One year for my birthday I bought an eight-week personal training package — a first for me. Having led an active life full of dancing, step aerobics, spin classes and hiking, I was unsure of what a personal trainer could do for me. But my workouts had become stale and irregular, I’d lost motivation and I really wanted to get in better shape, so I went for it.
I worked out with Mike, my personal trainer, for an hour a week for eight weeks. During our sessions, he’d discuss my goals, check my progress since the last session, study and correct my form, and give me specific homework exercises to do during the week. Under his expert guidance, I developed new muscles, lost some stubborn pounds, tweaked my eating plan, and felt stronger and fitter than ever. I never missed a meeting with Mike — I’d paid for them up front and wanted to get the most out of my money, and his humor and our banter made workouts fun and less like work. We were a team! I faithfully did my assigned workouts every week because I was so excited to keep making progress. At the end of those eight weeks, I was in better shape than ever. My investment with Mike had paid off handsomely.
If you have a dog with separation anxiety, the notion of attempting the training alone may be daunting, and understandably so. Fortunately, you need not go it alone. Working with a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer (CSAT) yields many of the same important wonderful benefits as those I got from working out with Mike, benefits that go a long way toward resolving your dog’s home-alone distress.
First, you have the enormous advantage of an expert leading your behavior modification journey — one who understands desensitization, knows how to do it effectively, and coaches you on exactly how to do it with your dog. Your trainer will craft training plans tailored to your departure routines, your home’s layout, and the particulars of your dog’s home-alone distress. She will determine the best training strategies for you and your dog, closely monitor his progress, work through regressions and plateaus — a normal and expected part of any behavior modification journey — and brainstorm creative management solutions to ensure your dog is not left home alone for longer than he can handle while training is under way.
Second, besides providing training expertise, a CSAT is also a savvy interpreter. Do you speak dog? Probably not, but your trainer does. The ability to observe and understand dog body language is a crucial component of the behavior modification process. Without that knowledge, skill and experience, it’s difficult if not impossible to know if the training pace is right for a particular dog. The dog dictates the pace of the behavior modification; the dog’s body language, which is often quite subtle, signals the degree of anxiety he’s experiencing during training, and whether he’s ready for a harder training challenge or needs an easier task. A qualified trainer can not only translate your dog’s body language, but teach you to notice and understand what your dog is communicating.
Working with a CSAT also yields a number of intangible benefits, which are arguably just as important to the success of a separation anxiety case as the training itself. Living with and training an anxious dog can be a frustrating, stressful, discouraging, maddening and/or saddening ride, depending on the day. Guardians who go it alone often feel lost. They have no hand to hold, no cheerleader to encourage them, no coach to determine the best training course, no one tracking the dog’s objective progress, and no expert to lean on when progress stalls. Many guardians have no one else in their lives who truly understands what they’re going through, no one who recognizes that Cody chilling on his bed for five whole minutes of home-alone time really is cause for celebration. But a good, qualified trainer transforms that landscape dramatically. In addition to an expert trainer, clients get a cheerleader, a navigator, an interpreter and a troubleshooter supporting them and their dogs throughout the behavior modification process. When spirits flag, the trainer is there to revive hope and offer encouragement by reminding clients of how far their dogs have come, to celebrate their dogs’ milestones, small and large, and to remind clients of their goals and investment. Clients are more motivated to follow through on management and training during the week knowing that there’s a weekly online trainer meeting approaching. With a CSAT on board, clients can relax a bit knowing that their dogs’ behavior modification is in skilled, knowledgeable, caring hands.
Having a dog with home-alone distress can feel awfully lonely and hopeless, but it need not be so. The best outcomes involve a team effort — the dog’s guardian; some combination of walkers, sitters, day care attendants, friends, family or neighbors; veterinarians; and last but certainly not least, a CSAT and her many hats. Getting a qualified professional on your team to resolve your dog’s separation anxiety is an investment, one that is well worth the end result: a dog who can cope comfortably with being home alone, and a far happier and better quality of life for him and for you.