When I brought Emmy home it was with the dream that all new dog owners have. Happy, joyful and full of excitement. I couldn’t wait to get to building mine and this little girl’s relationship with love, joy and fun. Little did I know that I would encounter a bigger training challenge then I had ever dealt with before. One that shook me to the core and literally shook my confidence as a professional dog trainer.
Yes, I had heard of separation anxiety (SA) before but I had never truly experienced it until Emmy came into my life. In fact I had always kind of believed that SA was created in dogs and that you could train through anything if you were willing to be persistent and consistent. The first part of that sentence I don’t believe anymore. I think that a dog needs to have a genetic predisposition to have SA now. And I know the second part of the sentence to be ABSOLUTELY true. I just know it in a way that is deeper and more resolute then before.
My first red flag to a problem was when I was working on crate training. Emmy’s protesting to being in the crate was different than anything I had previously seen before. She was panicked and frantic but my experience in the past had shown me that “all” dogs (I put all in quotations because i know all dogs are unique now) settle down and relax at some point, right? After an hour and a half she did, but I now see that it wasn’t calm and relaxed, it was her being exhausted from the anxiety of being confined.
When I finally let her out I realized she had urinated in the crate. I knew that this wasn’t normal and that she was truly panicked. I still believed that it was something we could train through and that I would be able to help her to have a better association to being in a crate.
I also thought maybe she just needed a bigger crate. So I bought a bigger one and tried with that.
Well I tried and tried and tried. I was pretty stubborn about the fact that she NEEDED to be in the crate. Not just for a safety factor but also for housetraining and keeping my house from being destroyed by a puppy and most importantly for our agility trials. I was sooo stubborn! It didn’t matter how many times I came home to find a raw marrow bone not eaten or a stuffed kong still stuffed. I still thought I could do fix the crate problem and she would be fine.
The day she escaped out of the crate and her collar was still stuck to it was the last day I used it. She could’ve died. I could’ve walked in and found my dog hung to death because the panic that she had from being in the crate was that great. I was finally traumatized and convinced that something had to change.
My neighbor also asked me when this new dog was “going home” because she never stopped screaming. That was the day I cried and knew I needed help. You see separation anxiety doesn’t just affect the dog, it affects the humans too. It was one of the most challenging, emotional things I have ever had to deal with.
I am happy to say that I was able to work through the protocol that is found in Malena’s separation anxiety training book and in about 8 months (give or take) I was able to leave Miss Emmy home with her brother Ryder for about 4 to 5 hours. This was all done while being out of the crate. We built up to 8 hours over the next year or so.
We have continued to work on the crate and although I worked through the protocol at home without one. I did lots of crate training when at agility classes. It was slow and painful and usually very loud (Emmy likes to use her voice) but we continued on. I even purchased a Pet Tutor to help – which it did. Emmy will still use her voice but lots of times it’s while she is relaxed and laying down. She just likes to protest a bit. I can live with that and I don’t care what others think.
Emmy for all intent and purpose is what you would consider a “normal” dog now but I do still need to manage her anxiety any time we go somewhere. Separation anxiety training, like all training, does not generalize from location to location and needs to be worked on in all new places. For example if I go away and my mom watches my dogs for me I let her know that she has to stay home with them because I’m not sure Emmy would be okay if she went out. Mother’s are the best for this because they will do these things that others would think are crazy to do for a dog.
Separation anxiety is truly a panic disorder and it’s one that is hard for humans and canines alike but it can be worked through and a normal life can be had. It just takes a bit more understanding and compassion for the emotional state of the dogs suffering with it. It also takes having compassion for the humans suffering through it.
I have the utmost empathy and compassion for those in similar situations and I love being able to help them. I will get excited for a 30 second absence with a calm dog like no one else. You see I know how amazing it felt to be able to be outside my door for 30 seconds and not have Emmy screaming for me to come back. I also know that that 30 second is your first step towards a minute, then 30 minutes, then an hour and then 4 hours. I can’t help but get excited about 30 seconds because I know what’s coming next. Emmy taught me that.
Emmy also taught me that if I am willing to step out of my comfort zone and become bigger than I want to be or think I need to be, that my life can be greater and fuller then I could’ve ever imagined. It is under pressure that diamonds are created after all. Nothing is impossible when you are open and willing to take the next step. That’s what Emmy taught me. Thank you Emmy!
JennaLee Gallicchio of All Star Paws Dog Training Academy