Please Don't Leave: Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Friday Friend in memoriam: Therapy Dog Gabe

Please Don't Leave: Separation Anxiety in Dogs - Part 2

Editor: Don't judge a book, dog or blog by its cover. The reason I'm the muse behind Grouchy PuppyTM is that I may look mellow and usually I am, but I also have a grouchy side.  This part of my nature makes me a real dog behind a cute name.  It also gives my pack real issues to deal with as responsible and loving pet parents.

My female met Deborah Flick of BoulderDog at Blog Paws in Columbus and bonded right away over stories and photos of their beloved pooches (Hi Sadie!).  This guest post from Deborah will run in two parts and addresses one of my issues, separation anxiety.

In case you missed part one, here's the link

Please Don't Leave: Separation Anxiety in Dogs - Part 2

Worried Cleo

But what if your dog's separation anxiety is severe? What if you feel you’ve tried everything and nothing has helped? What if it’s not possible to manage the situation so your dog doesn’t ever experience separation anxiety?

Then it’s desensitization time! The good news? When done properly, desensitization is very effective for alleviating separation anxiety. The bad news? Desensitization requires time, patience, and until the treatment has solved the problem, you must not allow your dog to experience any separation anxiety whatsoever. So, even with desensitization, some management is required temporarily.

Jean Donaldson offers one of the best explanations of desensitization I’ve read in Dogs Are From Neptune. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for relief.

In the mean time, here are some key points she makes:

  1. “To fix separation anxiety, the dog has to experience the situation – being left alone – without the accompanying anxiety.”

  2. The process of desensitization begins with identifying the precise conditions that initially set off the slightest sign of your dog’s anxiety, to your actual leaving and returning.

  3. Desensitization involves doing a series of exercises in which you repeat, for example, brushing your teeth (if that’s when Samson starts to get edgy) and combing your hair, and then not leaving.

  4. When (Samson) is relaxed when you brush your teeth and comb your hair - “no pacing, no worried look, etc. – start working on the next item in the sequence, making lunch.”

  5. “When you’ve made it to the door (which may take several sessions), start off with very short absences, literally one second. Then come back in, put the keys back, then pick them up and leave again for one second. Do it over and over until it is clearly no big deal for the dog.”

Jean reassures: "You will spend much more time getting the dog to relax about…pre-departure cues than you will adding time increments later on. Once you’re out the door doing absences, the progress is much faster. You won’t always go up in one second increments either! The point is: don’t rush the early work – it’s essential. This is where you win the dog’s trust.”

"I'm Dudley and I have separation anxiety"
"I'm Dudley and I have separation anxiety"

Most importantly, if you’re struggling with your dog’s separation anxiety get help from a reputable dog behaviorist, and by reputable I mean someone educated and skilled, as Jean Donaldson is, in learning theory and how to apply it in cases of separation anxiety.
Unfortunately there are people calling themselves dog behaviorists that spew nonsense like: “When a dog accepts you as pack leader separation anxiety will not exist.” Or, who will recommend you “punish” your anxious dog for, well, being anxious. Don’t do it!

Of course, it goes without saying, always have your dog examined by a veterinarian to make sure health issues aren’t causing or aggravating the problem. Dudley, for example, was diagnosed with Addison’s disease. Once he began receiving proper medication he was much better able to handle minimal stress, but not separation. An Addison’s dog needs to maintain very low stress levels which is one of the reasons Kitty is absolutely vigilant that Dudley is never left alone.

Moses Deborah Sadie Dudley(Moses, Deborah, Sadie and Dudley)

Fret not. There is hope for you and your anxious dog!

Deborah writes a heartfelt blog about life with her 3 year-old standard poodle. Sadie is shy and fearful dog, and Deborah writes with a unique gentleness about the lessons she’s learning in “Sadie’s School for Hapless Humans.” Deborah doesn’t post every day, but what she writes is powerful.