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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 and downs throughout the process.
  • The dog would go to daycare regularly.
  • We gradually reduced the number of warm-up steps.
  • We introduced the pre-departure cues that this client needed for her dog.
  • We stress-tested the absences to ensure that her dog was able to handle real-life scenarios.

♥ And yes, four months later, the client and her dog graduated from separation anxiety training, having achieved over 3-hours alone which was this client’s goal.

For every dog who does as well as this client, there is another who struggles. The only common thing about separation anxiety training for our dogs is that every dog is a study of one, every family is unique, and every journey is different.

It is human nature to focus on how long you can be gone; after all, this is the single biggest thing needed to get your life back. I encourage my clients to take a step back and look at all the other areas of improvement. I know this is easier said than done. In the beginning, counting just the time you can be away can be very demoralizing, so we look to measure other things, such as how relaxed the dog is. Does the dog follow as much? We celebrate the small (giant) steps forward, such as the day the dog doesn’t get out of bed…Whoo-hoo!! Most of all, I ask them to celebrate their baby steps forward on their freedom journey and not to compare their beginning to another’s ending. After all, everyone was where you are now at one point in time.

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