Watson is a handsome, medium sized mixed breed fella that will be four years old this coming April. He was an owner surrender, for unknown reasons, and adopted by his wonderful mom in San Francisco about 10 months ago. Watson is not what you would call a super cuddle bug necessarily. Not that he doesn’t like to be around his people, he is more space conservative and really enjoys picking his distance and the amount of “cuddling” he offers. That’s why it came to great surprise to his family when they found out the one, little (VERY BIG) problem. Watson has Separation Anxiety.
After trying to do all of the things found on the internet and that friends had advised, Watson’s mom gave us a call and decided to begin a formal Separation Anxiety Training protocol. With this, Watson’s mom also made a contract with Watson to not leave him alone for longer than he could do so comfortably. Watson’s mom built a “village” of support around Watson that included hiring a dog walker/day care person who – when she has him – keeps Watson with her at all times. Be it hiking the trails or hanging at home. Watson has friends and neighbors who help care for him and, when absolutely needed, Watson has a dog day care that he attends when other resources are unavailable. It goes to show, that planning and management is key, and ends up being priceless for the recovery of a dog with separation anxiety. I am certainly proud of how well Watson’s mom has done with this part of training!
The Beginning Separation Anxiety Struggles for Watson
Watson’s Initial Assessment looked something like this:
- 25 seconds: popped up and got off of his bed
- 50 seconds: barked
- 2:30 min: Barked and whined intermittently, then he muzzle punched the baby gate (the baby gate was implemented because Watson had previously scratched at and chewed the door jamb) with his nose and then he began a more insistent bark; bordering on a howl. After a total of 4 min, we called his mom in. We had our baseline.
Friends Helping Friends Overcome Separation Anxiety:
There is more to this backstory and that’s Watson’s “village”. Since this is such a crucial part for dogs and their guardians, I feel the story of support needs to be told. You see, Watson’s mom was referred to me by a previous Separation Anxiety client, a client who also has a dog who successfully graduated from our Separation Anxiety program, and who is enjoying peaceful time out of the house while their dog “Zoe” rests quietly. Zoe is a 3-year old Bull Terrier / Border Collie mix who began her Separation Anxiety with explosive bouts of diarrhea whenever she was left and, in less than 5 months, was successfully staying alone for three hours or longer, all while also developing confidence in a host of other areas. Today she has free range of the house, is big “sister” to a new two-legged family member and is a happy, funny, pushy, “bully” girl.
Watson and Zoe’s families share living space in the same building with separate upstairs and downstairs living quarters, spending time together and assisting one another in caring for each other’s dogs as needed. Over the past six months, Zoe’s family has provided support and assistance to Watson’s mom AND incredibly, Zoe provides comfort to Watson during absences, too. It is to be said that the reason we find this ‘incredible’ as CSATs, is because having the comfort of another dog is not always the answer.
Watson’s Separation Anxiety Feat
The alone time goals for Watson are for him to be alone for up to four hours at a time while his mom goes to work or out socially. Currently, Watson is successfully chilling alone for between 30 and 60 minutes comfortably; in fact, just today he was alone for a total of 60 minutes and could easily have gone longer!
What is most impressive about Watson’s progress is not only that he is chilling like a master – no longer jumping off the sofa and running to bark at the gate as soon as his mom leaves and is able to chill alone for up to an hour – but we have learned that Watson is one of the small percentage of dogs that also does well if there is another dog with him. This is where Zoe still comes in, to this day. Though she can sometimes be a pesty player, often times sitting on or poking at Watson trying to get him to play, when they are left together, they both enjoy peaceful naps, easily recover from outside noises and sometimes even eat a snack or play with a toy. Together they have worked up to an impressive two and a half hours of alone time. Additionally, they have yet to really push against Watson’s threshold, which we’re extremely happy to see.
Greater Things in Store for Watson
Watson and his “village” of support have demonstrated that by sticking together, working at a comfortable pace and setting the stage a dog feels relaxed in, anything is possible. I look forward to many great hours of alone time in Watson’s future. Thank heavens for such a wonderful “village” of support and the dedicated mom that Watson has!