How to make 2018 the year you beat separation anxiety

Is tackling your dog’s separation anxiety one of your New Year’s resolutions? If so, kudos to you. Fixing separation anxiety takes patience and commitment. But it’s entirely doable.

Sticking to any resolution can be tough, though. Earlier this week we shared an article that listed the experts’ top tips for making it through the year with your resolve intact. Here, we take those ideas and turn them into separation anxiety training tips.

Think of it as a plan, not a resolution

Resolving your dog’s separation anxiety is a marathon rather than a sprint. Instead of setting your goal as “curing” your dog’s separation anxiety, start with something like “I want to be able to leave him long enough to do the groceries”. By starting with meaningful, manageable goals, you’ll feel much more motivated when you achieve the steps on the way to the bigger goal.

Make it a habit

Experts agree: habits make new behaviours stick. But habits don’t form immediately.

You may have heard it takes around three weeks for a new behaviour to become a habit. Actually, there’s no evidence for the magic number of 21 days. In fact, research shows it takes longer – around 70 days or more.

This matters because we get impatient and expect new ways of doing things to become habits far quicker than we should. If we expect something to start feeling easier after three weeks we can be disappointed. We need to give behaviour change at least two months before it gets truly sticky.

Use “cue and reward”

Cues and rewards help us develop habits. Having a cue will prompt your brain: “it’s time to do that thing”. So your cue might be “do the training before we cook dinner”. You do the training every night at the same time, just before dinner and prepping dinner becomes the cue.

And your reward? Maybe a glass of wine or dessert with dinner. Okay, so those last two might conflict with other resolutions you have for the New Year, but hey, priorities!

Remove obstacles

If you remove obstacles then you’re more likely to do what you said. As The Guardian article outlined gym goers who lived closer to a gym were more likely to go than those who loved 2km farther away.

With separation anxiety training removing obstacles might mean buying a dedicated webcam you leave set up. Or always having your training plan printed out and handy.

Do it as early as you can

As the day wears on, more things get in the way of training. It might not make sense to do separation anxiety training first thing in the morning. But if you aim to train in the evening, why not do it before dinner, TV, or yoga or whatever else you have planned?

Try to get your training in as early as possible

Track your training

By charting progress, you’ll see how far you’ve come even when you feel stuck. At SubThreshold we’re passionate about data. We use a comprehensive data tracker that monitors many factors in your dog’s day, not just the training session. It’s so motivating for everyone to see achievements plotted put in black and white.

Puppy running with dumb bell
Log your training to help you see progress

Recognize your excuses

It’s easy to use the same reasons not to do something. There’s always something else we could do. But the experts tell us if we start to spot our pattern of excuse-making we can reduce the power of those excuses.

One thing we need to be especially careful of is what bestselling author Gretchen Rubin calls the “false choice loophole.”  This is where we say we can either do one thing or another but not both. You might say, “I can’t do separation anxiety training because I have to help the kids with homework.” You could do both. And you most likely know that.

Be kind to yourself

Self-criticism kills motivation. Our critical inner voice can easily crush our enthusiasm.

So what if you think you should have started separation anxiety training months ago? And who cares if you don’t do it as often as you should? The fact is it’s on your list. You’re committed to doing something about it. And as you’d say to a friend in your position, you have to start somewhere.

Instead of being critical of what you haven’t done, be kind to yourself and recognize tackling separation anxiety is tough. You deserve credit for even acknowledging your dog has separation anxiety. Many people don’t even do that.

Take the first step

If you want to start to resolve your dog’s separation anxiety get in touch. We can talk to you about how training works and how we can help. Remember, baby steps are what it takes, and a call with us could be your vital first step in the process.

What are your separation anxiety goals for 2018? What will your first step be? Let us know!