Separation anxiety can be more than just a challenging behavior issue. It can be heartbreaking to see your dog suffering and struggling. It can be both dangerous and expensive if your dog injures itself in its efforts to escape their crate or jumping through windows to try to find you. Replacing crates or windows (or both!) and vet bills can really add up. It can be extremely expensive if your dog’s anxiety manifests with destructive behavior that results in damage to couches, chairs, blinds, carpets, doors, or beds. If you’re renting, you risk losing your deposit when you move out if your SA dog has caused damage that needs repair.
Watching your dog struggle with this disease can cause significant emotional distress for you. It can also be frustrating – especially when you feel helpless to make your
dog feel better.
Click here to view the SA program structure
WHAT IS SEPARATION ANXIETY?
A moment ago, I referred to Separation Anxiety (SA) as a
disease. That’s because it is. SA is considered a mental health
condition because it is a true panic disorder. While trainers,
behavior consultants, and behaviorists can all confirm that
observed behaviors are consistent with SA, only a medical
professional – a licensed veterinarian – can formally diagnose separation anxiety.
Very mild cases of SA can often be treated with ease and the dog learns to be comfortable and confident when left unattended. But, moderate to severe separation anxiety is a different beast. More than 85% of these cases require prescription daily use antidepressant medication in order to successfully treat the disease. A subset of those dogs may also benefit, at least in the short term, from the addition of an as-needed anti-anxiety medication when they absolutely MUST be left unattended before their daily use medication has been in their system long enough to be effective*.
*Daily use antidepressant medications can take 4-8 weeks to build up in the dog’s system before we see an impact on their anxiety levels.
Because so many dogs require prescription medication to successfully overcome their SA, it is crucial that if I determine medication will be necessary to address the severity of your dog’s SA, that you are able and willing to commit to getting your dog started on such medication immediately, and that you will keep your dog on the medication until such time that your veterinarian and I agree it is time to attempt to wean your dog’s dose down. This is non-negotiable in the treatment of SA. If we are going to help your dog build confidence when alone, you MUST agree to giving daily medication as prescribed until further notice.
The second most important piece to successfully working through the challenge of SA is that we never leave the dog alone for longer than they are currently able to handle without panicking. This may mean working remotely so you can stay home, hiring a dog walker/pet sitter to visit or stay at the house, reaching out to neighbors who are home during the day, or college students who would love to have a quiet place and a furry friend to keep them company while they’re studying. Or you may need to look into bringing your dog to a daycare** during your working hours so that your dog is never alone for longer than they can comfortably tolerate.
**If you choose to use a daycare environment, be sure the dog will not be kenneled alone at any time during the day. If it is time for a break from the play yards, your dog needs to be resting in an office with a human, not alone in a kennel room.
As we work through the program, your dog will be able to tolerate longer and longer alone periods. So, while you may need to hire a sitter or enlist a retired neighbor or family member to stay with your dog all day in the beginning, eventually we will reach a point where you will be able to have a dog walker pop in for visits once or twice during the workday.
Separation Anxiety is a panic disorder. It is a visceral response to feeling helpless. Your dog is not behaving out of spite because you left without them. They are behaving out of abject terror of being alone. They do not feel comfortable nor confident, and so do not feel safe.
Just like any therapy program for humans, the process takes as long as it takes for the individual dog to gain confidence. Some dogs will make great strides early on and then plateau. Other dogs will progress painfully slow (literally seconds of improvement) at first, and then have a giant leap
forward in how long they can be alone. Some dogs will do great initially and
then may have a setback if they were pushed beyond their comfort point
before they were ready, and then we must step back and rebuild that
Click here to view the SA program structure
RULE OUT BEFORE TREATING SA
There are certain issues we must rule out before we can confirm we are
looking at separation anxiety. These include:
* All conditions which could cause or exacerbate stress when alone in-
cluding, but not limited to: seizures, neurological disorders, dementia or
* Pent up energy due to lack of sufficient physical or mental exercise/enrichment
* Excited piddles/nervous urination - especially when occurring at the time of departure or return
* Marking behavior as this is neither a potty training failure nor SA
* Territorial aggression being triggered by seeing or hearing people/dogs/critters outside windows or fences
* Noise phobias such as thunder or fireworks
* Potty training failures - ensure adequate opportunity and access to potty areas
* Poor chewing habits - ensure adequate and appropriate chew options are available at all times
* Confinement distress - this is different from separation anxiety and is specific to being confined to small
spaces (think claustrophobia)
MUST-HAVES TO WORKING THE PROGRAM
In order to properly work through this SA program, you will need to be able
to have eyes on your dog when you are out of the house. This means if you
don’t already have cameras in your house (e.g. Nest or Ring), you will need
to purchase at least one, but possibly more if your dog might be in different
locations in the house.
You will want to place them in the space to maximize your view of the room. This might be in a corner, up on a high shelf, or attached to the wall.
If you don’t have a camera that can pan and tilt, you will want a wide-angle lens.
You will need a camera that allows you to hear what is happening in the room so you know if your dog is vocalizing at all.
You will want a camera that records either to a SIM card or to a cloud service – this is both for your review and for sharing with me.
Examples of cameras you might get (by no means a complete list)
LPDisplay pet monitor/baby camera. Has auto tracking with 355 degree rotation and 94 degree vertical tilt. Audio, low light visibility. Can store video locally or to cloud service
BlueRams Security camera (up to 128GB SD card purchased separately, or store to cloud service) 360 degree rotation, low light vision, can hear what’s going on in the room.
LaView – this camera screws into a standard lightbulb base. The camera has automatic motion tracking at 355 degrees rotation and 60+ degrees tilt. Works well in low light. Has built in “flood light” but reviews indicate that may not be very bright. If you leave other lighting on in the room, you won’t need this unit’s internal light, which is what I would recommend. This camera can record video clips through your phone app, but does not continuously record which means you cannot review what your dog was doing when you were busy working and not watching her/him.
These are just a few options to give you an idea of what type of camera features we’re looking for. Our goal is for you to be able to observe your dog (and during training sessions for me to observe along with you) so that we ensure you return before your pup begins to panic.
Before leaving your house, you will want to make sure your camera is functioning properly, has a full charge or is plugged in and your phone app is working with it. If doing an assessment in real time with me, make sure you check to see if you can text while using the video app on your phone, or have another person with you with their phone so we can communicate in real time.
I will also need to be able to observe your dog in real time during our training sessions. This can be done by leaving a laptop or tablet set up to see the room and logging into our Zoom session, or you can provide me with access to your video cameras so I can observe your dog with you during sessions. NOTE: I will never log in to your home’s cameras outside of a formal training session with you.