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Suspending absences is a critical and essential part of the separation anxiety training process. It is a temporary sacrifice that needs to be made, but it is not easy. This blog will give you some ideas on how to go about suspending absences during the training process.

What is suspending absences?  During the training process, we need to prevent your dog from having over-threshold experiences.  When we are dealing with a dog with separation anxiety, the over-threshold experience is any time the dog is left alone and has a panic response. For separation anxiety, this includes:

  • Vocalization such as barking, howling, whimpering and whining.
  • Scratching at or jumping up on the door.
  • Running around the house searching for you or running from the door you left through to a window and back again.
  • Damage to the home.
  • House training lapses in an otherwise house-trained dog.

Suspending absences means we don’t leave the dog at home alone, except when we are training. Any time you need to leave your home, you need to find coverage for your dog.  For the majority of dogs, they are fine to be left with someone else.  This is good news. It is much easier to find coverage if your dog is fine with just about anyone.  It gets a bit tricky when your dog is hyper-attached to you.  If your dog is a velcro dog and only you will do, I will cover a few things you can do later in the blog that can help start the process of expanding your dog’s world. Many common approaches to coverage include doggie daycare and pet sitters.  If your dog is fine with other dogs, then these options may work for you.  If your dog is not good with other dogs, you will have fewer options available to you, but still more than you think.  The last group of dog are those that are fearful of new people. This is by far the most difficult category to suspend absences for.

Why is suspending absences so hard?

  1. It isn’t always convenient – sometimes, it is difficult to get coverage at short notice or at times when commercial operations are not open, i.e. a Saturday night.
  2. It can become expensive to pay for daycare and pet sitters regularly.
  3. It take planning and organization.  Spontaneity goes out the window.
  4. Friends or family can leave you without coverage if something comes.
  5. You may not live in an area that has good daycare options.
  6. You may work in a profession where your hours are not 9-5, i.e. health care or shiftwork.
  7. You may work 12-hour shifts and can’t drop off or pick up your dog as per the required schedule.
  8. You may be new to your area and don’t have a network of friends and family nearby.
  9. You can be judged by others for trying to suspend absences, and become reluctant to reach out.
  10. Lastly, and most importantly, it is often really difficult to admit you need help and to ask for it.

Reaching out to different groups can yield a lot of potential leads.  A group doesn’t have to be a dog-centric group.  Dog lovers play hockey, go to church, garden, are elderly and want some company or need a quiet place to study.

30 Ideas for suspending absences for dogs who are fine with other people and dogs.

  1. Doggie daycare – be sure to speak with the staff about your dog’s separation anxiety. Your dog can’t be left alone or crated away from the people on rest breaks.
  2. Pet sitters
  3. Family and friends
  4. Reach out to others in your area living with a separation anxiety dog and swap pet sitting for each other. Ask your trainer to make some connections if they have other clients in your area.
  5. – a local neighbourhood community group you can join (may not be present in all communities).
  6. Sporting associations you are involved in, e.g. hockey, baseball, volleyball, swim clubs etc.
  7. Groups your children are active in, e.g. girl guides, scouts, sports, school etc.
  8. Community associations and church groups.
  9. Neighbours – often, neighbours are happy to pet sit for you for a few hours here and there.
  10. Teenager baby/pet sitter.
  11. Pet stores – sometimes they are happy to have a puppy greeter for a few hours *.
  12. Roommates.
  13. Your veterinarian, in a pinch.
  14. Work from home.
  15. Take your dog to the office.
  16. Have a friend or family member take your dog to their office.
  17. Leave your dog with a friend, family member or a neighbour who works from home.
  18. Retirement home – often happy to have a calm, quiet dog to hang with the residents.
  19. Your local shelter will sometimes watch your dog in exchange for volunteering or donations.
  20. If your dog can settle in the car when you run an errand, taking them with you is an option. Not all dogs are okay in the car, so you need to determine if your dog is.
  21. Delivery drivers, Uber, and truck drivers are possibilities if your dog is happy to chill in the vehicle *.
  22. Run errands for an elderly person living nearby in exchange for pet sitting.
  23. Check with your local high school guidance counsellor for students you may be looking to complete community service *.
  24. Put a sign up at a nearby university advertising a quiet place to study in exchange for pet sitting *.
  25. Employ a trainer to do some day training with your dog for a few hours once or twice a week.
  26. Employ a dog walker to take your dog on extended walks and hikes once or twice a week.
  27. Bulletin board at your local grocery store or coffee shop *.
  28. Reach out to local social media groups that you are active in. They don’t have to be dog related. Gardening groups are a favourite as gardeners often spend a lot of time outdoors, working in their gardens *.
  29. Running groups – maybe they want a dog to accompany them on long-ish runs *.
  30. If you live in an apartment building, put up a notice in the common room (if the board allows for it) to ask if someone in the building would like a doggie companion now and again *.

*  If you are reaching out to people you don’t know, you need to do your due diligence to ensure that they are suitable.

Dogs who are not okay with other dogs

If your dog is dog selective, options like doggie daycare may not work. Nor will a pet sitter who takes in multiple dogs. But just about every other option on the above list will work, maybe with some minor modifications.  It is really common for a dog that is not fond of large groups of strange dogs to be absolutely fine with one or two well-chosen dog companions. If you are unsure about if your dog can meet another dog, find a great positive dog trainer who can help you with meet & greets before ruling it out.  You never know, your dog may surprise you and be quite happy to make a new friend.

Dogs who are hyper-attached to one person but are okay to be with other people after they have adjusted.

Dogs that are attached to just you do make finding a coverage a little more tricky in the beginning.  Sometimes a dog will have a very small inner circle like another family member that they may tolerate, so this is a starting point.  What we need to do in this situation is build the dog’s inner circle of people that they know and trust. ‘Spreading the Love’ is all about expanding the dog’s world so that there is more than just you in their inner circle.  Increasing the value of the other people in the eyes of the dog is the first step.  Other family members, a pet sitter or someone that could potentially sit with the dog is a good places to start.  Go slow and start with one person.  When that person is in the inner circle, you can think about adding another person.  Work at the dog’s pace.

Increasing value of the person may include involving them in the the dog meal preparation or increasing play time with the dog. Taking the dog for a walk assuming the dog will walk with them is an option.  Sometimes you have to start by having them accompany you and the dog on a walk and gradually over time, transfer the lead to the them. Teach your dog a great trick so that they know it well.  And then get the new person to start asking the dog to do the trick.  Reward the dog with the best treats when the new person is training.  Once the dog is comfortable we can start adding in distance and more time with the new person while the dog’s favourite person steps into another room or just outside the door for a few seconds.  We would add in other activities and games like ‘pouch party’ to build the relationship with the new person and help the process along.  You know you are making head way when your dog starts choosing being with their new friend over you.

It make take some time for the dog to be completely comfortable with the new person.  But in my experience, once the dog accepts one new person, adding a third person and a fourth, often goes more quickly.

Dogs who are afraid of people outside of their inner circle.

This is the hardest scenario to deal with.  Suspending absences when your dog is afraid of new people makes leaving the dog with anyone else difficult and sometimes dangerous.  If your dog falls into this category, we must address the fear issues first before working on their separation anxiety.  For these dogs, a vet consultation is going to be essential as behaviour medications are likely needed.  Work with a positive reinforcement trainer who specializes in fear issues to help you navigate this process.  Once you dog can be with a couple people safely, then you will be able to start working on their home alone issues.

Suspending absences is temporary

Resolving separation anxiety does require the temporary suspension of absences.  In the beginning it can feel like you will never be able to leave your dog at home.  But you will.  Preventing your dog from having panic attacks in the early days is the best way to build duration longer term.  It won’t be long and even the smallest time outside the door will allow you a glimpse of freedom.  It might only be enough time to walk to the mail box or to get something from your car, but that is still more than you were able to do before you stared training.

If you want to chat about your situation further don’t hesitate to reach out.  Book a discovery call to discuss my coaching programs or schedule an ‘Ask Me Anything‘ consultation to discuss your situation in more detail.


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