The internet, well-meaning friends and family are full of advice about separation anxiety. Some advice is good. However, some advice is not only not helpful, it can be damaging. Leaving out a food toy to keep the dog busy, is not likely to be helpful. Calming sprays, thunder-shirts, music designed for dogs, again not likely to be much use. While some of these things might work for some dogs some of the time, for most dogs, most of the time, they won’t. At best, they fall into the ‘might help, can’t hurt’ category. The trouble is, quite frankly, while you are spending time and money trying all of the advice on the internet, your dog is suffering, and so are you. Separation anxiety can be resolved. CSAT’s and SAPT’s from around the world have been helping dogs with separation issues and thanks to them, there are many thousands of dogs successfully snoozing away while their wonderful pet parents are out enjoying their life again.
This is the million-dollar question. There is no way to be able to answer this question. There are so many factors that will affect how long the path to resolution is. It varies significantly from several months to a year or more for a dog with separation anxiety to learn to spend any significant time on their own. In many cases, you’ll be able to leave your dog for short periods within a few months. By the end of your initial six weeks of training, we will have a better idea of your dog’s learning curve and progress speed. Many factors affect how long it takes to resolve the behaviour, such as how long the dog has lived with the issue, their prior learning history, genetics, training commitment, exposure to over-threshold absences, whether behaviour medications are being used and management. Always bear in mind, dealing with separation-related behaviour issues is unlike any other type of dog training. We are dealing with fear, and we are trying to change the emotional response to that fear. It takes time. Historically, based on average results, many clients can achieve 2-3 hours within six months. But this is a guideline only. Some dogs take longer.
Usually, the symptoms of separation anxiety are hard to ignore. These include howling, incessant barking, noise complaints from neighbours, pacing, whining, over-zealous greetings when you return, destruction of furniture, walls and doors, elimination (peeing and pooping) in the house in an otherwise housetrained dog, injury and self-harm, escaping crates or trying to break out of the room, or the home. However, there are instances when the dog does not have home-alone issues but still shows some of these same behaviours. Lack of exercise or mental enrichment, boredom, housetraining problems, too much time alone can yield the same symptoms, but the root cause is not fear or anxiety. Your separation trainer can help you determine if you are dealing with separation anxiety or boredom, FOMO or frustration and advise the right training plan to address the problem behaviour. This is why Sharon requires an assessment first before recommending a coaching program.
When is the best time to start a separation anxiety training program? The answer – when you are ready. Separation anxiety does not usually resolve on its own. It requires proactive training. This means you need to be ready to commit to regular training. The training is not onerous and Sharon is there to help you every step of the way, but she can’t do the training for you. So when should you start? When you can commit to training 5-days per week. When you are ready and able to suspend absences so that dog is not left alone except when training. When you are ready to accept that this won’t be a quick fix. When you are open to the possibility that your dog may need behaviour medications. If you can honestly say that you can do all of the above, then you are ready. Start now by contacting Sharon. Schedule a discovery call to learn more or booking your initial assessment to get started immediately. Step 1: Schedule a Discovery Call (optional) Step 2: Schedule your Initial Assessment. Step 3: Begin the journey that will change your life by starting with a 6-week coaching program (Go to the programs)
If you can’t leave your home without: Feeling stressed and guilty. Worried about what you will come home to. Judged by family and friends. Coming home to notes on your door from angry neighbours. Sick of trying countless ineffective solutions that cost you money and don’t fix the problem. Spending hours googling solutions and getting more and more confused. Missing out on fun, because you can’t find a pet sitter at short notice. Living with damaged items because there is no point in fixing them while your dog is still anxious. If you want to feel supported, heard and treated with kindness. If you want to be held accountable while at the same time being treated with respect. If you want your trainer to know what the heck she is doing and to treat you and your dog with the latest in positive training methods. If you know that the process will not be easy, but you have the courage and determination to fix it once and for all. If you want to know that you and your dog are in safe hands, then you are ready and this program is for you. Schedule a discovery call to speak with Sharon. If you can’t leave your home without your dog suffering and you feeling guilty, then it is time to get help. Separation anxiety will not resolve on its own. Both you and your dog deserve better.
Separation anxiety will not resolve on its own. Both you and your dog deserve better. Get relief for you and your dog; no more guilt, worry or frustration. You deserve separation without the anxiety. Go to work, run errands with the kids, or play golf without guilt. Linger over a stress-free meal out. Get groceries, collect the mail or take out the trash without worrying. Return to a calm, happy dog who’s napped peacefully while you were away. Come home to an intact home—no accidents, chewed rugs, or ruined doors. Stop worrying about angry neighbours upset about the endless barking or howling. And your dog deserves to be home alone and happy – no stress and panic.
The ultimate in flexible training, separation anxiety behaviour modification requires no special equipment, tools or scheduling. This program is delivered virtually, in your home. Exercises are customized and provided daily based on the previous day’s results. You choose when you train – the time of day and the days of the week, aiming to do 5 exercises each week. You meet with Sharon once a week via Zoom at a time that you have scheduled with a link she provides you. You are provided with daily coaching 6-days a week. If you are not sure about something you can upload a video for review in between the face-to-face sessions. The only equipment you need is: A device (phone, tablet, laptop, petcam) with a camera. A wifi connection. Separation anxiety is the most successful when done remotely. No more trainer effect when your dog is on their best behaviour as soon as the trainer enters the room. Separation anxiety coaching has been done online and virtually long before covid was a thing. It also means you have access to the most qualified trainer that can help you, starting right now, no matter where you live.
Because you’re busy and need results Living with a separation anxiety dog makes running a busy life that much more challenging. You need the most effective path to relief for you and your dog. Because you want the best for your dog It’s not just a matter of results, of course—you also want the peace of mind that comes with attaining those results through positive, humane dog training methods. Because you want to know you’re in good hands, too Our trainer takes a professional approach to dog training and a professional approach to client care—that means showing up on time, listening carefully, and supporting you through the separation anxiety training process.
Yes! We use technology to watch your dog in real-time. You don’t have to be very techie to be able to do this. With today’s technology – laptop, tablets and smartphones, Skype and Zoom – a certified separation anxiety trainer can help anyone, anywhere in the world. A word of advice – setting up cameras each time can become very irritating. In some situations, the dog begins to alert to the camera setup process as a departure cue. Not what we want to happen. Stand-alone cameras have become so affordable and reliable now. It is worth considering going this route in my experience if for no other reason than to remove one aggravating chore from your daily training exercises.
Separation anxiety training is a specialization. There are a variety of disciplines that dog trainers pursue, and working with separation-related behaviours is one of them. Separation anxiety is rooted in fear, and fear is a complicated behaviour to address. When we are working to ‘fix’ this type of behaviour, we work to change the underlying emotional response. The training is not the same as teaching a sit or any other behaviour. In applied behaviour terms, we are changing the underlying association for the dog to being left alone. We do this with desensitization – ever so slowly teaching the dog that being left alone is safe. We are constantly working with the dog just under the dog’s threshold. If the dog is relaxed, we move forward. If we note any signs of anxiety, even the most subtle signs, we stop. A trainer who chooses to specialize in this field has a finely tuned eye for canine body language. We design a training plan that slices the process into baby steps. There are currently two certifications for trainers who specialize in this field – the CSAT and Cert.SAPT. I hold both certifications. Both certifications have a rigorous acceptance process where prior experience and credentials are audited. You can be assured if a trainer holds one or both of these certifications that they have the skills to help you.
At the end of the 6-week coaching program you may be ready to continue on your own. In this situation, we will discuss how to move forward so that you can continue to build on your success. Almost everyone will have seen some improvement in the first six weeks. Hopefully, you can see the first glimmers of your dog beginning to relax…sigh! But as you know by now, separation is not resolved quickly. It takes time. I try to make sure my clients know that we are looking at months, not weeks to see significant improvement. The rule of thumb, is that it will take approximately 6-months to see 2-3 hours of consistent, reliable home alone comfort. I would be misleading you, if I didn’t point out that for every rule there are exceptions. There will always be dogs that progress faster and others that take longer. This is normal. If at the end of the 6-weeks, you are not at your goal time or not ready to continue on your own, you can choose to renew on a month-to-month basis. You can do this for as long as you need to. When you are ready to go it alone, you can always choose the Freedom Step program which is program designed to help you to transition to life after training. Whatever path you choose, you can go forward knowing that I will always be available for questions. And if you find that life changes have resulted in a lapse, as a previous client, you are always welcomed back for a refresher program.
As with all dog training, we cannot guarantee success. We wish we could, but the reality is that dogs are living, breathing, thinking creatures, and so many factors influence the success both during the training program and following its completion. Ethically, I cannot guarantee a specific result. But, I will do my best to give both you and your dog a sense of success and relief.
Separation anxiety is a slow process. We work at the dog’s pace. Often the most difficult part of the training is the speed. A typical training result looks like the chart below. There are ups and downs. We purposely build in the volatility so that the dog cannot predict the absence duration. This is intentional. This is what normal training looks like. Sometimes we hit plateaus and even regressions. This is normal volatility. Often the biggest disconnect for clients is the expectation that training will result in a straight line. While the straight line in the chart (trend line) does slope upwards, which is what we want to see, the day-to-day results do fluctuate. This is normal, planned and intentional.
In all honesty, we don’t know why separation anxiety affects some dogs and not others. Separation anxiety is an anxiety disorder that some dogs, due to temperament, are more susceptible or predisposed to than others—just as we humans have varying degrees of susceptibility to anxiety issues. Separation anxiety is not a behaviour. It is not something your dog chooses. In some cases, separation anxiety is triggered by a traumatic experience. Common triggers are losing a home, a family move, a change in the family such as a divorce or death, the loss of a doggie companion, or a frightening incident such as a home burglary. The current research is pointing to the following factors, but so much more research is needed before we can conclusively point to a specific thing: Genetics Early life experiences * Maternal stress during pregnancy Maternal behaviour Bad experiences – things that happened that made the situation worse * So before you feel guilt over something you have done to cause your dog’s anxiety, let me clarify. Of the above list, the only two items you might have any influence over are flagged with an asterisk. Home alone training for puppies is critical preventative training to ensure a puppy can relax on their own as they grow. It ranks up there with house training, in my view. Ensuring that your puppy does not have frightening experiences is always something we need to strive for, as experiencing one fearful event can imprint on the dog with lasting effects. You cannot affect your dog’s genetics, and unless you are breeding your dogs, you cannot affect how your dog’s mother’s stress levels or behaviour were, while in-utero or after birth. Allowing your dog to sleep on your bed or being kind and gentle with your dog will not result in a dog that has separation anxiety. For other common myths, please read my blog on the Top Separation Anxiety Myths.***need new link
Unfortunately, the answer to this one is no, too. There have been a handful of documented cases in which a dog suffering from separation-related behaviour concerns was comforted by the presence of a canine companion. But the vast majority of separation anxiety dogs, even those who actively enjoy the company of other dogs, are only soothed by human companionship. By all means, get a second dog if: You used to have a second dog, but the remaining dog started to show separation anxiety when they died. You have been thinking about getting a second dog for a while and are ready for the additional financial commitment, time and training required. That you are okay if the new dog doesn’t get along with the current dog. That you are okay if the new dog does not help with your current dog’s separation anxiety. My advice is don’t get another dog to fix your current dog. There is a high probability that the new addition will not improve your current dog’s separation anxiety. If you want to test this out, consider fostering a dog or dog sitting a friend or family member’s dog etc., to see if you notice your current dog responding. And remember, give it time. A few days will not give you an accurate reading. You need to see how your dog’s behaviour responds over a more extended period of time, so plan for a minimum of a few weeks.
Unfortunately, no. It is prevalent for dogs that suffer from this condition to be anxious when confined. There is also a high correlation for dogs that have separation anxiety to have noise phobias as well. A panicked dog will go to incredible lengths to break free of a crate, often breaking teeth and injuring itself in the process. But don’t worry! The only time your dog will be alone will be when we are practicing an exercise, and we will have ‘eyes on them at all times. Whew!
While this might seem like a win-win situation for both of you, and you might find for a time that you can get away with, it comes with considerable risk. Even if you have done this successfully and gotten away with it, if there comes a time when your dog wakes while you are out and becomes distressed, you may well find that your dog’s anxiety becomes worse. Now your dog has learned that they cannot trust you and that they had better keep a much closer eye on you. Honestly, it is just not worth it. And I am not recommending this to be clear; I would sooner you walk out the door in full view of your dog than teach him that they can’t trust you.
Does this program require that I never leave my dog alone? If I can do that, then why do I need you?
So yes, this program requires that your dog is not left alone EXCEPT while practicing an absence exercise for the duration of the program. This program teaches your dog to relax so that you have the freedom to go out without guilt. Living with a separation anxiety dog is challenging and can be very isolating for people. Wouldn’t you like to be able to run out for groceries, go for a hair appointment, maybe catch a movie without worrying? I am sure the answer to that question is ‘Yes. So yes, in the beginning, we ask you to commit to not leaving your dog alone. While this seems daunting, it is possible. Most clients found a way to suspend absences even when they initially thought it was not possible. Asking friends and family to help out, using pet sitters and doggie daycares make this very doable. It is not always easy, but it is possible.
I am a dog trainer, not a veterinarian. I can’t and won’t diagnose, prescribe or recommend medications. What I will do is strongly suggest that you speak with your Veterinarian about the concerns you have. In some cases, you may need to speak with a Veterinarian Behaviourist or Veterinarian specializing in behaviour. And yes, your Veterinarian may prescribe medication in some situations. I work collaboratively with a client’s Veterinarian throughout the process to have the best combination of medical and behavioural support possible.
Separation anxiety is a panic disorder. They can no longer control their fear of being left alone then I can control my fear of heights. They are not angry at you leaving, and they won’t just get over it.
Without training, the answer is, unfortunately, no. Dogs suffering from separation anxiety experience such deep panic that the learning part of the brain shuts down—the same way our own thinking processes do when we’re frightened. Separation anxiety training is all about teaching your dog—slowly and systematically without ever triggering her panic response—that you do indeed always come back.
If you google separation anxiety, you will likely find a list of things a mile long that you should do to prevent separation anxiety. But do they work? Will you prevent your dog from getting separation anxiety if you do these things? Before answering this question, we need to understand how separation anxiety happens. Two main factors contribute to separation anxiety – genetics and environmental factors. In my video, where I provide some background on The Common Signs of Separation in Dogs, I describe these factors in detail. There is a lot of research being undertaken on canine separation anxiety. A DNA marker has been identified that may indicate if a dog is genetically predisposed to the condition. However, environmental conditions are antidotal as the research has not conclusively proven if there is statistical causation or significance to environmental triggers. An environmental trigger is something that the dog experiences that triggers anxiety. An example is a traumatic event such as flying in a plane at a young age or if left to cry it out if they are anxious. For every dog that suffers from separation anxiety, there is likely another dog who lived through a similar triggering event and is okay with alone time. How do we prevent something that we don’t fully understand the cause? And if you do everything that your google search highlighted, and your dog still develops separation anxiety, is it your fault? Before you start blaming yourself, read my blogs on How to Fix Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety and The Top 7 Things That Could Make Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety Worse. Spoiler alert – You didn’t cause your dog’s separation anxiety, but you do need to use care that you aren’t doing something that is preventing it from being resolved or being resolved more quickly. Separation anxiety, home-alone concerns, and isolation distress are terms used to describe a bundle of behaviours that only appear when the dog is left alone or cannot access its owner. Ballantyne writes, “There is no consensus on the diagnostic terminology”. 1 Separation-related behaviours fall into two buckets. Those where the dog is not used to being left alone but with some training tend to adjust quickly to be comfortable when left. The second bucket is when the dog has a negative emotional response when left, and without intervention, such as systematic desensitization will likely worsen. While we would approach both buckets with the same training methodology, generally, dogs in the first bucket adjust quickly to being left once they know that your departures are safe for them. Dogs with more of a clinical definition of separation anxiety will also improve. However, the rate of progress is usually slower, and they will often require veterinary support to help with the acquisition and retention of learning. McCrave states, “If the anxiety underlying these behaviours remains untreated, the behavior problem will not be resolved” .2 Dogs will progress through phases when left home alone. The first phase, called the ‘threshold of perception,’…
The Top 7 Things that Could Be Making Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety Worse This blog will focus on the seven things you may be doing that could make your dog’s separation anxiety worse. I wrote about what you are told is causing your dog’s separation anxiety in a previous post. You can read the blog ‘How to fix your dog’s separation anxiety‘ here. The top 7 things are: Not suspending absences Following outdated or wrong advice Trying everything else before considering behaviour medication Consistent training Going at your dog’s pace Not watching your dog on camera Using punishment 1) Not suspending absences Suspending absences means that your dog is not left alone except when training. Sometimes I will hear a comment that if I could stop absences, why do I need training. Fair point! Here’s the thing, suspending absences is only intended to be short-term. The goal of training is so that you can eventually leave your dog when you go out. So while suspending absences can be inconvenient and expensive if you need to pay for pet sitters or daycare, it is only required while we train your dog to be completely comfortable on their own. So why is suspending absences so critical to a successful outcome for separation anxiety training? Every time your dog is left alone and experiences fear and anxiety, it sets back their ability to be left in the future. They begin to associate and predict that they will have a scary experience every time you leave. They may see other things in your leaving routine as a predictor that you are about to go. You might notice your dog becoming aware that you are about to leave by becoming hyper-vigilant, clingy and stressed, such as panting and pacing even before you move towards the door. This anticipation means the stress begins building earlier and earlier. Suspending absences is one of the most significant things you can do to help prevent your dog’s anxiety from getting worse. Management solutions won’t fix a dog’s behaviour, but they are essential in preventing the behaviour from worsening. Management for separation anxiety training means preventing your dog from experiencing an over threshold experience by suspending absences. This doesn’t mean that you can’t leave your dog ever. It means that your dog can’t be left alone while we are doing training. If your dog is okay with other dogs, daycare and pet sitters are options. If your dog can stay with friends or families without experiencing distress, this is an option. It is not always easy. It requires organization, and doing things on short notice can be difficult, but it is possible. 2) Following outdated advice Doing a google search on separation anxiety will land you with hundreds of links on what causes separation anxiety and how to fix it. Some of it is reliable and of good quality, but so much is outdated, wrong and harmful. At best, it will slow down your progress, but it will be detrimental at…
Separation anxiety is a very difficult behaviour to live with. Knowing your dog gets stressed when you leave is upsetting. The most common signs of separation anxiety include: Vocalization – Barking, whimpering, whining, yipping, howling. Often vocalization is so loud that you may receive neighbour complaints. Panting – Breathing heavily, panting and sometimes drooling. Pacing – The dog cannot settle so that will pace often in front of the exit door but also around the home, often running between windows and doors in the hope to glimpse their person. Hypervigilance – Increased following, velcro-like behaviour when they anticipate you are about to leave. Damage to the home – Chewing on furniture and fixtures, destruction of furnishing like pillows, clothing etc. Scratching at door frames often those closest to the exit door. Elimination in the home – If a dog is so panicked, they may lose control of their bodily functions and mess in the house. This is relevant if the dog is otherwise housetrained and healthy. In this video, I have collated some of the most common separation signs I see with my clients. Trigger warning – This video includes dogs vocalizing so if you are listening to it with your own dogs around they may respond. Common Signs of Separation Anxiety
If a trainer tells you that you are the cause of your dog’s separation anxiety, it is time to find another trainer. Just now, I was reading this article titled ‘how to fix your dog’s separation anxiety.’ Apparently, according to the writer, dogs suffering from separation anxiety need strict rules and structure to overcome it. In fact, according to the author of this article, dogs that can’t stay at home by themself would do better when their choices are limited. The author says that you need to limit the dog’s excitement and reduce their options for a dog to overcome separation anxiety. The author’s first step is to make your dog walks structured. This means your dog walks beside you; no sniffing, marking or greeting other dogs because these activities increase the dog’s excitement. Structured walks will help your dog be calm at home. You, as the owner, also need to observe your interactions to ensure that your dog does not get excited. You need to avoid petting and playing with your dog, as this will only get your dog worked up. The article advocates that you should limit your dog’s freedom in the house. You should prevent your dog’s ability to free roam in the home as this will help your dog let go of the worry and stress that is going on around him. A dog that follows you around the house and can’t let you out of sight or a dog that reacts to every sound is not relaxed. The author argues that we need to interrupt the cycle of barking stemming from the stress, and to do that, they recommend a high-quality bark collar (aka shock collars) and then recommend a couple of brands. Other options are to increase exercise when possible and recommend treadmill training and structured play that mentally and physically tired the dog out. Another article says separation anxiety is ‘a togetherness addiction.’ The author of this article says that to fix your dog’s separation anxiety, you need to reduce your attention and affection, control the space in your home, implement the structured walk, introduce crate training, correct undesirable behaviour, and implement a consistent routine. According to them, this will fix your dog’s separation anxiety. My response to these articles and the many others that hit your feed when you search for the term ‘fixing separation anxiety’ is that they are, at best, garbage and not worth your time to read. But worse, they fundamentally harm the relationship you have with your dog. My heart aches when I read this rubbish. How many dogs have been harmed due to this incorrect and outdated advice? How many people are made to feel responsible for their dog’s anxiety based on this outdated and wrong information? Too many! These articles imply that your dog’s separation anxiety is your fault. They are all premised on the incorrect assumption that well-adjusted dogs are those that know their place in the home. If only you were the ‘pack leader,’…
While the training process for separation anxiety is similar for each client, we all travel a different path. Trust that your journey is the right one for you and your dog. The other day I was speaking to one of my clients in our weekly catchup session. I noticed that she seemed subdued and had missed a couple of training sessions. These weekly catchups are where we discuss how things are going, what’s working, what’s not, how the dog is doing, and how the human is feeling. She commented that she saw the celebration post on Instagram for another client who had graduated from separation anxiety training. This client had achieved over three hours of alone time, a considerable accomplishment. I will always take time to celebrate a client’s achievement. Whether it’s 10 seconds, one minute or three hours, these accomplishments deserve a celebration. The client I was speaking to went quiet. I asked her what was wrong. She paused and then said, three hours, wow, we are only at two minutes. It feels like we will never get to three hours. All I can do is nod my head. When a client says this, and almost every client does at some point, it always makes me feel sad. I don’t feel sad because they are right. They are only at two minutes, and they want to be able to leave for two hours. Their journey will take as long as it takes, and it does seem impossible. I am sad because the sadness or frustration they are feeling is not deserved. They are falling into the very human trap of comparing their beginning to someone else’s ending. It is just not a fair comparison. This feeling is prevalent for clients to have, particularly in the early stages of training. In the beginning, it feels like five minutes is impossible, let alone three hours. I tell each client going through the training that this is normal. Every client is on their journey. Every client has started in a different place. Every client has a different support network. Some are single, and some are juggling families. Every client has different needs, different budgets, different obligations and different timelines. Some live in apartments while others live in houses. Some work in the home while others work outside the home. Some have dogs that love other dogs and can go to daycare, while others have dogs that can’t be around other dogs. Some dogs are happy to hang with anyone, but others only want to be with their person. Every client’s journey is unique. To help my client understand the difference between where she was and where the other client is now, I gave her some background on the client who had just graduated. This client had started training almost five months ago. They had to adjust how the dog was being left. They modified their medical plan twice. They had to take a break to onboard the behaviour medications. They had ups…
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 the dog to 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…
There are some perfect dogs out there. You may have seen them. They walk politely on leash, check-in with their handler, stop what they are doing, and immediately come when called. In some cases, genetics may play a role. Lucky owner if that is the case. For the most part, that perfect dog results from an incredible investment in time, effort and dedication in building the relationship and investing in the training to make the perfect seem effortless, just like the smoothness of a duck gliding across the water belies the effort happening below the surface. So many things go into the ‘Perfect Dog.’ There are no shortcuts. Hard work, training and practice. So much practice in lots of different places. Persistence to work through those inevitable plateaus. Consistency so that the dog understands that not being allowed to jump on a guest means all the time, not just some of the time. Patience to know that training is not a linear process. There will be ups and downs, and sometimes you will go backward. Understanding that some days are just not good days. It may be too hot, or you have had a bad day at work, or your dog is too distracted. There will be setbacks and failures, and that is all part of the process. The ‘Perfect Dog’ is not born, but they are nurtured and created through your devotion to them. Investing in them and investing in your own knowledge. Creating the ‘Perfect Dog’ means taking the time and putting in the time. So when you next see a ‘Perfect Dog,’ think about what it took to get there. It was no accident, nor was the person lucky. Think about what is happening below the water line and congratulate the handler on a job well done.
Suzanne Clothier has this great quote, “If you are hanging on to your dog’s body, it’s because you’ve lost his mind.” I love this quote because it is transferrable to so many aspects of dog training. Can you say that your dog is well-trained if they only listen to you when they are attached to you? If they sit when you tug on their leash or put pressure on their hind end or get them to stop pulling because you give them a leash correction. Are they trained, or are they complying because they want to avoid the pain of punishment? You might argue that they are trained because they are doing what you ask of them, and you may be right. The real test is when there is no leash or when your dog is too far away to physically correct. Then what? Are they still trained? It is more difficult to argue that they are in this scenario. For me, the sign of a well-trained dog is a dog that listens to me. They don’t have to be engaged with me all the time, but when I say their name, they look to me, seeking further instructions. This can only come through training that builds a relationship. I don’t want or need my dogs to be perfect. I love my dogs for who they are and want them to be dogs. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t rules and boundaries. Instead of being a dictator, I prefer to be a benevolent leader, coaching and guiding them. If my dogs aren’t responding to me, it is not their fault. The fault resides with me. People have very high expectations of their dogs, way higher than they have of themselves. They give themselves a pass on all sorts of behaviours and yet are so harsh on their dogs for doing the same thing. They expect a dog to know the rules, speak English or whatever language they speak, don’t do behaviours that are entirely normal for dogs to do. They expect dogs not to counter surf even though we have left something delicious up there in their reach or jump on the furniture even though it is a wonderfully soft place to nap. We label them as ‘dominant,’ and we need to do more to be the ‘pack leader.’ All of this is rubbish. We dictate every aspect of our dog’s life. We set their feeding schedule. We choose what to feed them. We tell them when they can go out for a walk and where they can go for a walk. For heaven’s sake, we even tell them when and where to go to the bathroom. And we have the audacity to label them as being dominant. The concept is so ridiculous, and yet, how often do we hear it. When I reach for my dog, I don’t want them to cringe because they fear my touch. I want them to listen to me and do what I ask…
To date, you’ve bought your kids’ countless stuffed animals, a goldfish (well, several actually, but the kids don’t know that), and you have even tried promising a kitten – but it’s just not cutting it. YOUR KIDS WANT A DOG! As a life-long dog lover, life with a dog is a blast – if you do it right! But is it right for you? It all comes down to one question – the same one you’d tell your friend to ask herself if she was considering any other big life change. Am I ready for my life to change? Just like having a child, moving or any big life change, you have to factor your dog into EVERY part of your day. If you’re cool with this list of scary stuff, keep reading. But if the answers are no, a dog is clearly not on your horizon, at least not right now. While this might be a hard decision to make, feel good that you’re making a responsible choice now. Celebrate with a latte and secretly smile as you watch other people walking their dogs in the rain. Are you ready for the reality check? 1. Puppies take a lot of time. Think house training, puppy classes, proper socialization and constant supervision. Is this the year you’ll be happy to schedule your life around your dog? 2. Dogs aren’t cheap. Bills will come from the vet, the trainer, the groomer, the dog walker, the boarding kennel, and the pet store! Are you ready for them? 3. Get ready to exercise. Dogs need a minimum of one hour of exercise every day. Maybe more. If you have your heart set on a Border Collie, you can easily treble that estimate. It doesn’t matter if it is minus 20 degrees out. Twice a day, you need to get out there and exercise your dog. Are you ready with your snow boots on? 4. Dogs make mistakes. They chew the stuff everybody loves. Are you happy to stay up all night on eBay searching for a replica of your kid’s favourite ‘stuff toy’ after your dog rips it to shreds? 5. Lassie isn’t real. Kids and dogs don’t naturally know how to behave around each other. Do you have the time and energy to train them all? 6. Expect the unexpected. Bad stuff can happen – like your dog getting sick, starting to growl at your kids or deciding he’s afraid of all men except your husband. Are you ready to pony up the time, effort and money to fix something like that? 7. Parents do all the work. Yes, kids may help (a little, at first), but at the end of the day, it’s really on you! I don’t know how many times I have heard ‘we got the puppy for the kids’ but after the initial excitement, the novelty wears off. Are you willing to meditate away the resentment, put on your happy face and get on with it? You’ve probably…
Do you have a new family member? When a new puppy is added to the family, it is a significant change for everyone. Not only are you dealing with the house training and the chewing and all the other very normal puppy behaviours, but there is also the training. Those cute puppy behaviours quickly wear out their welcome as the puppy grows to full size. Training is essential to instill the manners that will make your puppy a good member of society. The better your dog’s manners, the more places your puppy will be welcome. In addition to basic obedience, it is incredibly important to socialize your puppy to be comfortable in lots of different situations. What do dog trainers mean by socialization? In simplest terms, it means exposing your puppy to as many things as possible in a very positive way while they are in their critical socialization window. The canine socialization window closes at about four months of age. So when you think about it, if you get your puppy between 8-12 weeks of age and then your vet will advise you to limit your puppy’s activities until they have received the two sets of vaccinations, the remaining window to socialize is very short. What if you don’t socialize? The fundamental reason dog trainers stress socialization is to ensure your puppy grows up into a well-adjusted adult dog. The more your puppy is exposed to new things when they are young, the less chance they will develop fearful behaviour of new things as they get older. If a dog is afraid of something, you will often see reactive and/or aggressive behaviour as a result. Working through fearful behaviour requires a lot of patience and time. The renowned dog trainer Dr. Ian Dunbar has been very vocal in saying the risk of future behaviour issues due to poor socialization outweighs the risk of exposure to disease. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviour (AVSAB) has issued position statements on the topic. What can you do to ensure your dog is socialized? The key here is to ensure your puppy is socialized positively. Just exposing your pup to new things and they are terrified is not socialization. It is abuse. Socializing is the process of exposing your puppy to new things and making it a positive and enjoyable experience for them. The most common things puppies develop a fear of are: children, men, loud noises, fast movements/wheels, handling/touch, new dogs and new environments. The list of new things is extensive, but here is a snapshot to consider: New People: Dr. Ian Dunbar says that you should expose your puppy to 100 new people in the first month in their new homes. While this may not be achievable, I am sure you get the picture. New people include people of all sizes, ages, ethnicity. People who are wearing hats, sunglasses, hoodies, walking with canes, walking poles, in wheelchairs etc. New dogs: Puppy classes are a great way to socialize your dog…
Have you ever had one of those days? Or maybe one of those weeks? It seems that we all go through these times when nothing seems to fall into place. It’s hard to keep smiling when there isn’t much to show for a day’s work. I was thinking about it this morning and perhaps feeling a bit sorry for myself when Pippa came by and nudged me to take her for a walk. Pippa is not subtle, nor is she easily ignored. So off we went for a walk. The morning air was crisp, and no wind yet. It is a nice change from the last few days. Gracie carried her ball, and Pippa was sniffing the ground, probably in search of bunny nuggets. Gracie dropped her ball, and Pippa dashes to pick it up, so it goes on for the rest of the walk. Drop the ball, pick it up. Sniff interesting scents. Rummage in the dry leaves for who knows what. Roll in the grass. Get up. Shake it off. Repeat. As for me, I enjoyed a lovely walk with my dogs where my mind wandered. I listened to the chickadees and robins. I watched my dogs do their dog thing. I gazed down the Bow River valley out across Springbank to the mountains in the distance still capped with snow. I scanned the ground for the first crocus (I didn’t see any yet). The buds on the trees are ready to burst open. It won’t be long, everything will be green, and the neighbourhood will be filled with blossom as the maydays and apple trees bloom. Once home, the girls seek out a sunbeam and catch up on a morning nap. I made a cup of coffee and sat nearby and watched them as they happily snoozed. I think I might leave my problems in the office for a bit longer. There is a sunbeam with my name on it.
I read an article this week about therapy dogs and the difference they make in patients’ lives. I was reminded of a PALS (Pet Access League) visit I had with Amber years ago. Amber and I used to volunteer with PALS, where every couple of weeks, we would go to a nearby extended care facility and visit the Alzheimer’s ward. Amber was a gentle soul who loved just sitting next to people and letting them stroke her. She was the perfect PALS dog. She would sit quietly and didn’t show concern or fear of she was handled a bit roughly or bothered by strange noises or smells. She was the stereotypical golden retriever. Not so much into dogs, but she loved people. Over time we got to know the residents, and they would tell us the stories of their lives growing up and the many dogs in their lives. Even though their short-term memories failed them, their long-term memories were rich in detail, as they recounted their childhood stories and the love of their pets. Some of the residents loved seeing the dogs arrive and would come to greet us as our little troupe of canines made our way down the hallway. Others would be less pleased and would scatter off into their room to wait it out until we left. Every week as we made our way down the hallway. The residents whose disease had progressed remained in their beds in their rooms. We left these people alone unless one of the nursing staff asked us to stop in. On this one visit, as Amber and I made our way down the hallway, Amber began to strain on her leash to go into this one room. She had never done this before. The lady lying in bed was frail and appeared to be sleeping. Her family, who were all sitting around the bed and talking in subdued voices, surrounded her. I felt very uncomfortable and tried to get Amber to leave, but she wanted nothing to do with it. The nurse in the room waved us in, and the family looked up. Amber went around and visited each of the family members, and I had assumed that this was what she wanted after all of her insistence. But no, after greeting everyone, Amber immediately went to the bedside, where she popped her front feet up on the bed and began to nudge the woman’s arm with her nose. Amber wasn’t being gentle. She was pushing her nose under the woman’s hand and trying to flip her hand up onto her head. This was not the Amber I knew. Amber wouldn’t put her feet on the bed without being invited. I was stunned and embarrassed by her behaviour. She wasn’t relenting. After what seemed like an eternity, the woman raised her hand and grumbled and told us to go away. I was so embarrassed. Amber was oblivious. She was pleased with herself with that goofy grin on her face –…
Recently I have been thinking a lot about why dogs are such an essential part of many people’s lives. I know in my case, I can’t imagine a life without a dog or two (or maybe three if my husband would allow it). Is it because they seem to know what we are thinking? How do they know that we have had a good day or a bad day? Being a dog trainer, I know better than attributing my dog’s ability to know these details to human traits. The reality is that dogs are masters of reading body language. They pick up on the subtle and not-so-subtle signs that we send out. This is how dogs communicate with other dogs and, if we are willing, with us. Investing time to train our dogs does not just benefit us with an obedient dog. It provides us with a way that we can communicate with each other. If we can communicate well, then our relationship with each other will grow stronger as a result. Learning the subtle signs of canine communication allows us to be an advocate for our dogs. It provides us with the information we need to manage their environment. Is that scary person too close?…. Let’s move further away. Are the children draping themselves over me too much?…. Time for a time out for the kids. Watching your dog, being an advocate for your dog, will set them up for success. Investing the time to train your dog will result in an enhanced relationship with them. My dogs know that I have their back. I do keep them out of trouble. I am their protector. I make sure they are well fed, groomed and healthy. I spend time training them. In return, I revel in the joy of having well-mannered dogs as my companions.