Get The Right Information First

Within my organization, we speak daily to dog guardians seeking help with their dog’s separation anxiety. One recurring piece of these conversations is that these guardians have tried so many different things to help their dog, most often with little or no benefit. This is always a difficult part of the conversation because these guardians often feel weary from the time, money, and emotional energy they’ve already put forth. The internet is filled with quick-fix suggestions (e.g., leave them with a food toy, crate them for alone time) but none of these band-aids yield appreciable or sustainable results. The good news is that separation anxiety is treatable, and starting with the right information will yield those sought-after results while saving time, money, and emotional bandwidth.

 

So why are we talking about this? Well, this is an important topic for any day, but it is also National Dog Training Education Month, and, therefore, particularly fitting to talk about the information and education that will yield the most effective separation anxiety training results while using kind, gentle, humane practices.

 

While there are many nuanced aspects to separation anxiety training, the following four are the right place to begin. 

Understanding What Separation Anxiety Is

Dogs suffering from separation anxiety are experiencing a genuine phobia about being alone. By definition, a phobia is completely irrational to the individual not experiencing it but very real to the individual that is (in this case, the dog). Dogs suffering with this issue are truly terrified of alone time, and the behaviors they display, like howling, eliminating, or destruction, are involuntary. Your dog is having a hard time, not giving you a hard time, which is why common advice dispensed to “let them bark it out” will not fix the issue. Moreover, it is imperative to understand that this also means this behavior issue is not your fault; you did not do anything to cause it.

Using Systematic Desensitization for Training 

The gold standard for working with a dog suffering from separation anxiety is to use systematic desensitization. Note that there are two words there! Both “systematic” and “desensitization” are essential characteristics of a proper alone-time protocol. All that the phrase systematic desensitization really means is that we expose the dog in TINY increments to alone time. The process involves beginning with a period of alone time that is not stressful for your dog, which may be very small (that is OK), and then gradually and systematically increasing that exposure as they start to learn alone time can feel safe. I recognize that description sounds pretty simple, so please know there are many subtleties to incorporate when using gradual exposure, the most important of which is to never push beyond what the dog can successfully handle without signs of distress. Making sure that your training is both humane and effective is essential to training a dog to be comfortable when left alone.

Identifying Your Dog’s Threshold 

In separation anxiety training, the term “threshold” refers to the dog’s stress level, specifically that period of time when anxiety behaviors (e.g., pacing, whining, panting, or pawing at the door) increase in frequency or intensity. When working through a protocol, we always want to keep dogs at what we refer to as “under threshold,” meaning that we do not let them experience stress and anxiety during training. The beginning point at which your dog is only increasing in their anxiety behaviors is the place that you should call their threshold. Knowing your dog’s threshold is critical to the success of a protocol, and determining it can feel complex. It involves careful observation of their body language and behavior; this way, we can be much more thoughtful, kind, and effective in our protocol.

Appreciating That Each Dog Is Unique

I wish there were a simple formula, algorithm, or app that would apply to every dog, but there is not. Every dog is an individual, and as a result, their training must be specifically tailored to them and their environment. One of the keys to ensuring a successful plan is to personalize each training session to your dog’s individual needs when you are conducting your training. Tempering your training so that you set the dog up for daily success will yield the most progress over time. Always remember and appreciate that your dog is as unique as their nose print, which means their training protocol should be one of a kind for the dog in front of you!

How We Can Help

To help support you in meeting your dog’s individual needs, we have a range of resources available with varying levels of support. We’ve designed these various resources to ensure you get and have access to the right information first when implementing a separation anxiety protocol.

Mission POSSIBLE – An Online Course for Guardians

Our online, self-paced course, Mission POSSIBLE, provides clear and detailed guidance to dog guardians needing to meet their dog’s unique separation anxiety training needs. The course is an alone-time training educational resource like no other, including the ability for guardians to post comments and questions, which we reply to daily. You are not alone in this course!

One-On-One Training With a CSAT

For those who might prefer more support in making those training decisions for their dog, we’ve got you covered! Our personalized one-on-one training package takes the guesswork out of separation anxiety training for you and your dog. Guardians work with a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer (CSAT) 5 days a week and receive customized daily training for their dog in addition to daily support and guidance. 

Separation Anxiety Certification Program For Dog Professionals

Now, of course, we wouldn’t want to leave out the educational needs of dog professionals. Our Separation Anxiety Certification Program is for highly skilled dog trainers and behavior consultants who want to learn how to design detailed and effective separation anxiety training for dog guardians. This program is like a graduate-level course, spanning over 14 weeks and containing over 100 hours of instruction. We provide individualized feedback to each of our learners so that they can dive into the material deeply and maintain a consistent feedback loop with our expert instructor team. This program is by far the most rigorous and thorough education about all the aspects of canine separation anxiety in our industry.

Blogs and Additional Resources

In my opinion, there are not nearly enough low-cost or no-cost quality resources available to dog guardians. This is why we have an extensive library of blogs and articles that can help guide decision-making when conducting a separation anxiety protocol. For those who prefer to listen, there are numerous podcasts about separation anxiety that can be accessed at the bottom of our resources pages.

I suppose I would be remiss in not mentioning that I have also published a book called Separation Anxiety in Dogs – Next Generation Treatment Protocols and Practices. This has been a pivotal book in our industry, helping move separation anxiety training forward to the next level.

 

No matter where your educational needs lie, this is the perfect month to stretch your learning muscles. As we celebrate National Dog Training Education Month, let’s reflect on the positive impact that proper training can have on our canine companions, and don’t forget that you have to get the right information first! By investing time and effort in compassionate and appropriate training, we can create a happier, healthier, and more joyful home life for us and our beloved dogs.

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About Malena DeMartini

Malena DeMartini is renowned in the dog training industry for her work with separation anxiety over the past two decades. She is the author of two groundbreaking books on the topic, and the founder of the Separation Anxiety Certification program. More information about Malena and resources about separation anxiety can be found on her website at:

About Malena

Malena DeMartini is renowned in the dog training industry for her work with separation anxiety over the past two 

decades, for more information about Malena Read More…

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