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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.  For as long as I have been working with canine separation anxiety, I have been counselling my clients on the same thing. It will take as long as it takes, probably much longer than you hope.  Trust the process. Lean on the experts – your trainer, your vet – to help you shoulder the load. Turn up daily and do the work, even when you are tired and feel like you can’t keep going. Build your village of supporters that will be there for you.  Stop googling and searching for easy solutions and quick wins. There aren’t any. Take care of yourself. Eat well. Get exercise and replenish your soul.  This will take its toll on you. Stay optimistic and ensure you have cheerleaders and not distractors in your corner.

Resolving separation anxiety is going to take time. You are working through a fear response. Helping dogs who can’t be left home alone is challenging. Knowing your dog is not intentionally doing this helps but only gets you so far. Ultimately, you have to put yourself in the hands of the experts and relinquish some control.

As for me, well, I am trying to do just that. Accepting that this is a months-long process, not weeks, has been the most challenging thing. Adjusting to the fact that what my brain is telling me and what my body can do are two totally different things.  There have been some rough days, but I got through them.  There will no doubt be a few more to come, but I feel ready to accept them now. I know I have increased empathy for my clients when they are feeling frustrated. Although we are walking a different path, the learnings along the way are similar. Next time I ask them to trust the process, maybe the little voice in my head has a renewed perspective on what I am actually asking them to do.

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