How long does it take to fix a dog’s separation anxiety?

Chihuahua with separation anxiety in man's arms next to watch

As a qualified CSAT (Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer) one of the most common questions I get asked by clients when they start working with me on  Separation Anxiety protocol is “How long will it take?”. This is the million dollar question, and one to which I wish there was an easy answer! Every dog is different, every dog responds differently, and every dog’s trajectory is different. Recovery from Separation Anxiety is also never a linear process and there are so many factors that are at play that it is impossible to make any promises regarding how long the process will take.

Chihuahua with separation anxiety in man's arms next to watch

Factors we have no control over

Genetics, learning history, pain

So many factors are at play with Separation Anxiety that we cannot control. For example, genetics plays a huge part in whether a dog develops Separation anxiety, as well as previous experiences and learning history, and the possibility of a medical condition or the presence of pain.  The latter is the reason why I always obtain veterinary referral prior to starting work wit a client, and the other factors, as you can tell, are not things that can be suddenly miraculously eliminated in the blink of an eye. It takes time.  How much time neither myself nor my clients can tell.

I can’t do the training for you

All of my Separation Anxiety clients are, quite frankly, amazing, and because I work with them 5 days a week I build a great relationship with them all. The success of the protocol is, in huge part, dependent on the client following the protocol reliably and consistently. I make the daily sessions as easy as I possibly can and I am always there to support them and share in the successes, and reinforce them for all the amazing things that they do….but unfortunately the one thing I cannot do is force anyone to follow the protocol or do the training for them!  For example, if the dog is still being left alone during the time we are working together, so he or she is still experiencing anxiety or panic when left alone, the protocol simply will not work. It is impossible for any dog to ever learn that being home alone is safe, when they are still experiencing panic and anxiety when left home alone.

Factors we can control

Consistency of training

I work with my clients 5 days a week, and write each day’s training plan on a daily basis, using notes from the previous day’s session to ensure it is the correct level for the dog. Then once a week we do a live session together on Zoom where I can watch my client’s working through their session, answer any questions, see whether the dog’s baseline has changed etc.  The consistency of this training is really important.

Suspending absences

As mentioned earlier, it is VITAL that your dog is not left alone at any time other than during the controlled daily training sessions.  It is one of the “non-negotiables”, and in fact unfortunately I will not start working with someone unless they can confirm that they will be able to not leave the dog alone. This is a clause in the terms and conditions.  In order for dogs to learn that being home alone is safe, they cannot still be experiencing anxiety of any kind when being left alone. It just wont work, and I don’t want to waste anyone’s time or money, nor waste my time, when I know it just wont work. I will say that this does not mean your dog has to be with YOU the whole time….he just has to not be alone.

Separation anxiety dog with his human playing

Don’t push your dog!

Human instinct is to try and get to the final goal as fast as possible. Dogs do not work like that! Teaching dogs being home alone is safe happens much easier if we take our time….if we build up durations very slowly, while also not building a pattern so toggling between super easy wins and slightly longer durations, while ALWAYS keeping your dog at a level where they feel comfortable.

Have realistic goals

It often helps to have small “mini goal” – such as being able to go to the coffee shop round the corner to get a coffee and come back. That 15 minutes that it would take can be your first goal, and it will make that first coffee that you are able to go and get the best coffee you have ever had!

But try and be realistic with your long term goals. For me, it is not ethical to leave a dog for hours on end on a regular basis anyway, but it stands to reason that if your aim is to be able to leave your dog for 2 hours, you will get there faster than if your goal is to leave your dog for 6 hours, for example.

Medication can be a game changer

A lot of dogs, especially ones who are inconsistent in the length of absence they can cope with, benefit hugely from the right medication to support them.

Some people are reluctant to use medication, but I would ask you this – if you were suffering from debilitating anxiety, or a bad back, most of us would take pharmaceutical help to alleviate our suffering. so why not afford our dogs the same privilege? Think of it another way – if someone was learning to swim, we would not just throw them in the water and hope for the best (well, some of us may do!), we would provide that person with a life jacket or some floatation aid of some kind. Now imagine in addition to that person being unable to swim, they are also afraid of water.  We would definitely give them a life jacket! The life jacket is just there to support that person while they overcome their fear and also learn to swim. Medication is simply a life jacket for our dogs – once they learn being home alone is safe, the life jacket will no longer be needed.

So, as you can see from the above, it is impossible to predict how long it will take to help a dog overcome their Separation Anxiety. All I will say is I advise people to always think in terms of months not weeks, and if you can expect it to take, maybe 6 months. If it happens faster than that and you reach your goal in less than 6 months that will be an absolute reason to celebrate!  But….do expect it to also take longer than that.

Resolving Separation Anxiety is not a quick process – in the same way that modifying fears and anxieties in humans is also not a quick process. I am always very clear on that before I start working with a client, and am also clear on the fact that we should expect regressions and plateaus, as these are incredibly common.  It truly does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop!

If you are looking for help resolving your dog’s Separation Anxiety please fill in the online form and I will be in touch to arrange a chat on the phone – Remote Online Separation Anxiety Dog Training (politepawsdogtraining.co.uk)

ISeparation anxiety go slowly but dont stop

 

 

By Angela Doyle

I am a highly experienced and qualified reward based dog trainer and behaviour consultant based in Surrey, UK. I am a fully qualified CSAT (Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer) and specialise in helping dogs overcome Separation Anxiety.

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