friend for life.
posted by mochapickle at 12:06 AM on July 4, 2016 [4 favorites]

Starting tonight give her 50 mg of Benadryl. See how she reacts.

DO NOT give this dog drugs without first talking to a vet about dosage! I don't see anything about how much this dog weighs, and while you can do an online search for appropriate per-pound dosage for dogs and Benadryl it is NOT something you should do without at least a phone call to the vet.
posted by mediareport at 2:57 AM on July 4, 2016 [15 favorites]

corb's advice seems to me the best: bring it inside while you're there.
posted by mediareport at 2:59 AM on July 4, 2016

Maybe I am too apologetic on their behalf because I don't know what to do.

Yes, you are. Coming from poverty doesn't excuse them from treating animals with respect. Having mental health issues doesn't, either. Nope.

Please, please bring her inside while you're looking after her, and when she's outside, spend as much time as possible with her. You might also try something like Adaptil - it's not a wonder-drug, but it did help my dog (he had mild separation anxiety when I first rescued him).

If you are able, please think seriously about rehoming her while they are away. If you can't do that - and I understand why it would be very, very hard - then please be prepared to speak with them about their unacceptable treatment of this dog when they return.

This is animal abuse. Maybe they don't see it that way. Maybe they're doing their best. That doesn't matter.

I'm going to be loving extra hard on my dog today...
posted by schroedingersgirl at 8:36 AM on July 4, 2016 [4 favorites]

Do you have contact information for their veterinarian? I would consult them before giving the dog anything like Benadryl. I don't think this is exceptional anxiety. Most dogs will want to be inside with people, even if they enjoy the outside. Definitely have the dog inside for fireworks today. More lost dogs end up in shelters this week than any week of the year because they end up running away from the loud noises.

When this dog was adopted/obtained by your family, did the shelter or previous owner know it would be an outside only dog? If not, they may want to consider offering that knowledge to see if there would be a better breed recommendation or a dog that needs rehoming from another outside situation. It just seems like it might not be the best fit, and that's ok.
posted by Katie8709 at 10:06 AM on July 4, 2016

Best answer: One thing I will say that might be helpful for your parents to hear: they don't have to be perfect all the time to be good dog owners. It sounds like they are trying and learning, and that is wonderful, and will make a big difference. Do you think they would be open to enrolling her in a dog obedience class, or working with a trainer? What if you paid? That would be a good way for them to learn some really concrete skills to use with the dog. Also, I have known families where the well-trained dogs got to live inside, which seemed a little unfair to me, BUT maybe if they work with the dog on training it will lead them to seeing her more as a member of the household.

I will say, having several friends who have fostered rescued dogs - keeping dogs outside in a small yard, with no other dogs and no "job" is probably the most common circumstance that leads to behavioral and even health problems. I have heard some heartbreaking stories - one friend adopted a dog who turned out to have a parasite from living outside and died several months after she adopted her. This is different from, say, farm dogs who have a job and room to roam and another dog or two to keep them company. So while I don't think your parents are terrible dog abusers (they clearly care about her), I do think it's worth your while to help their dog get to live inside.

As for tonight - if your parents are still away, I would just bring her inside to be honest. You've already done it, so the "damage" there is done, and fireworks can be legitimately terrifying for dogs. It's not uncommon for dogs to climb fences and run away on the 4th.
posted by lunasol at 12:04 PM on July 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Yes, Please being her in tonight and maybe give a quick call to the vet to check about the Bennedryl (Bennedryl really helped soothe my dogs. It is the only thing that works and we tried everything, thundershirts, herbal sprays, distractions, etc. My dogs really suffer on fourth of July.). Vet probably won't charge you to answer an "Is it safe to try Bennedryl tonight" question. If you can find one open today. Maybe try an emergency vet clinic. I don't want to bag on your parents, but what they are doing is not responsible pet ownership. Not responsible to the dog foremost, she needs to be raised with love and taught how to be a canine good citizen, but also not responsible to the neighbors who must be concerned, and who have to listen to the poor, bored, lonely dog allday and night. It must be heartbreaking and frustrating for anyone living nearby.

I thank you and commend you for caring enough about all of them to get involved. I think people are capable of changing their thinking no matter what their background. If mental health issues prevent responsible pet ownership, then really, it's best for the dog to go to another home. Please keep trying until this situation is remedied one way or the other, for everyone's sake.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 12:39 PM on July 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

You've gotten a lot of really helpful advice, and I won't repeat that. And I get what you mean about cultural differences. I don't know where your parents are from, but even in Hong Kong dog ownership is a relatively new thing and people who leave their dogs outside all the time are really common. The shelter agencies and government are working hard to communicate why this is a bad thing, but given that a lot of people are used to working dogs it is hard to make swift change.

You mentioned your parents are working through mental illness. Are they doing that with a therapist at all? I get that there are different ways of handling dogs, but if your parents are in the US they need to be aware of US standards. Someone needs to take a conversation which says. It's okay for the dog to live outside, but he needs to be brought in given the following circumstances: 1) 2) 3) This is why I asked if they had a therapist, since maybe that's someone who can take that conversation with them.
posted by frumiousb at 5:41 PM on July 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Until your parents are home to relieve the dog of the belief that she has been abandoned take up sleeping in the yard. Since you can't be with her during the day, don't abandon her at night. This will both reassure her and stop her desperate efforts to get into the house.

If you can install a sprinkler or a wading pool during the day for the dog to get herself soaked to cool down she will have another means of avoiding getting sick or dying from the heat.

Since you are not her primary family and she is an anxious dog she is acting quite predictably with panic and fear. She has no evidence that her family is coming back, and no certainty that you know she is family and will not abandon her. Her survival instincts say to dog your every footstep.

If you are afraid to sleep in the yard alone get a couple of friends to come and camp with you.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:04 AM on July 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

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