Many years ago I read a passage in a book that changed the way I viewed life. It was about washing dishes, of all things. Be in the moment — enjoy the moment — the passage read. If, when you are doing the dishes, you are thinking about what went wrong earlier in the day or what you have to do next or look forward to next, you are missing out on your life now. So when you wash your dishes, take a breath, enjoy that time, and be at peace. As much as possible, I embraced that mentality.
But I lost the ability to do so when I discovered that my dog had separation anxiety, and I didn’t get it back until she was better.
There was this running current of tension flowing through me at almost all times while Emma was scared. Back in the early days: Will Emma pee on the couch again after I leave? Will she chew the doorframe? Will she bark and howl all day? And the guilt! Emma is so terrified! How can I leave her like that? And, if I’m being honest, even here and there nowadays, when Emma is perfectly fine being left home alone for hours: I’d better check the video to make sure she hasn’t suffered a regression!
As is pretty uniformly the case with separation anxiety, it’s not just the dogs who need training and support — it’s the people too.
Separation anxiety can really be brutal to the people who love these dogs and share their homes with them, and so a major part of our job as certified separation anxiety trainers is to be there to listen to our clients, to help them through the rough patches, and to offer them a virtual hug when they need it.
Just today (as I write this), when Emma didn’t even follow me down to the door when I left home — she knew I was leaving, and didn’t care! — there was actually a piece of me that wondered if Emma had died. How could she not possibly follow me to the door? Maybe she had a stroke or a heart attack, and I didn’t know it! Of course, she did not die, and moreover, she was completely relaxed when I came back home two hours later.
With each experience like this one, I become more resilient, and because of these personal experiences, I’m able to help my clients cope with their own battles against separation anxiety. And I’m not alone in doing this. There are now more than 50 certified separation anxiety trainers worldwide — many of whom have also helped their own dogs overcome this condition.
Through a private Facebook group we’re able to help each other out to find solutions for tough cases, share success stories, and give each other a virtual hug when we need one too.
To borrow an overused phrase that resonates too perfectly to stop using it: It takes a village to care for and train a pup with separation anxiety. Beyond the family, friends, pet sitters, dog walkers, and doggie daycare facilities helping to keep the pups company during the training so that they are never left alone for more time than they can handle, we trainers are there for the guardians. We answer their texts, their calls, and their emails as quickly as possible to let them know that they are not alone on this journey. We guide them through the blips and regressions and reassure them that ups and downs are a normal — and expected — part of the process. And, we celebrate the victories like the first time they can go for a coffee while their dog rests comfortably at home all alone.
Interestingly, now that I am on the other side of Emma’s separation anxiety, I realize that I have been living that dish-washing message even more than I did before this ordeal. The freedom to go to the pharmacy, visit a doctor, get a manicure, do anything and everything away from home without having to schedule a pet sitter is intoxicating. I got my life back, but it’s a little more special this time around.
I helped a sweet, beautiful, terrified little beagle learn to feel safe and relaxed, and in return, doing something as simple as putting gas in my car feels incredibly fulfilling. Without having to look at the video feed to see how Emma is doing at home, I know she is no longer scared. So, I can turn off my engine, take a deep breath, and enjoy the fact that while I fuel my car, there is peace at home.