A DISTRESSING CONDITION
It doesn't have to be.
- How long does it take to fix?
- I’ve read that I caused his separation anxiety by letting him sleep in my bedroom and allowing him onto the sofa.
- Will getting another dog help?
- My friends tell me to leave him; that if I ignore him eventually, he’ll get used to me being gone.
- What about getting an e-collar, shock collar or anti-bark collar?
- Isn’t he just trying to get back at me for going out without him?
- He looks so guilty when I come home? He knows he’s done it, doesn’t he?
- I’ve been told that a crate will make him feel safer when I go out
- I’ve been told to distract him with toys, chews, food puzzles and music while I’m out. I’ve tried all of that, but when I get back, he doesn’t seem to have played with his toys or touched his food.
- Someone said I should give my dog Prozac. That’s crazy isn’t it?
- Why do I do the training exercises not you?
- Why don’t you come here to do it?
- So you say I have to suspend absences? That sounds unrealistic.
- How much does it cost?
- I need help right now! What can I do?
- I’m worried about the technology. I’m not very tech savvy.
How long does it take to fix?
There is no way to predict how long it will take. It can be easy to predict how long it will take a dog to learn “sit” or “stay”, but with separation anxiety training we’re working with emotions; most notably fear. Fear is the easiest emotion for animals to get and the hardest one to train out. Every dog is different, and so it wouldn’t be right to give a target date. Plus, the recovery process is also affected by how much time you have to commit to this. But there are things you can do to speed the process along including suspending absences and committing time to exercises.
While we don’t know how long this might take, we do know that this process is the gold standard treatment for separation anxiety. It’s tried and tested on 1000s of dogs. Separation anxiety is highly treatable. It can be slow at the start, but once you embark on the training, you’ll see process accelerate.
I’ve read that I caused his separation anxiety by letting him sleep in my bedroom and allowing him onto the sofa.
No definitive information exists on why some dogs develop separation anxiety, and others don’t. But there is no evidence to suggest that letting him snuggle you in bed or on the sofa will cause separation anxiety. The vast majority of dogs who are allowed on sofas don’t ever suffer from home alone stress.
Will getting another dog help?
For the vast majority of anxious dogs, getting another dog, or indeed another pet, will not resolve the separation anxiety. If you do want to go down this route remember to assess the full impact of a second dog on your time and your bank account.
My friends tell me to leave him; that if I ignore him eventually, he’ll get used to me being gone.
We wish this were the case. The thing is, every time your dog is left longer than he’s comfortable with, he doesn’t do very well. In fact, the fear he experiences can make things worse: it causes a shift in brain chemistry that can become permanent. Dogs get used to things like the sound of the TV or the cat or you making dinner. They don’t get used to things that make them scared.
What about getting an e-collar, shock collar or anti-bark collar?
There’s lots of advice out there about how to stop barking, so it’s not surprising that so many people look to use these collars when their anxious dog barks when left. We do get it: you’re worried about neighbors, the condo board, or just what people think. And sometimes your very well-meaning friends or family will tell you that anti-bark collars are the answer.
But here’s the thing, separation anxiety is a panic disorder. And anti-bark collars work by scaring the dog into stopping what he’s doing. The collar may or may not stop the barking but it can’t fix the panic. And, if you think about it, a scary shock from a collar might actually make the fear worse because we’re trying to fight fear with fear.
Thankfully, by suspending absences and working on our program you can deal with both the barking and the panic.
Isn’t he just trying to get back at me for going out without him?
It can seem like he’s mad at you can’t it? But the thing is, the barking, chewing, whining, soiling, destroying, they are all just what dogs do when they get anxious. He’s not angry; he’s scared. And these are involuntary responses to his fear. He genuinely can’t help himself, any more than you could help screaming if you jumped out of a plane at 12,000 feet (ok, so if you’re a skydiver, ignore that comment).
He looks so guilty when I come home? He knows he’s done it, doesn’t he?
The vast amount of research that’s been done on the way dogs think tells us that dogs don’t have the sense of right or wrong that we do. They know safe and dangerous. They are amazing connection making machines, and so often that “guilty” look is fear. It’s the dog connecting a chewed door frame with you getting angry the last time you came home. He doesn’t know why you get furious about the chewing (chewing seems very normal to him!) but he knows that you often come home angry with him.
I’ve been told that a crate will make him feel safer when I go out
It’s true that many dogs come to love their crates. But interestingly, separation anxiety dogs seem have a tendency to get more upset when left in a crate. We understand, though, that you might be trying to limit destruction or prevent soiling. If that’s the case, you can think about a dog-proofed area or a dog-proofed room.
Once we start the program, we’ll talk about the confinement pros and cons in more detail.
I’ve been told to distract him with toys, chews, food puzzles and music while I’m out. I’ve tried all of that, but when I get back, he doesn’t seem to have played with his toys or touched his food.
Again, we’re back to the fact that your dog is having a panic attack. Like you, before a job interview or an exam, you lose your appetite. It’s no different for him. He’s scared and, like most scared dogs, eating is the last thing on his mind. He’s thinking survival not snacks.
Someone said I should give my dog Prozac. That’s crazy isn’t it?
There’s increasingly more evidence that medication can help with separation anxiety when it’s accompanied by training. Dogs have brains that get chemical imbalances just as humans do. That’s why similar medications can help. But whether you need medication will depend on the dog and the severity of his anxiety. We always recommend that you talk to your vet if you suspect your dog has separation anxiety. And the question of whether to use medications is something to raise with them.
Why do I do the training exercises not you?
Because it’s all about you/your family leaving. Dogs don’t generalize learning as easily as we expect. It doesn’t matter a bit whether he’s ok with me leaving; he has to be ok with you leaving! And although you physically do the sessions, I’m using my expertise to draft each unique session for you.
Why don’t you come here to do it?
Same as above really. No point him being ok with me leaving. That isn’t the problem. Training remotely and virtually is the best way to tackle separation anxiety.
So you say I have to suspend absences? That sounds unrealistic.
That can seem like a crazy idea can’t it, almost impossible? But the thing is, nearly everyone who does the system thinks this at the start and yet management quickly becomes second nature. They become rock stars at it, and we’re confident you will too. Remember, he has a panic attack every time you leave. And each frightening incident can actually change his brain chemistry. The sooner you can suspend absences the less hardwired that fear will be.
How much does it cost?
That depends on the length of treatment. Working with separation anxiety is different from regular obedience dog training, where we teach the dog to do something. With separation anxiety, we change the way the dog feels not just the way he acts. As such, training does take quite some time.
I need help right now! What can I do?
The # 1 thing you can do to get some relief by suspending absences. This doesn’t mean that you can never leave your dog, it means being creative about getting help. Managing absences will give you great relief.
Once you have management up and running, the second thing you can do is get in touch to book a free consultation.
I’m worried about the technology. I’m not very tech savvy.
Don’t worry, we use very simple apps, and our tech guru is on hand to help you get set up.