Separation anxiety is unlike any other kind of canine behaviour and the training is unlike any other kind of dog training. It is an exercise in nuance. It is the study of one. When people are living with a dog suffering from separation anxiety they can feel desperate. They are torn between trying to do what is best for their pet and being angry and resentful at the same time. After all, this isn't what they dreamed of when they added a dog to their family. Often, when a client finally reaches out for help, they are at the end of their rope. They have followed all the advice from Dr.Google. They have listened to their family and friends. They have done things they regret and have spent a lot of time and money trying things that just haven't worked. They are tired and frustrated and starting to resent their dog.
It isn't the dog's fault. They can no more control their panic than I can speak without an Australian accent. It is who I am and your dog is who they are. By the time a client reaches out to me, they are desperate for a solution. They want their life back. They sign up for the minimum program of 4-weeks and secretly go in believing that in four weeks all will be right with their world again. And boy, do I wish that would be the case. Four weeks is the bare minimum that it will take and yes, I have had a handful of clients that are able to be left alone in four weeks, but this is the exception, not the rule. Typically if we see these results then we are not dealing with a strict interpretation of separation anxiety. In these cases, we are most likely dealing with frustration or a case of FOMO (fear of missing out).
Separation anxiety training takes a big commitment for the family. It requires a daily focus and in the beginning, you don't see very much progress. While this is the case, it is probably the most important phase as everyone is learning. Your dog is learning that with each absence he is safe. You are learning the subtle ways in which our dogs communicate with us. You are learning that this is a race of the tortoise and the hare. In this case, the tortoise is the hero and when you think you are going too slow, you probably need to go even slower.
When you are held hostage in your home, it is emotional. You miss the spontaneity of just being able to go out. You love your dog to pieces but you're starting to resent them. Family and friends apply pressure that you just need to leave them, that they will get over it. But you know otherwise. You have seen the fallout when you have tried this.
So you start training. In the beginning, it is slow, but you see little glimmers of improvement. You feel optimistic at the end of the first week. Usually, around this point, we have a few wobbles. Maybe there is a little setback or you don't see any improvement. We talk about it. This is normal. We get back on track, a few days go by and some very small steps forward. Two weeks have gone by but you are nowhere near where you need to be. Maybe next week you say! Another week goes by, a little bit more progress but again, you won't be going to the movies anytime soon. The reality sets in. This is not going to be fixed in 4 weeks. This is going to take much longer. And I nod, yes. Even though from the very first time we spoke I spell out the normal curve, you bring with you your secret dreams. Your dog will be different.
From here most people will take one of a few paths. Some will stop. Disheartened. They now contemplate their choices. Some will hit pause and go speak with their veterinarians about behaviour medication and resume training in a few weeks and others will soldier on, continuing on with the process they started, trusting that the early sparks that they have seen will continue to glow and one day shine.
The process is not easy and along the way, there will be celebration and tears, frustration and anger, joy and happiness. And I will be with you at each step and each disappointment and at each celebration. We're in this together......you, me and your dog.