I have a list (a long one even) of topics that I want to write about with respect to dog separation anxiety and the training involved. The good news is that I will be addressing those topics soon not just in written form but in a variety of different mediums, such as our new separation anxiety webinar series. In this particular blog, however, I feel compelled to talk about something near and dear to me from both a personal and professional standpoint.
Today I am writing something that may not even be helpful for you in your actual separation anxiety training execution, but it is vital for me to express based on my own experiences with mental health and well-being. (Trust me, this does have to do with separation anxiety even though there’s a “life-lesson” spin on it too.)
Helping Dogs with Separation Anxiety
I am so incredibly lucky to not only have friends and colleagues that trust me to help separation anxiety dogs that may need training, but after all of these years of working successfully with this issue, I actually have multitudes of people who I don’t even personally know that refer clients to me and send requests for separation anxiety support regularly. I will never take that for granted in any way. I want all who read this blog to know that I genuinely treasure the fact that you trust me (and the CSAT’s) to help you, your friends, your clients, and your colleagues with any dog that is experiencing distress about alone-time.
If you haven’t heard me say it before, let me say it now…thank you.
Today, I reached a bit of a personal breaking point and I want to share it with you not because I am looking for sympathy or asking for a response from you in any way. What I discovered is actually so rudimentary, that many of you may wonder what rock I have been living under for the last several decades of my life to have not figured this out previously!
So here it is…
Treating Separation Anxiety & The Toll It Takes
I cannot help everyone (or being) that is in need. I cannot change a dog’s anxious behavior within a pre-set or imposed timeline. I cannot work the majority of my hours at free or minimal charge. In short, I need care too, and so do you.
No matter how desperately hard I try, how few hours of sleep I get so that I can add in more appointments, or how many additional meals I skip because there is no time to fit them in, I have come to realize that evermore help is still needed. My resources (physically, emotionally, and financially) are limited even though, yes, I truly struggle to accept that as truth sometimes.
So back to separation anxiety and what my soul-bearing confession has to do with it all.
If you are a caretaker (meaning an owner, pet-sitter, friend, family or colleague) of a separation anxiety dog, you have an obligation (please say the word obligation out loud), to put your self-care first so that you can provide the necessary personal resources to help your dog.
Why do you think that every single airline safety announcement proclaims something to the effect of, “Always secure your own air mask before assisting others”. Combined with that statement these announcements simultaneously show the image of an adult attending to their mask before helping the child seated next to them! The airlines are obviously not being insensitive, they understand (as is supported by tremendous amounts of research in psychology and related fields) that taking care of oneself first is absolutely paramount to giving quality care and support to others.
We may often think that “this one-time” I can put someone else first and leave my needs behind – really, just this once…I urge you not to fall into that deceptive thinking.
If anyone understands that sort of thinking it’s me as I have repeated similar phrases in some form or another to myself over and over for years upon years. Here’s the thing though, whether due to societal influences, early learning, or multiple other causes and pressures, it is time for us to genuinely understand that if we don’t take care of ourselves, we are doing a disservice to others – and yes, that “other” absolutely includes our separation anxiety afflicted dogs.
Does that mean that we throw the separation anxiety training plan out the window for our dogs and essentially tell them to “get over it” for the next few hours while leaving them home alone to go out for a self-care break? No, that’s not at all what I am trying to express here. What I am saying, however, is that making sure that with carefully planned intention, you create time-off from your dog’s care (with the aid of a friend or “someone” to help support your dog). This is not only important, it is absolutely essential to the health and wellbeing of you and your beloved pup.
This blog may not be one that teaches you how to “fix” your dog’s separation anxiety, nor is it one that may assist you in how to take even the first step forward with this issue that is quite possibly making you feel overcome with confusion about what to do next with your separation anxiety training. (We do have other separation anxiety blogs about that, though!).
Taking Care of YOU on the Separation Anxiety Journey
My goal and earnest hope in writing this blog is that YOU know that in order to be the most successful in any separation anxiety journey, you must be your very best self by putting your own mental and physical wellbeing at the forefront. (Side note: Since I’m being candid here with my own emotions rather exposed, I’ll just throw in mix that this self-care concept is true in essentially all aspects of life.)
In conclusion, I want you to know that sadness, frustration, compassion fatigue, burnout and many aspects of weariness can, and sometimes do, happen when working with a separation anxiety dog. So hey – don’t think that you are alone if you have experienced this or if you do in the future. I’d like you to remember two things…1.) You truly are not alone in this process as the percentage of dogs that experience separation anxiety is off the charts 2.) You are the most important being to the dog that you are helping so always treat yourself with the respect, gentleness, and honor that your dog would want for you.
I am with you in solidarity during your journey and there are others that can support you as well. This blog will always be here when you need a gentle reminder.
My sincere thanks to Jessica Dolce who has helped me to consider many aspects of self-care. She is not only a leader in the field when it comes to compassion fatigue in the animal welfare industry, she is an absolutely amazing human being. If you are experiencing compassion fatigue, please consider connecting with Jessica Dolce to support you. https://jessicadolce.com