Several years ago when I started helping guardians solve their dogs’ behavior problems, my main focus was visiting them in their homes.
The technology options that we currently have weren’t available back then, but besides that, the notion of building a strong bond and relationship with the family by working remotely, and without actually offering them in-home help sounded impossible, let alone trying to set up a comprehensive behavior modification program in a way that would lead us to successful results.
That’s the reason why, for many years, I settled on helping dogs through in-person consultations, trying my best to solve the behavior issues they were suffering from, such as separation-related problems.
How Did I Do In-home Separation Anxiety Training Back Then?
My choice was a mix of different techniques learned from several authors. I used to give a long list of things for the family to incorporate — mix up their routines, stop saying goodbye and hello to their dogs, leave the radio or the TV on, and many others. That usually turned out to be very overwhelming and hard to perform step-by-step for them, even having the best intentions to follow through.
Furthermore, setting up a program, which included so many different tasks, ended up diluting the guardian’s motivation and energy, resulting in half followed protocols with not much success.
But beyond all of that, there was something that just didn’t feel right. Even when they did follow the program thoroughly, doing every step of it, we didn’t get the results we would have wished for.
But then something happened…
A Realization: Remote Training IS an Option for Separation Anxiety
When I met Malena DeMartini for the first time a few years ago, and then when I enrolled in her Separation Anxiety Certification Program to become a CSAT and help dogs with separation-related problems, I was surprised to realize that the method of choice to develop the training program was entirely remote.
The program hadn’t only been very successful regarding its outcome among several specialists who had followed it along the years, but it also had proved to have great benefits compared with in-home methods when approaching this particular behavior problem.
Part of me still didn’t believe what I was hearing. How could we work with dogs without visiting them and their families? How could we be clear enough when explaining the guardians every step of the program if we weren’t at their homes with them? How would people believe in me, and in the program, trusting that even if I wasn’t going to be physically with them I would do my best to actually be beside them every day and help them and their dogs succeed?
However, at the same time I had this feeling inside that was making me jump in excitement, like a little voice screaming at me: “This finally does make sense! Now I don’t feel like my program has any loose ends anymore!”
Learning about some of the fundamental aspects of treating separation anxiety successfully, such as the remote approach, changed my way of thinking completely and opened my eyes to a wonderful new reality. Those fundamental aspects included:
- Not allowing the dog to stay alone, except when rehearsing. The sound of these words seems to scare both trainers and owners out, which never ceases to surprise me because when working with other types of behavior it sounds pretty obvious. For example, when working with a reactive dog towards children, we will plan supervised sessions when children will gradually approach while we are using the corresponding techniques to manage and resolve the problem in the right way, but we will explain to the family that the dog can’t be near kids without supervision and at a shorter distance the rest of day, not only because it would be risky, but also because the program wouldn’t be successful if the dog practices the wrong behavior. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it?
- Instead of a protocol that seeks to cover many tasks at the same time, focusing on just one important task that is doable and has a real effect will promote real change. Moreover, it will turn out in better compliance from the owner’s side, better results, and more motivation to keep making progress.
A Look at SA Remote Training Benefits
When working with a dog who suffers from separation anxiety, the protocol isn’t focused on teaching the dog to sit, look at you or lay down. Although those skills are very useful on a daily basis, and in many contexts, they aren’t our priority when approaching this problem in particular.
Our program seeks to thoroughly watch the dog’s body language when he is home alone, in order to learn the signs that show us that he is no longer relaxed and getting closer to his threshold (when his phobia starts to arise) or to the displays of his panic crisis for having been left alone.
To have a real, organic observation of this language and all its details, we can’t be in the same place as the dog. We have to be able to look at the dog in real time — the reason why simple technology can change the prognosis of this problem.
When visiting a dog at his house, we are adding the presence of a stranger (the trainer), who doesn’t usually leave with the guardian every day for work. This new person also smells like other dogs and treats, which changes the normal environment, making the sessions unrealistic and therefore affecting the outcome of the program. Dogs are by nature very good at observation and they can easily pick up the details that lead to a “fake absence” instead of a “real one,” which won’t allow them to get better.
Technology allows us to be there to guide the guardians along the complete training process, without changing the environment, and to teach the dog progressively to stay alone relaxed and successfully in a “real situation.”
Working remotely will give us the opportunity, as specialists, to offer daily guidance during the development of the program, continually adjusting it depending on how the dog does in each session, prioritizing an approach that is proactive, and not one that is based in solving what went wrong one week ago.
Unparalleled Support from Certified Separation Anxiety Trainers
If there is one confession I would like to share, it is that even when my colleagues used to tell me: “The families that you help will become much closer to you than when you were visiting them in their houses,” it was difficult for me to truly believe.
Today I know better. Working as a team, day by day, being their cheerleader and friend through every step of the way, supporting them through successes and regressions, has been one of the most satisfying (and challenging) experiences.
To all of you who are suffering along with your dogs because of this painful condition, and don’t know where to begin, know that there is hope, no matter where you are, to start helping your dog and see the light at the end of the tunnel.