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Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety in dogs, Hanging With Hounds, Relaxed bassett hound sleeping on the sofa.

My ah-ha moment: There are no quick fixes. Separation anxiety will take time to resolve.

By Separation Anxiety, Dogs, Puppies No Comments
There I said it.  Helping a dog with separation anxiety is not easy.  It takes time, effort, patience and perseverance. But I was recently reminded that this is true for most things.  While we would all like to master a new skill rapidly, quickly become proficient at a new sport or recover from an injury, none of it happens overnight. I recently had some major surgery.  Despite knowing that the whole process would take time, I thought I would be different.  I was prepared, and I had done my homework.  What I didn't allow for was that my body would take as long as it needed to recover fully.  Much longer than I had hoped for.  So while my brain was convinced that I would be up and about in a few weeks, my body is telling me it will take as long as it takes and possibly much longer than I had hoped.  Should I be surprised? Nope! If I am honest, everyone along the way has said much the same thing.  The surgeon told me that recovery would take months. The nurses and hospital staff said to me that I had just had complex surgery and my body would need time to recover. The physiotherapist and massage therapist said the same thing and that it would be accompanied by some difficult phases, as the recovery process is not linear.  There would be setbacks. Pretty much everyone I have crossed paths with has said the same thing, either from first-hand experience or because a family member has gone through the same process. So why did I think I was going to be different?  Honestly, I think it is human nature.  We tend to oversimplify and overestimate our abilities. We believe we will be different. We will be the exception to the rule. And sometimes we are, but often we are not. So while this process has been humbling and required that I slow down and work at the pace my body needs, it has given me time to reflect. It meant that I had to stop and listen to my body. It has meant I needed to ask for help and rely on others, which is not easy for me. To eat nutritious food.  To rest and sleep when my body is telling me to stop. To do the work. Even when it is uncomfortable, and I don't see much for my effort.  Turning up every day and doing what is asked of me will mean that one day soon, I will turn the corner. To have the belief and faith that the effort will be worth it. To quiet my mind. To stop googling shortcuts and listen to those who are the experts and trust their guidance. In some ways, let it all go and trust the process. It was at some point during one of my low spells when I finally realized that it would take as long as it takes that this all seemed very familiar.…
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Man comforting an old dog, Separation anxiety, Hanging With Hounds

Doggie dementia: An overview of canine cognitive dysfunction

By Separation Anxiety, Dogs No Comments
What is Canine Cognitive Dysfunction? Canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) is a disease related to the aging of a dog's brain, leading to changes in awareness, affecting the dog's learning and memory, and decreasing their responsiveness to their surrounding. This condition in dogs has been compared to human patients with Alzheimer's disease or dementia. Although the initial symptoms are mild, they gradually get worse over time at a rate which can not be considered normal aging. At what age does cognitive decline start to occur? CCD is common in older dogs, generally occurring after nine years of age. By the age of 16, it is estimated that 68% of dogs will be affected by CCD. In other words, nearly two-thirds of dogs over 15 years of age have some form of doggie dementia. Clinical signs of mild cognitive decline are found in nearly one-third of dogs over the age of 11 years. Equally important is the number of cases of cognitive decline in dogs that go undiagnosed. It is anticipated that approximately 14% of the dog population over eight years old will demonstrate some form of CCD. Less than 2% have been formally diagnosed with this medical condition. Many dog parents may assume that changes in the dog's cognitive abilities are a normal part of aging. This isn't true. The symptoms of CCD far exceed what can be considered normal aging. CCD is a progressive condition and will worsen as your dog ages.   Disclaimer: I am writing this article after researching the topic. However, I am not a veterinarian. I have provided some resources at the end of this article that you can use, but please, if you suspect your dog may be affected by canine cognitive dysfunction, consult with your veterinarian. What causes cognitive dysfunction in dogs? The exact causes of CCD are unknown, but the same changes that cause problems for aging people are likely to also cause problems for our aging dogs. Scientists are studying CCD and its similarities to Alzheimer's in people. New developments are constantly coming to light. We know that as our dog's age, the cells die as the brain atrophies. This especially affects the area of the brain responsible for memory and learning (the cerebral cortex) and coordination (the cerebellum). Research has also found an abnormal protein (beta-amyloid) building up in the dog's brain. This protein buildup has been shown to cause decreased nerve signalling in the brain. Dogs with a sedentary lifestyle or underlying conditions such as epilepsy seem to be at a higher risk of developing CCD. What are the clinical signs of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction? Often, mild cognitive impairment is first noted by owners as unusual behavioural changes. For example, an owner may notice that their dog is less responsive, less engaged with them, or appears confused or disoriented. A common behaviour change reported is increased activity at night. Dogs will not necessarily display all of these signs. The clinical signs of cognitive dysfunction an owner may recognize include: Wandering…
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Old brown dog with a white muzzle, separation anxiety, Hanging With Hounds

Treating separation anxiety in older dogs.

By Separation Anxiety, Dogs No Comments
Treating Separation Anxiety in Older Dogs. The root cause of behavioural issues in older dogs is often anxiety, which can increase as they enter their golden years. And just like puppies, senior dogs with anxiety need patience, understanding, and a few lifestyle adjustments to navigate their world more happily and healthily. Why is separation anxiety common in older dogs? Anxiety, in general, can start to occur as your dog ages, even when the dog has shown no signs of anxiety previously. While it can be heartbreaking when we start to notice signs of aging in our pets, there is much we can do to help our dogs through this period. Anything we can do to reduce the dog's anxiety is a good thing. What Are The Signs Of Anxiety In Older Dogs? There are several signs to look for when determining whether your older dog is suffering from anxiety. Changes and new behaviour problems in your dog are often the first signs of something wrong. A veterinarian evaluation is warranted if your dog has suddenly developed separation anxiety. It is important to note that not all dogs will display all signs, and some dogs may only demonstrate a few symptoms. Separation-related behaviours may be more subtle in the older dog than what we typically see in a younger animal. You may notice that your dog is becoming increasingly clingy. In a younger dog, we can often push through some of these behaviours, but in a senior dog, we have less leeway. The dog's threshold may be lower and less obvious when observing their body language. A good camera is essential to observe the more subtle body postures and language. The most common symptoms of anxiety in an older dog are: Panting or rapid breathing Drooling or excessive licking Pacing or restless behaviour Whimpering, whining or crying Hiding or cowering Shaking or trembling/shivering Freezing or no movement Attempting to escape/running away Increase in anxiety at night Separation anxiety or the inability to be left at home alone What are the causes of anxiety in senior dogs? There are many potential causes of anxiety in aging dogs, including changes in their physical health, changes in their environment, and changes in their routine. Increased anxiety can sometimes result from getting older and being less confident, but it is often correlated to health changes. A dog's physical health changes can be due to medical conditions, injuries, and aging. Pain can trigger anxiety and is common in all animals as they age. Pain can come from many sources, but some of the most common are: Joint pain, i.e. arthritis Dental and teeth Gastro-intestinal issues Injuries Ear pain Chronic health conditions, i.e. cancer Other factors contributing to anxiety are changes due to hearing and vision loss. Changes to living arrangements. Changes in cognitive abilities can also contribute to generalized anxiety. How do veterinarians diagnose and treat anxiety in senior dogs? The first thing to do if you notice changes in your dog is to consult with…
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Dog following its owner around the house, separation anxiety training, Hanging With Hounds

Following does not mean your dog has separation anxiety.

By Separation Anxiety, Dogs, Puppies No Comments
It is the prevailing opinion that dogs with separation anxiety have an over-attachment to their people, but evidence indicates otherwise. If you talk to your friends, colleagues and neighbours with dogs that don’t have separation anxiety, you will discover that many of their dogs also follow them from room to room. In fact, if we really look into it, this 'following thing' is more of a dog thing than a separation anxiety thing. Does your dog cling to you everywhere you go?   I tell my clients that I have not been to the bathroom alone in years. If I stand up and walk away from my desk, my three dogs, who are usually sleeping nearby, get up and follow.  As soon as I stop, one will come up right beside me, one will plop down on the floor outside, and the other will find the nearest comfy spot and settle in.  This is how it is every time I move.  None of my dogs have separation anxiety (SA). What does the research say? Research conducted supports the fact that non-SA dogs and SA dogs alike have similar behaviour when it comes to an attachment test. The research showed that dogs with separation anxiety spent no more time in contact with or in proximity to their owners than dogs without separation anxiety . In the same study, it was shown that 65% of the dogs without separation anxiety were reported to follow their people from room to room. Why on earth does this matter? First of all, it is important to realize that over-attachment is not a reliable assessment criterion for separation anxiety — other indicators must be present to confirm that separation anxiety is the issue. Secondly, since over-attachment is not a singular factor in separation anxiety, we don't focus on that aspect for training. The only time I worry about following is when it is an indicator of increasing anxiety.  If a dog who is inclined to follow then begins to show other signs that they are becoming anxious, then the following may be a predictor of separation anxiety.  But for many for my clients who do display separation anxiety symptoms, following is not in their repertoire. Why the bond between the human and the dog matters? One of the most difficult cases I had was with a dog who had extreme separation anxiety. This dog couldn't be left. However when at home, the dog didn't hang around the family at all.  The dog would routinely settle in another completely separate part of the house seemingly unbothered by the fact that its family was elsewhere. This was extremely hard on the family. It seemed to them that the dog could not be left alone without panicking but when at home the dog didn't want to be around them.  The lack of attachment between the dog and the family made the resolution of the dog's separation anxiety extremely challenging. In most of my cases, it is the strong attachment…
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Dog looking worried through the dog, pre-departure cues, separation anxiety, Hanging With Hounds

What the heck are pre-departure cues?

By Separation Anxiety No Comments
In the separation anxiety training world, we talk a lot about things most people don't give a second thought to.  Intuitively, anyone living with a dog struggling with separation anxiety knows about pre-departure cues, but you don't always have a name for them.  When you put on your coat or shoes, and your dog starts to show signs of panic, this is a pre-departure cue. You know these things are important. Anything you do before leaving home is referred to as a pre-departure cue or a PDQ for short. PDQs are a big red flag to your dog that you will be leaving. A PDQ doesn't just happen right before leaving, either. Sometimes something you do hours in advance can become a PDQ.  When this happens, you may notice your dog become increasingly hypervigilant, begins following closely or starts to pant. So why are PDQs given such importance in separation anxiety training? Here's the thing - anything you do that provides a tip-off to your dog that you are about to leave is important to our training.  Dogs are very observant creatures.  They watch us. They read our body language extraordinarily well.  They know that we do certain things, it means that x, y, and z will follow. After all, we are creatures of routine as well. When we go to a certain cupboard, it means that a treat is about to be forthcoming.  When we get up from eating our meal, the dog predicts their dinner will be next. When we switch the TV off in the evening, it means it is time for bed. For most dogs, all these associations formed over the years predict happy things. But for our separation anxiety dogs, some of these things predict the worse thing they can imagine - you are about to leave, and they will be left at home alone. To make matters worse, these dogs learn a complex behaviour chain of multiple things predicting your departure.  Some dogs watch your every move. When you get out of bed in the morning, do you shower or do you change and go downstairs for coffee?  On days you leave the house, maybe you shower directly after waking.  But on the weekend, you wander downstairs and brew some coffee. You may start to notice on the days you shower first, your dog seems more clingy or watchs you more closely. Maybe you notice that they are panting more than usual. Now if after showering, instead of dressing for work, you change into sweats.  Now, what does your dog do?  Sweats mean you are hanging around the house, not going to the office.  Does your dog start to relax? What if you stop by your office and pick up your laptop on the way downstairs? Does your dog start to get concerned again?  These are the challenges of PDQs. When training, we must identify all the PDQs that matter to your dog.  Every dog is different.  Some dogs will have a long list…
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Fear vs Anxiety. What is the difference?

What is fear, and how is it different from anxiety?

By Separation Anxiety, Dogs, Puppies No Comments
Fear is defined as a response to a near and present danger.  Whereas anxiety is defined as the response to a situation that is not real but is perceived as such. What is Fear? Let me give you an example. You are visiting a new city.  You have spent the afternoon sightseeing.  The weather has been beautiful, and you have strolled far from your hotel.  You have spent the last few hours visiting a museum that has been on your bucket list for ages.  The bell goes in the museum, telling you that they are about to close.  It is now 6 pm....where did the time go?  You have been so engrossed in viewing the exhibits that you completely lost track of time.  You hurry towards the exit and come outside to darkness.  The sun has set.  The streets that were bustling with people a few hours ago are now empty, and to make matters worse, it has started to rain.  You look for a taxi, but the streets are empty.  You look at your phone and realize the nearest uber is about 30 minutes away.  You could wait, but it is cold and wet now, and you just realized that you are hungry. You haven't eaten since breakfast.  You decide to walk back to your hotel.  Your phone's map tells you that it will take about 20 minutes, and you think that maybe you will find a nice restaurant where you can stop for dinner.  So you begin to walk. Sounds good, right?  Except, you are not familiar with the city.  The bustling streets that were full of people shopping earlier are now empty.  The shops are closed.  You can hear your footsteps on the empty streets.  The wind is now blowing some rubbish and an empty can down the street. You feel less comfortable.  Your pace quickens.  You become more alert.  You seem more sensitive to every sound.  Your heart rate starts to quicken.  You become more vigilant. You start to think about what you will do if something happens. You hear a noise and turn to see the dark shadow of someone behind you.  They are about 20 feet behind you. They are wearing a hoodie, and you can't see their face.  They are moving quickly towards you.  You think you see something in their hand. You start to quicken your pace.  Your body has triggered you to flee from what could be a dangerous situation. You think about what you can do to defend yourself.  You reach into your pocket for your keys, the only thing that you have to defend yourself if attacked.  You search for something to be open - anything that you can run to for safety.  This is a real and present danger, and your response is one of fear.  Just like a gazelle on the savannah, this is not the time that you should hesitate. The fear response is a life-saving response. The cortisol, adrenaline and other hormones that flood our…
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Dog sleeping next to a person studying

30 Ideas to Suspend Absences

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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? 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. It can become expensive to pay for daycare and pet sitters regularly. It take planning and organization.  Spontaneity goes out the window. Friends or family can leave you without coverage if something comes. You may not live in an area that has good daycare options. You may work in a profession where your hours are not 9-5, i.e. health care or shiftwork. You may work 12-hour shifts and can't drop off or pick up your dog as per the required schedule. You may be new to your area and don't have a network of friends and family nearby. You can be judged by others for trying to suspend absences, and become reluctant to reach out. Lastly, and most importantly, it is often really difficult to admit you need help and to ask for…
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Rhodesian Ridgeback sniffing the ground, canine enrichment for anxious dogs

Enrichment Activities For The Anxious Dog

By Separation Anxiety, Dogs, Puppies No Comments
Enrichment Activities for the Anxious Dog I am sure I don’t have to convince you that dogs are sophisticated beings with complex emotional and social structures, serious problem-solving capabilities, and mental/physical needs. They are captive in our homes. And the hard truth of it is most of them are not getting what they need in terms of enrichment in their daily lives. I am sure some of you live with a dog that will steal tissues and shred them. How about a dog sniffing so intensely that you are using all your body strength to get them to extract their face from a bush and move forward? How about excessive foot licking? These things feel good. Like actually make them feel good, like how I feel after a glass (or two) of wine. Canine enrichment is a hot topic, and you can find many items on the market these days that make it easy to get your dog’s food out of a conventional bowl and into a problem-solving puzzle, but I am going to ask you to take it a step further. I will ask you to find activities that promote and enhance your dog's relaxation. That puzzle toy with trap doors, a kong wobbler or a treat ball that sends kibble flying across your kitchen floor may not be the best way to enrich your anxious dog’s day. Take up their time? Yes. Get them interested? Yes. Promote serotonin production in their bodies? Maybe not. Give your dog at least two opportunities to decompress with daily coping activities.  And more importantly, I want you to observe what happens when you provide these things to them before, during, and after a stressful situation, such as a neighbourhood walk or a training exercise for separation anxiety.  Things to look for include: Does your dog calm down after the activity, or do they get frustrated?  Do they enjoy the activity, or do they walk away and leave it unfinished?  Observing your dog will give you great information about their preferences and valuable insight into what they find most relaxing. Dogs tend to soothe themselves in four major ways: licking, chewing, sniffing, and shredding. Licking Examples include Kongs/Toppl/Licking Mats. The easiest soothing enrichment to prepare and serve is licking items. Classic Kongs and West Paws Toppls are two staples in my household. There are many other options too, but you want something made of rubber that can be stuffed, frozen, and put in the dishwasher. These are great options for meal delivery. If you feed raw, it is easy to stuff a kong with the meal. If you feed kibble, mix the dry kibble with a little wet food, canned pure pumpkin, yogurt or stew that allows the kibble to bind together and freeze, should you want to do that. It does take a little organization to ensure meals are prepared in advance and frozen, but on the plus side, dinner is just a matter of reaching into your freezer. If you have dogs like mine, who find licking extremely pleasurable, you will want to explore licking mats and slow bowls.…
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Dog barking, Separation Anxiety training, Hanging With Hounds

Barking Mad! Everything you need to know about dog barking.

By Separation Anxiety, Dogs, Puppies No Comments
If there is one canine behaviour that drives people nuts, it is barking.  Nothing is more likely to get neighbours upset or drive you around the bend than the sound of incessant barking. So why do dogs bark?  The obvious answer is that it is one of our dog's primary communication methods.  But there is more to this story.   To get to the bottom of what motivates our dogs to bark, we need to do some detective work. The first step in addressing barking is to understand why your dog barks.  Once you have this information, you can address the underlying reason.   There are five main reasons dogs bark - we need to understand the 'why' in order to change the behaviour. 1. Social Isolation/Frustration/Boredom Your dog may be barking out of boredom and loneliness if: They are left alone for long periods of time without opportunities to interact with you. Their environment is relatively barren, without companions or toys. They are a puppy or adolescents (under three years old) and don't have other outlets for their energy. They are a particularly active breed of dog (like the herding or sporting breeds) who need productive outlets for their energy. Recommendations: Expand your dog's world and increase his "people time" in the following ways: Walk your dog at least twice daily—it's good exercise, both mental and physical. Walks should not only be considered "potty breaks." Teach your dog to fetch a ball or flying disc and practice with him as often as possible. Teach your dog a few commands and/or tricks and practice them daily for five to ten minutes. Take a dog training class with your dog. This allows you and your dog to work together toward a common goal. To help fill the hours you're not home, provide safe, interesting toys to keep your dog busy, such as Kong®-type toys filled with treats or treat balls. Rotating the toys will make them seem new and interesting. Keep your dog inside when you're unable to supervise him. Let your neighbours know that you are actively working on the problem. If your dog is well socialized and you have your employer's permission, take your dog to work with you. When you have to leave your dog for extended periods, take him to a "doggie daycare," hire a pet sitter or dog walker, or have a trusted friend or neighbour walk and play with him. 2. Territorial/Protective Behaviour Your dog may be barking to guard his territory if: The barking occurs in the presence of "intruders," which may include the mail carrier, children walking to school, and other dogs or neighbours in adjacent yards. Your dog barks at people and other dogs when left in the car. Your dog's posture while he's barking appears threatening—tail held high and ears up and forward. You've encouraged your dog to be responsive to people and noises outside. Recommendations: Teach your dog a "quiet" command. When he begins to bark at a passer-by, allow…
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Dog looking out window Separation Anxiety Hanging with Hounds

Common but bad advice given to fix separation anxiety

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If you live with a dog suffering from separation anxiety, you will likely try anything to fix it.  Googling separation anxiety solutions can lead you down rabbit holes of outdated and punitive solutions that will not only not fix separation anxiety but are likely to worsen the situation.  Here are the six most common but bad pieces of advice my clients have received. Bark collars Bark collars range from citronella collars that squirt a powerful citrus spray into the dog's face to e-collars that give the dog a painful electric shock to the dog’s neck.  Both are intended to startle the dog to stop vocalizing. If your dog is barking because they are panicking about being left at home, then these devices will add to their anxiety and will only make the situation worse.  These are aversive tools and should never be used.  Their goal is to suppress behaviour. Some trainers actively use E-collars for a myriad of training solutions.  In my view, the use of shock collars has no place in modern dog training.  There is no room for any tool that's sole purpose is to hurt and harm the wearer. Be aware, the people promoting these tools will try to convince you that the collar tingles.  People send their dogs off to doggie boot camp and are amazed that the dog now comes when called.  All their dog needs to respond is to feel the tingle or the beep from the collar, and they listen. The unwitting dog parent has no clue in most cases that their dog has received multiple painful shocks to pair the shock with the tingle or beep. The only way these collars work is to pair pain with the vibration or beep.  There is no magic involved.  There is only pain. The dog feels the vibration or hears the beep and stops what they are doing in the expectation that they are about to be shocked. If you want to learn more about the use of punitive tools in training, I refer you to the website for the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior position statements on the use of punishment in training.  Many progressive countries have banned these tools.  They are not available for purchase and cannot be used legally.  I hope one day, Canada will do the same. Startle devices Years ago, before I knew better, I thought startle devices were benign. Many years ago, I brought my golden retriever puppy home at ten weeks of age and crated her on another level of the house without a second thought.  I rigged up a can full of coins so when she barked, I would shake the can, scaring her into quiet.  It was genius, or so I thought.  At the time, I didn’t know better.  I listened to the rubbish espoused by TV trainers that today makes me sick. I still regret every day what I did to my puppy, and I vow that I will never make any dog in my…
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Dog and woman sitting Dog Training, Separation Anxiety, Hanging with Hounds

Regressions & Plateaus: The frustrating reality of separation anxiety training.

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Regressions and plateaus are a reality when we are doing behaviour modification.  They are frustrating and difficult when they happen, but they are a normal part of separation anxiety training. Here you are working through your separation anxiety training program.  Everything is going well.  Your progress is slow, but you are making progress.  You are starting to feel confident that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  And then it happens!  You hit a wall.  Suddenly there is no forward movement.  You can’t build any duration.  You bounce up and down around the same level, or worse, you go backwards. You have hit the dreaded plateau or regression.  These setbacks can be soul-destroying.  You begin to question the process.  You start to doubt that you will ever get there. Your mind starts to go to the dark place of ‘what-ifs.’  What if we can’t fix this? What if I can’t keep my dog?  What if….? Everything has fallen apart. Nothing's working anymore, and you lose confidence – in your dog and the process.  Your dog seemed to have been gaining some confidence, but now it appears they are just as worried and 'needy' as they were when you first started! 'What's going on here??  Ugh, we were doing so well!' There seems to be this speed bump in the learning process that causes a hiccup when you reach a certain point. It's like both dogs and humans lose oomph. Our motivation has left without a goodbye wave, and we have trouble convincing it to return. Regression and plateaus happen.  They can happen more than once through the training process. They can happen if the dog is on behaviour medication and when they are not.  They can happen slowly, or they can happen without warning and fast.  They can happen when you are doing everything right. They happen, and when they do, it is so frustrating. What is a regression? Regression is a setback in training.  It is when your dog previously was doing great and now can't be left for hardly any time at all. I don't know what is more soul-destroying - hitting a regression early in training or after you have achieved some freedom. Early regressions are hard because you are slogging through the early stages of training, questioning whether you will ever be able to leave your dog alone, and a regression happens.  You haven't even gotten out of the gates and are already going backwards. A regression happening later is just as bad.  By this time, you have built up some time and maybe cautiously optimistic that the worst is behind you and BAM!!!, now your dog can't be left for a fraction of the time. Both types of regressions happen, and none of them are fun. What is a plateau? A plateau, while less dramatic, is no less hard to navigate. A plateau means you have hit a limit.  No matter what you do, you have hit the ceiling of what your…
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Golden retriever sitting at desk on computer

Top 5 Benefits of Online (Virtual) Separation Anxiety Training Programs for Dogs

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Long before COVID pushed everyone online, separation anxiety dog trainers successfully resolved separation anxiety cases virtually through remote training. Online dog coaching continues to be the future of separation anxiety training programs. One of the more common questions a potential client asks is, 'Will you come to my home to help me?’. The short answer is ‘No.’ Separation anxiety training is done remotely using tools like Zoom or Skype; there are some good reasons for this. Technology has been a game-changer in the resolution of separation anxiety. Trainers used to have to stand outside with one ear pressed to the door, listening or subtlely trying to peek through the window without the dog seeing them - how things have changed! Pet cameras, streaming videos, and shared folders have fundamentally changed the way we work. This allows us to be more effective and responsive, thus achieving far greater resolution rates than previously thought possible. If you are living with a dog suffering from separation anxiety, you will often need to reach out to someone specializing in this complex behaviour. Many trainers do not take on separation anxiety cases. Canine separation anxiety cases are notoriously difficult cases to resolve. The level of support your separation anxiety trainer will provide to you as the client far exceeds the support provided in almost any other form of dog training. Most specialist trainers started in general dog training and consciously pursued this specialty. Some end up here because they live with a separation anxiety dog. Others, like myself, chose this specialty to work exclusively with dogs suffering from fear and anxiety. A certified separation anxiety trainer (CSAT) has studied under the foremost expert in treating separation anxiety - Malena De Martini. Through the CSAT training program, we have learned and been graded on our ability to accurately read canine body language remotely. We can guide you on camera placement to ensure nothing is missed. We will help you learn your dog's body language so that you know what to look for when you are watching. As we work through the desensitization program together, and when you get to leave your house, you are equipped with the skills to monitor your dog remotely to ensure that they remain under their threshold. We are also well equipped to advise you when your veterinarian needs to be involved or if we need to seek the advice of a veterinarian behaviourist. If necessary, we can guide you through the behaviour modification training while behaviour medications are onboarded. In the post-COVID world, most of us long to get back to in-person interactions. Your separation anxiety trainer, however, will be just where they always have been – online. Here are the top 5 reasons why virtual separation anxiety training is the best approach to resolve your dog's behaviour for you and your dog! Online separation anxiety training eliminates the 'trainer effect.' The trainer effect is the magical transformation of your dog when the trainer walks through your door. There are good reasons why this transformation happens, but the bottom line is that…
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Dog and women sitting on a dock watching the sunset, Separation Anxiety, Hanging With Hounds

Living with separation anxiety is hard: Be kind to yourself

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If you live with a dog with separation anxiety, you already know it is hard.  Feeling the guilt of having to leave your dog knowing they will suffer.  Not knowing what you will come home to – damage to your home, a stressed-out dog, or an angry neighbour.  All these things take their toll on you. The biggest advantage of working with a separation anxiety specialist is that I am with you every step.  I tell you what to do and when to do it, and I am your shoulder to cry on and your biggest cheerleader. You may not have the support of friends and family.  They may tell you that your dog will get over it.  That you need to let your dog cry it out.  Maybe they even suggest using a bark collar to suppress your dog’s barking. Maybe your family blames you, saying that you caused your dog’s separation anxiety because you spoil them, you let them sleep on your bed or the furniture.  Your dog is acting out; it is your fault because you aren’t tough enough. You are feeling frustrated, angry, and resentful.  You are missing out on events and family gatherings. Friends and family think you are overreacting. You google everything you can to find the solution.  You are beginning to question yourself. You are wondering how long you can let this go on. It is becoming expensive.  You have to pay for daycare and pet sitters. It is inconvenient. You must constantly plan to make sure your dog isn’t going to be alone. You are arranging your life around your dog, juggling commitments and appointments, and it is making you angry. Why you?  Why is your dog doing this?  Don’t they know you always come back? Don’t they know they are safe? When you brought your new puppy home, you had dreams. Long walks on a sunny day.  Play dates with other doggie friends. Snuggles on the couch while watching a movie. You were ready for the chewed shoes, the housetraining accidents, and even the sharp puppy teeth.  But you were not ready for this.  The dreams have turned into a nightmare.  A nightmare that you never seem to wake up from. You love your dog, but it is all becoming too much. And you are right.  It is a nightmare.  Your dog is suffering, but you are suffering too. Separation anxiety is hard.  It is hard to live with.  It is expensive, and it feels like you will never have a normal life again. But separation can be resolved, but it will take time. Read my blog on the Reality of Separation Anxiety Training I want you to know that you will have found a supportive place when you reach out to me.  I hear you, and I am here to help you. As a separation anxiety specialist, I have heard it all. I will tell you: The process is slow. It is going to take longer than you think. We…
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Is It Possible To Prevent Separation Anxiety In Our Dogs?

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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,'…
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The Top 7 Things that Could Be Making Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety Worse

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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…
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Common Signs of Separation Anxiety

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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  
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How to Fix Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety.

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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,'…
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Don’t Compare Your Beginning to Someone Else’s Ending

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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…
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The reality of separation anxiety training with your dog

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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…
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Top 10 Common Myths for Dogs with Separation Anxiety

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When it comes to separation anxiety training, it is a bit like the wild, wild west!!  People shooting from the hip with their outdated advice.  Trainers who don't specialize in the behaviour, intentionally or unintentionally providing advice that may make the situation worse.  It is time to dispel these myths! This is a long blog! I think separation anxiety is one of the most challenging dog behaviours to live with. Not being able to leave your home without worrying about your dog or worrying about your home is challenging. It is not uncommon for people to be stressed, worried and angry or resentful. After all, this was not on the list of things you sought when you decided to add a dog to your family. The whys and wherefores of what separation anxiety is will be the subject of a different blog (stay tuned). This blog is about the myths and boy, are there some myths out there. Dr. Google and friends or family will have no shortage of advice for you. This often adds to your guilt and frustration. Unfortunately, while well-intentioned, at best some of the advice may not be helpful and some, well, some is just downright harmful. As is the case with most dog training, the first answer is ‘it depends’. What I mean by this is that each dog is different and some of the myths presented here may just work well for ‘your’ dog. But in my experience as someone who works with separation anxiety is that for most dogs, these approaches will not work and may just make your situation worse. While pursuing these avenues you are wasting time and money and you and your dog are continuing to suffer. Myth #1: A Second Dog Will Cure Your Dog’s Anxiety The myth about getting a second dog to help treat a dog’s separation anxiety is common. In theory, getting a second dog makes perfect sense - your new dog will help keep your current one company, right? Not so fast. Separation anxiety is usually something that happens between the dog and its people. It is a behaviour that occurs when your dog is left alone when their people go out. The dog’s inability to relax without their family results in the dog responding to their absence with the behaviour that we can best describe as a panic response. The presence of a second dog does not usually address the absence of the dog’s people. Now before I get inundated with emails telling me that you fixed your dog by getting a second dog let me just say, that in some cases the presence of another animal, a dog or a cat, can help. I have clients that whom this has worked. But I also have lots of clients where this didn’t work and now, they have a second dog, that maybe they would not have wanted to have otherwise. Here are the situations when a second dog may be something you want to…
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Do you know how to recognize a puppy mill puppy?

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Puppy mills are alive and well across North America. Would you know how to recognize if a puppy was from a puppy mill? Puppy mills are in it for profit. They do not care about the welfare of the animals in their care, and most animals live in deplorable conditions. Here are some of the red flags to be aware of: They are selling puppies in large numbers or always seem to have puppies available. A breeder refuses to divulge the name of their veterinarian. If you are provided with the vet information, make sure the clinic exists and ask to have the vet records sent to your vet. Advertisements are constantly in the newspaper classifieds or listed on the internet to buy puppies from the same person. The same person always has puppies available or advertises them on every occasion as gifts. A breeder offers multiple different breeds for sale. Responsible breeders breed one, maybe two breeds of dogs. The seller wants to meet you in a public place to complete the sale. The person does not ask you any questions other than money and pickup arrangements. Any legitimate breeder should care who their puppies end up with and ensure they are going to suitable homes. A responsible breeder will typically take their puppies back if it doesn't work out. The person sells puppies at everyday events, such as garage sales or flea markets. You are not allowed to meet the breeding parents or view the home or business facility. A person claims they are selling the puppies as an "agent" for a breeder. The breeder claims spaying or neutering is not required or unnecessary. Reputable breeders will be very diligent on this topic. The puppies are offered for sale and delivery before they reach eight weeks old. They will offload the puppies before they cost too much money in food and medical expenses, e.g. vaccinations. So why do we care if a puppy comes from a puppy mill? As a trainer who specializes in separation anxiety, I see firsthand when a puppy hasn't had the best start in life. We do see an increased correlation of separation anxiety in puppy mill puppies. The risk factors for separation anxiety include: Genetic predisposition. A breeding mother with fear and anxious traits. Maternal stress during pregnancy. Early life environment - things that didn't happen but which could have helped. Bad experiences - things that did happen that made things worse. Let's expand on these: 1. Genetics & fearful traits - A significant factor in anxiety including separation anxiety is attributable to genetics. If the parents of a puppy, or a litter of puppies, are anxious, then the likelihood is that their offspring will be anxious. This is attributable to the field of epigenetics. It is the reason why we carry the same traits as our parents. Puppy mill operators are not focused on the welfare of their breeding animals. Their focus is on money. They do not breed for temperament or…
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