Training a dog has a lot in common with losing weight. Why? Because we try lots of different things, hoping we’ll find that one elusive silver bullet.
If you’ve ever tried to lose weight you’ll know how it goes.
You pick a diet, give it a try, find out it doesn’t work. So you give up and try another diet. There are plenty of different diet fads to choose from – you never run of options. You just need to find one that works, right?
Yet when you ask dieticians and doctors about the best way to lose weight, the answer is pretty consistent isn’t it? Cut calorie intake and do more exercise. It’s been around for years. And we’ve all heard it.
But with such simple and straightforward advice, why do so many of us fail? We fail because this is no quick fix. To lose weight we have to make a long-term commitment to a lifestyle change.
And that’s hard. The steadiness and, let’s face it, slowness of progress causes us to give up before we’ve given the method a chance to work.
So old it seems new
Just like the advice of calories and exercising more, the gold standard separation anxiety training method has been around for decades.
This tried and approach of gradual exposure of getting used to being alone, is backed by evidence. And the method is based on the way human phobias are treated.
It’s not shiny and even though it might seem new, it was developed in the 1950s.
When done properly, the technique works brilliantly and hands down beats any other approach.
But despite this accepted method there is a deluge of conflicting advice about how to treat separation anxiety. No wonder if can be hard to know where to start or what to do.
If at first, you don’t succeed…don’t try different approach
So hands up if you’ve tried a ton of different things to fix separation anxiety but none of them have worked.
I’ll raise my hand because I’ve definitely done this in the past. Most of us have. And, just like dieting, there’s no shortage of options to try.
But if one method stands out, why do we chop and change? And why do I hear people say about gradual exposure training, “I tried that and it didn’t work?”
There are a few reasons why.
1. We don’t give it long enough
Just as with weight loss, getting a formerly anxious dog to be okay on his home, takes time. A LOT of time. It’s definitely not days. And it’s most likely not weeks, but months.
In fact, think about the timescale it takes to lose a large amount of weight, and you’ve got a reasonable idea of how long.
Because it’s such a gradual process it’s easy to give up before seeing any progress.
We have high expectations of our dogs. And when they don’t change their behaviour instantly, we think the training method we’ve used must be bogus. So we try another technique.
2. We don’t do it properly
I’m 100% guilty as charged here. When I first tried to help my dog’s separation anxiety, I read something about “coming and going through the door over and over”. I tried a few times, but he didn’t get any better.
You’ll see the method described in lots of places online. The method is not gradual exposure therapy, but random, unplanned, and unintentional training.
Like saying you’re going to stick to 1500 calories a day. But then you grab a tub of Ben and Jerry’s for dessert thinking it’s about the same calories as an apple.
Pure guesswork and not enough planning.
If you’re going to nail separation anxiety training, you have to assess what your dog can handle now. And you need to stick to a training plan, so you don’t push him too far too fast.
3. We are not consistent
Have you ever dieted and decided to take days off? Or had an exercise schedule but decided the schedule didn’t apply to holidays and vacations (or to Mondays and weekends?!)
If that sounds familiar you might recall the lack of consistency torpedoed progress.
In some cases, it might even have derailed the whole weight-loss plan.
The same goes with separation anxiety training, and especially to suspending absences.
It’s super important while you’re training your dog to be happy on his own, you stop the scary absences.
If you don’t, your dog is never going to learn being on his own is okay. One day you’re doing a nice short training absence and he starts thinking “Oh, I’m okay. I was on my own and the sky didn’t fall on my head”.
The next you leave him for way longer than he can handle. “Heck, scary! Mom was gone so long I was SURE the world was going to end”.
It’s the same with dieting. If you eat 500 calories less Monday to Thursday but then have blowouts on Friday to Sunday, you’ll never make headway.
Don’t give up
So if you think this method doesn’t work, or you’ve heard it doesn’t, do a check. Have you given it enough time, are you doing it as you should, and are you consistent?
If you answer no to any of these questions, don’t give up. Stick with the training for the long-haul and you’ll likely be rewarded by the results.
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