What is Separation Anxiety?
Essentially, canine separation anxiety is a phobia. A dog with separation anxiety is actually afraid of being left alone and enters panic mode when dealing with ‘alone time’.
Some dogs can also develop very intense attachments to one person and can be absolutely fine when that person is around, but will panic when separated from those people specifically (even if they are still with other people or co-owners).
Symptoms and behaviours of Separation Anxiety
If your dog displays any of these behaviours when they are separated from their significant human, it is highly likely that they have separation anxiety:
- Licking lips
- Attempting to escape (via exit points like the front door or crate door)
- Destruction of household items (typically something that smells like the dog’s guardian or significant human)
- Inappropriate elimination in the house
- And more…
All of these behaviours are a direct result of the fear that the dog is experiencing from being left alone.
Imagine this scenario: Your phobia is spiders. If someone left you alone in a room full of spiders and webs, how would you respond? Depending on the severity of the phobia you might try to escape, scream, tremble and possibly even hurt yourself as your fears took over from your rational patterns of thought.
This is the same for dogs. Alone time when a dog has separation anxiety can lead to some really undesirable behaviour . So, how do we tackle this?
Solutions for Separation Anxiety – ‘Desensitisation’
Fear is the most important thing we need to tackle when dealing with separation anxiety and the way we can do this is with a technique called ‘desensitisation’.
We need to reduce the dog’s sensitivity to their ‘alone time’. We do this by introducing periods of separation in very small increments, only moving forward at a rate the dog is comfortable with. We can call this ‘suspending absences’ and it means we never leave the dog longer than they can ahdnle.
If the dog we are working with repeatedly experiences the anxiety and panicked feeding of being left alone, the training will not work.
We do not use food or rewards during these periods of suspended absence – learn more in my article why I don’t use food in separation anxiety training.
This may seem like an impossible task, but the use of desensitisation alone has proven to be very successful if managed correctly.
The Aim of Desensitisation
The result we are looking for when using periods of suspended absence, is for the dog to become bored of what you are doing and lose focus on the fact you are not there. We want the dog to refocus their attention on another activity such as a bone, a toy or simply sleeping (rather than eating your furniture!).
‘Alone time’ during training
One key thing to remember when we are using these techniques is that the dog cannot be left alone for periods of time they cannot handle (a length that will trigger their ‘phobia’ and resultant behaviours).
This does not mean that they have to be with you, merely somebody else whilst you are not there.
This may involve any of the following things:
- Using a doggy day care service
- Advertising for a local pet sitter
- Being able to leave the dog with relatives or someone else in your local community, such as a student or retiree
Some of these options won’t be suitable and some won’t be available but it is worth noting that the success rate of this desensitisation will rely on preventing the dog slipping into ‘Panic mode’.
The Training Programme
Timing and what results to expect
Separation anxiety training can typically take several months. It is never possible to give specific timings or guarantees as each dog (much like each human) has different needs and will react to desensitisation differently (some faster, some slower).
When you start achieving the initial goals – which we will set out with you – nothing can beat the sense of accomplishment for both you and your dog.
For example, once they are able to be left for an hour, you will be free to run errands without worrying about your dog suffering.
Once they can be left for two hours, you could be free to have lunch or dinner out with friends.
When they can handle more than three hours alone, you could be enjoying a night out at the cinema or a show, without your dog becoming anxious.
It should be stressed here that separation anxiety training is a slow process and, as with any training programme, the initial weeks and months can sometimes seem especially slow. Once your dog is able to be alone for about thirty minutes, we should see much quicker progress, allowing us to greatly increase the increments of suspended absence.
What Does the Training Consist of?
We offer either a six week intensive programme or a one week programme, depending on your circumstances and requirements you can choose the option that will work best for you. The one week programme is designed for owners who would prefer to go it alone after some initial help, the six week intensive is more of a hand holding experience with longer support from The Pet Coach.
The Intensive Six-Week Programme – £695
|Thirty training ‘missions’ (see below for what this entails)||Five training ‘missions’ per week, each one informing the next dependent on the response of the dog and any notes given.|
|Six live ‘re-assessments’||We will complete one live re-assessment per week via webcam where we can communicate progress and issues live (instead of over e-mail).|
|Unlimited e-mail communication||Full scope to ask questions, report back and cover any concerns or celebrations with me directly.|
The follow on four-week programme – £495
|Twenty training ‘missions’||Five training missions per week|
|Four live re-assessments||One live re-assessment per week via webcam|
|Unlimited e-mail communication||As per the first six weeks|
What are ‘Missions’?
Missions are what we call training sessions each taking around 30 minutes to complete.
Each mission will involve very detailed, specific steps, these will need to be followed very closely in order to maximise results.
- Step one may involve putting on your shoes, walking to the door, opening the door, taking one step out, closing the door, locking the door taking ten steps away from the door then returning.
- You will know exactly what steps to follow for each mission and you will then record how your dog handles each step.
Once the mission is complete, I will review your notes and respond with a follow-on mission depending on how your dog is progressing.
The general idea is to complete one mission per day and take two days off (any days, these do not need to be consecutive, consistent or planned). Your mission notes will be checked and feedback given, as and when you complete them.
In addition to the weekly missions, we will also complete a live re-assessment via webcam.
This will consist of us completing a mission together (either as an additional daily mission or on one of the off days you choose).
I will then view and take notes during the re-assessment that will inform the next stage of the training.
We can also talk about any issues, concerns, and successes as well as any questions you may have about the process.
What you will need
You will need some way of recording your dog whilst you are not with them to see how they react, respond and improve to the missions. A home CCTV system is perfect for this.
Many of our clients will use a phone, tablet, or webcam to also do this. You can connect a computer to programs, such as Skype or Zoom, and log in to the conversation using your smartphone to see results in real-time.
We will also be communicating via e-mail and Zoom (which is a communications app, you can find here: https://zoom.us/
Why should you work with me?
As one of only a handful of Certified Separation Anxiety Trainers in the UK trained by Malena De Martini (Author of bestselling book ‘Separation Anxiety in Dogs‘ and leading expert world wide), I’m also a Certified Animal Behaviourist (ICAN, CAPBT) so you can be assured that I use the most up to date, effective methods to work with Separation Anxiety in dogs.
I am happy to answer any questions you may have about the separation anxiety training programme and whether it is suitable for you and your dog – you can also book an initial phonecall to talk to me about your dog and the programme, or jump right in and book this intensive programme and let’s work through fixing your dog’s separation anxiety together.
Petrina The Pet Coach