Bob Ryder, CSAT, PMCT-4, CPDT-KA
Separation anxiety is a deeply ingrained fear-based behavior disorder. Helping a dog recover from it requires commitment and patience. This is true with any behavioral issue with dogs; it’s especially true with separation anxiety. Having realistic expectations helps on this journey.
Living with dogs
My wife Susan and I refer to our “Labra-daughter” Daisy, who is as dear to us as any daughter could be. She makes every day immeasurably better with her unfailing cheerfulness, intelligence, curiosity, and enthusiasm for life. We can’t imagine life without a dog (or maybe we just don’t want to).
As with any dog, taking good care of Daisy requires a big commitment of time, energy, and money. We take her for walks, go on adventures, and play games to provide her with physical and mental exercise. She is brilliant at scent games, swimming sports, and more tricks than I can count. She is very cooperative when we groom her fur, clean her ears, and brush her teeth. (Nail trims are a different story.) We have spent a lot of money on two knee repair surgeries, high quality food, and a lifetime of allergy medication.
We expected all of these investments, and the return on our investment is priceless.
A lifetime commitment
Helping a dog with separation anxiety (SA) is a substantial investment of time, energy, and money. SA is a deeply ingrained fear-based behavior disorder that requires effort, patience, and skill to treat.
I work with clients who spend at least 30 minutes most days doing training exercises to help their dogs feel safe and comfortable when they are alone. They make sure their dogs are never alone for longer than they can comfortably handle. They pay a separation anxiety training specialist for their time and expertise, and often for daycare and pet sitters. And equally significant, they are patient with their dogs, even though the learning process can be slow and non-linear.
My purpose in pointing all this out is certainly not to be discouraging. Training dogs in general, and helping them overcomes separation anxiety in particular, is the best job I can imagine. I’ve seen numerous families improve their lives immensely as the dog learns to feel safe and relaxed when alone. It is quite literally life-changing work, and I feel very fortunate that this is the work I get to do for my career.
I share the challenges involved because I believe it is important to have realistic expectations. Helping a dog recover from separation anxiety requires effort, patience, and skill, as it is a deeply ingrained fear-based behavior disorder. As a folk proverb puts it, “No great thing is ever made suddenly.“
Below is a video of a recent client who made significant progress in just two weeks. Even though he was only left alone for a few seconds, the difference in his demeanor is obvious.