How To Assess Your Dog’s Panic Threshold

How's that 2018 diet and fitness regime going? Have you ditched the “comfortable” jeans for the “skinny” jeans yet? No, me neither.

Starting with a baseline is common in dieting – and many goal setting practices. Those one-size-up day-to-day jeans give us our starting point. And the baggier they get the closer we are to our goal of fitting into those skinny jeans.
 
Yet, when it comes to dog training – especially separation anxiety training – we often focus too much on the end goal and not enough on the dog’s current state. The goal of “I want to be able to leave my dog for six hours while I go to work” doesn’t happen overnight. And it can be damaging to push your dog too far before he’s ready.
 
If we don’t know what the dog is capable of now, it can be too easy to develop a training plan that the dog can’t cope with. It isn’t enough to say, “I can’t leave my dog on his own.” You need to get detailed about his triggers and the length of time he can handle being solo. Think of it as doggy forensics.
Cockapoo dog sleeping on sofa
 
Here’s how to figure out what your dog can cope with now.
 

What are his pre-departure cues?

 
Draw up a list of all the things you do before you leave your dog alone. This could be anything from showering to packing your purse or filling your coffee-to-go cup. Rank the tasks as either b) gets him super agitated or b) catches his interest, but doesn’t make him anxious. These routines will become an important part of your separation anxiety desensitization training.
 

What steps do you take to leave the house?

 
Next, think about all the steps you take to get out the door. This might include putting the alarm on, unlocking the door, switching lights off, opening the screen door and so on. Your dog knows your routine better than you do. And you’ll need to work on desensitizing him to these daily actions so he’s not thrown into a panic every time you do them.
 

How long can he be without you before panic sets in?

 
Finally, you need to know how long your dog can cope on his own without you. It’s not about how long it takes for him to chew or bark until neighbours complain. It's about how long he can truly be alone without becoming panicked.
 
For most separation anxiety dogs, this time is going to be extremely short – minutes, possibly even seconds. For some separation anxiety dogs, you can’t even get through the door without the panic setting in.
 
Set up a “mock departure” and use a camera to record your dog as you step outside. Make sure you return immediately once you notice any signs of anxiety.
 
When I review video with new clients many are shocked by how quickly their dog becomes panicked. It’s usually way quicker than they had thought.
 
Before you train, you must collect this important information to determine your dog’s baseline. That way, we can create a reasonable (and informed) training plan.

Chocolate lab looking at camera

Reaching your goal

In the book, Alice in Wonderland, the Cheshire Cat tells Alice: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” And in today’s world, Google would definitely say: “If you don’t know where you are, then you cannot calculate a route.”
 
So, before you embark on any separation anxiety training for your dog, get a handle on what your dog can cope with now.  
 
Need help determining whether your dog has separation anxiety? Get in touch and let’s chat!