A guide to navigating the challenge and adventure of life with your dogs.

Video post: Separation Anxiety 101 – Part Two

(this is part two of a series. Here’s part one)

OK. So now if you’ve been doing your home work, you’ve given your dog a job, and you’ve had your dog practice being separate from you, and not being glued to your side all day.

(Really, that stuff is important. So no rushing ahead and trying to do this next part without doing that part. You’ll fail)

The next step, is to practice leaving the house. Let’s stop and think: what is it that triggers your dog’s anxiety? What sets him off? Chances are that he starts getting nervous when you are getting ready to go out. He knows your routine. He knows that there are certain things you do, like putting on your shoes and grabbing your jacket, that mean you are about to leave.

We want to desensitize your dog to this routine. So you’re gonna need a day or two to work on this, like a weekend. Some time when you’re off work or school.

Start with your dog in his crate or confinement area, like you’ve been doing. Next, start your “getting ready to leave” routine. Whatever it is that you always do when you’re about to go out, do that. Then walk out the door without even acknowledging your dog…

…and immediately walk back in. Give your dog no attention. Put your keys away, take off your jacket, and go about your day.

Repeat this step as much as you can possibly stand it in one weekend. The more you can do it, the better. You want your dog to get the message that, “hey, me getting ready to leave is like no big deal. Seriously, STOP FREAKING OUT.”

When your dog is okay with you stepping out the door and coming right back in, slowly increase the amount of time before you come in – 5 seconds, 15 seconds, 30 seconds, one minute, five minutes, ten minutes, and so on. Once your dog is okay with this, then you can work on longer absences of up to an hour or two.

Some Do’s and Don’ts:
Do leave the tv or radio on when you’re gone, if this seems to help your dog chill out.
Do exercise your dog before you leave. A tired dog is a happy dog. Or at least a less anxious dog.
DO look into DAP There is a product called Comfort Zone with DAP. It releases a chemical that is supposed to be comforting to dogs with anxiety. I have no experience with this product so I can’t vouch for it, but other trainers have used it with success.
Do NOT make a fuss over your dog when you leave or come home. Remember we want Fido to understand that you leaving and returning is not a major thing.
Do NOT ever, under any circumstances, get angry, yell, hit, shake, or otherwise punish your dog when you return home. I don’t care what your dog has done. Punishing your dog when you return home is only gonna make him more anxious. Because he thinks “Oh my god, I don’t know why, but my owner is always angry when she comes home. WHAT AM I GONNA DO?!”

Calling in the cavalry
What if this doesn’t work for you? What if no matter how much you work on this stuff, nothing changes and your dog is injuring himself because he physically cannot calm down when you leave? It’s time to seek professional help from a trainer or vet. No matter how great the advice you get from a blog, it can’t really take the place of a real live pro who can actually meet you and your dog and give you the best advice for your situation.

Look for a trainer who uses positive training methods and has experience with separation anxiety. Check out the APDT’s trainer directory.

Also, discuss the problem with your vet. They can help you decide if your dog could benefit from medications. Just remember that medications can help, but they must be combined with the type of training I’ve talked about to be effective. There are no magic pills.

When seeking help from professionals, keep in mind that trainers are not vets and vets are not trainers. If a trainer gives you medical advice, get your vet’s opinion as well. Same goes for vets giving training advice.

Another option is to get a veterinary behaviorist. They are awesome because they actually ARE vets and trainers. They can give you solid medical and training advice. For more on veterinary behaviorists and how to find one, see the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.

Good luck, and if you have questions, feel free to contact me.

Some links to check out:
Dog Star Daily – Great resource for SA and other training/behavior issues.
List of SA symptoms and solutions
SA article from Best Friends’ Animal Sanctuary