Firstly, let me tell you that treating separation anxiety in dogs is possible with the right approach! Training can fail if it is rushed, or if the underlying problem isn’t anxiety. However, with the right tools, dogs can learn to spend time alone.
The problem is more common than people think. Owners don’t always realise their dog is anxious until a neighbour mentions some barking or howling. Or in some cases chewing, scratching or toileting in the house is noticed. High numbers of dogs don’t show such obvious signs. With most of us spending more time home with our pets since COVID-19 we may discover new separation problems.
Key considerations before you start separation training:
- Medical conditions which cause pain or anxiety can hamper your training. Pay your vet a visit with your dog for a clean bill of health!
- Set up a camera to monitor your dog to see how they are feeling and behaving.
- Become familiar with subtle signs of anxiety. For example you may see your dog pace, hold their ears back, show wide eyes, watch the exits, pant and drool, chew, toilet, vocalise and more.
- Make sure your dog’s needs are being met appropriately and that they are ready to settle before training. (Check out some video ideas for mentally tiring out your dog before you leave: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCyXiT8PAfSxXbE7ze-9J5ow/)
- Advice often states that you must start with short periods of time and build up gradually. Whilst in theory this is true, even a minute absence can panic some dogs.
- So, your training starting point may simply be opening and shutting the front door without even venturing outside! Pick a start where your dog is not showing signs of anxiety. Build up so slowly during daily sessions that they barely notice.
There are numerous myths surrounding treating separation anxiety in dogs. Bans on dogs sleeping in owners’ bedrooms or getting on the sofa, needing to spend prolonged periods alone in a room at home before you leave the house, frequently ignoring your dog. Online training plans can seem insurmountable to do alone. Every dog is different. The programme must suit your individual dog’s needs, whilst being realistic.
One aspect that is correct is not to leave separation problems untreated. Dogs with genuine separation anxiety are suffering from the doggy equivalent of a panic attack. The more they experience this, the more anxious they become. They will also start to recognise signs that you might be leaving and start to panic earlier and earlier. The sooner treatment is started, the less ingrained the negative experiences and the better for everyone.
If you think your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety then consider who may be able to help you out in the short term by looking after your dog. By making other arrangement so that they aren’t left alone you can stop the problem from getting worse. Some have friends or family in the area, or neighbours they are on good terms with. Dogs who are happy to socialise could attend a reputable doggy day care.
The benefits of seeking professional help:
- Cut out unnecessary training steps to focus on your specific situation.
- Identify other areas of training required for success.
- Online training is developed to maximise coaching through real-time absences. Multiple sessions provide optimal support.
- Help with identifying when and how to move forwards.
- Frequent check-ins mean you don’t spend days, weeks or months doing ineffective training.
- I have worked through training my own dog who would previously howl for hours when left. I know what it is like to live with a dog with separation issues and carrying out the training programme. Also how important the little victories are on the way to success!
What does a separation training package look like?
My training package for separation issues look a little different than some others. Rather than one session and a long training plan to work through on your own, the steps are split up over multiple sessions with smaller, more manageable goals.
Sessions are carried out online via video call so that your dog behaves precisely as they would do normally, and I can see their responses as they happen. It also means I’m not getting in the way of normal absence training. I can see you and your dog in real time and guide you through the steps as you do them.
I will provide you with written handouts about separation anxiety and the principles of the training after our first assessment session and will leave you with “homework”. We then have multiple shorter sessions to catch up, keep up momentum and to continue to set new goals over the course of the training. This means continued support and guidance when things change as you progress.
I am a Clinical Animal Behaviourist based in the Nottingham area – however, with the online format of separation training you can be anywhere in the world as long as you have your dog and a device with an internet connection! Get in touch to see how I can help https://weteachpets.com/contact-me/