Working with separation anxiety owners every day gives me a crystal clear picture of what’s top of mind for anyone whose dog has this condition. Some topics come up over and over again.
Here’s my rundown of the top 5:
1. “Why does he do better at a certain time/on a particular day/with a certain person?”
The straight answer to this is “nobody knows.”
For whatever reason, your dog has decided that some situations are scarier for him.
And why does he find those situations scarier? We may never know this since we can't ask him. But we can guess he's had the worst time during an absence that took place either on that day or with the people concerned.
Even if we don't know why this is happening, we do know how to address it.
You want to make sure that you record all these “differences.” Then, when you do your training, choose between easy contexts and harder ones consciously.
You may get more traction at first with the context that he's more comfortable with. But don't worry, progress with the more difficult situations will come.
2. “Will getting another dog fix it?”
This one seems so obvious, doesn’t? If your dog hates being home alone, all you need to do is get another dog and the separation anxiety will be fixed.
Unfortunately, it's not as simple as that.
For most dogs, getting another dog doesn't change things. What these anxious dogs crave is a human company. It doesn't always have to be the owner or the caregiver, but it does need to be a human.
That said, there are always exceptions to the rule. I've seen dogs for whom another dog was the answer.
These are often, though not always, dogs who have lost a companion. For these dogs, the loneliness of isolation can improve when another dog comes into the household.
So my advice to you would be:
- Consider a second dog if your dog’s separation anxiety started when it lost a companion, or
- Get a second dog because you want a second dog, but being fully aware that this might not be the magic bullet
3. “Should I try CBD oil?”
It seems this question comes up more and more often these days and I can see why. CBD oil is becoming increasingly popular, and there are numerous products being marketed towards pet owners.
Even though I get asked this question all the time, I’m not in a position to answer it since I'm not a vet.
My recommendation is always to talk to your vet about any substance that might have a psychotropic effect on your dog. What do I mean by psychotropic? Any medication that changes your dog’s mental state.
I do like to keep abreast of any developments in products that might help separation anxiety, and I always dig around in the research on CBD oil. As far as I can see, the current body of evidence is promising but not convincing.
I'm going to wait and see on this one. I'd like more evidence about the impact of CBD oil on separation anxiety specifically. And to see more concrete information about dosage.
But I know for many owners, CBD oil is something you want to try. If so, speak to your vet about dosage and especially about interactions with other medicines.
4. “We were doing so well and then everything fell apart. What happened?”
This happens to every dog who goes through separation anxiety training. No wonder it comes up so frequently.
Remember, separation anxiety training is learning. Your dog is learning very gradually that being on his own isn't scary. It’s safe.
And if you've ever learned anything complex, you'll remember that while you have more good days than bad, learning is never a straight line.
When we have one bad day, it's tempting to think either this isn't working or we’re back to square one. Yet, when we have one good day, we don't say we've cracked it!
So when the bad days happen, keep calm and don't think you've lost everything. Consider giving your dog a day off, and then when you get back to training, give him an easier exercise.
Most people, whose dogs have recovered from separation anxiety, will tell you the bad days will happen. But that you don't lose everything.
When you look back on your progress, you'll see more good days than bad. And you’ll see the progress line trends upwards.
On those days when your dog does regress, it's easy to forget all the progress you've made. That's why I love tracking training sessions. It's amazing how motivating it can be to look back at how far you’ve come.
5. “I can't even get out the door during training, what can I do?”
Some dogs get extremely stressed before their owner even thinks about leaving. If yours is one of those dogs, think about these three tactics:
1. Can you identify what it is you do before you leave that's triggering him? Then, can you see how you could leave those triggers out of the exercise? For example, if keys set him off, can you leave the door unlocked when you do the exercises?
2. If any of these cues can't be avoided when you do daily exercise, (for example you can’t go out without keys because you’ll be locked out), then you can try to desensitize the dog to these.
This works by you teaching your dog the keys or whatever don't mean you're going out. As an example with keys, you would pick them up randomly at times when you're not heading out.
You must be careful not to sensitize your dog, though. If picking up the keys makes him anxious, you'll need to find a level of key picking up that he can cope with.
Essentially, break down the action of picking up keys and find the thing that he's okay with. Maybe that's opening the drawer where the keys. Maybe that's reaching for the keys. For any cue, find what he can cope with and avoid anything that induces anxiety.
3. Finally, don't overlook the importance of the door as a trigger. Touching the door, touching door handles, turning locks can be some of the biggest anxiety-inducing cues.
So, if you are struggling to get out the door, think about desensitizing your dog to the whole door opening process.
Okay, so those are the top five questions owners ask. I want to finish with one question that doesn't get asked anywhere near as much as I expect. That is “how long will this take?”
I assume everybody wants to ask this question because it's a perfectly normal thing to think. But I'm always surprised by how few people do.
I wonder if, by the time you start training, you already know full well there isn’t a quick fix.
But if do get asked this question I highlight that it’s almost impossible to say how long it will take the dog to get over separation anxiety. However, it is definitely more likely to be months, not weeks.
Luckily, there are many things you can do to make the training process go as quickly as it can for that dog. You can keep your dog under threshold. You can consult with your vet. You can train without pushing your dog too far or too fast.
So, even though I can't tell you how long it’s going to take, I can tell you you do have lots of control over the process of getting him over separation anxiety. That’s got to be good news, hasn’t?
Those are my top questions but what's yours? Post in the comments below.