Management - The Hidden Key to Overcoming Separation Anxiety
Living with a separation anxiety dog causes countless issues for the humans involved. The stress can be life changing. There’s the range of fallout consequences from our dog’s behavior; neighbors complaining, destruction, clean up and repair to property, vet visits, bills and the general anxiety we feel from all of this. And, of course, the heartbreak of seeing our dog stressed.
We also often feel very isolated; trapped at home for fear of the outcome if we leave our dog alone for any amount of time, friends and family may be unable to understand or empathize, the relationship with our dog may deteriorate and within what feels like a vacuum of anxiety, we may only see limited resources to support us. It’s life changing.
The Path to Freedom
The very first step to relief is Management. This means suspending absences from your dog. In other words, not leaving your dog alone for any amount of time which causes them to be anxious.
Stay with me here. I fully understand this may seem extreme, but thousands of clients are doing it as I write this. And you know what? It’s working. They have immediate relief from doggie meltdowns and can then dedicate the time to changing their dog’s association with alone time. The best part is, it's temporary. And as they make progress and recovers, they will no longer need to suspend absences.
Why This is a Crucial Piece
Here’s where I like to address any feelings that this method may seem counterproductive to our end goal. We are absolutely going to teach your dog they can feel safe alone. However, the trick is, we need to make sure we’re completely in control of that situation when it does occur so they don't have setbacks in progress. It’s crucial we make a promise to your dog that they are never going to be alone longer than they can handle. That’s THE most important part of this program. Absolutely NEVER, except during our training sessions, can they be alone for longer than the amount of time we have worked up to, and the reasons that’s important are these...
Each time you leave your dog alone, and they experience anxiety about being alone, they have the chance to have that fear reinforced and further associate absences with those feelings of panic.
Trigger Stacking also occurs. When your dog experiences a stressful event, stress hormones occur in their system. These assist in our natural fight or flight instincts. But, it takes time for those chemicals to leave the system - up to 5 days. So, any other stressful events which occur soon after the first event will create more stress hormones in the body. The effects of stress are cumulative. So, this build up of chemicals makes any animal less able to cope with stress and impedes the ability to learn.
Because of these factors, if you leave your dog alone longer than they can handle while trying to change separation anxiety behaviors and they are subjected to anxiousness, they will have a very difficult time learning a new, positive association to their alone time.
With this in mind, it is best to protect your dog by preventing exposure to more potential triggers so they can decompress, enabling them to cope and learn again. Learning is not possible under stress. This explains a bit more of why Management of exposure to triggers (alone time or other stress inducing triggers) is so important in any separation anxiety modification program. Preventing the practice of unhealthy behaviors is key. Exposing them to absences in a controlled manner with focused skills, is critical.
See our free download, Trigger Stacking - Is Your Dog High.
How to Start Using Management
Great news! Most dogs who have a separation disorder, have Isolation Distress (see Is It Separation Anxiety or Isolation Distress?).
This means your dog’s primary people or person, you, can leave them comfortably in the care of other people without your dog becoming anxious. You can run errand, have doctor office visits and the like while someone watches your dog. This is Management and manages their behavior.
You must be open to reaching out for this support. I advise my clients the first time we speak to do this right away. Having both your freedom and peace of mind about your dog’s well being will keep you whole and motivated to do the work ahead which may take weeks or months to complete.
The Possibilities are Endless
With so many of us working from home now, scheduling options for management are even greater. Since the pandemic, we've learned countless ways to function from home without having to leave home, using delivery for groceries, meals, etc. So, just for now, minimize out of the house errands as much as possible. When you do need to get out of the house, check out local restaurants who allow dogs and take your dog with you whenever possible.
Even for those who do not work from home, the pet care world has broken wide open in recent years with many alternatives. Outside of this, the possibilities are only as limited as our imaginations. To put it plainly, it is the perfect time to dive in and change your dog's separation anxiety. Here's a starter list of alone time management options just to show you how possible this is:
- Doggie daycares who can accommodate any napping or feeding time to make sure your dog is not left alone.
- Neighbors who work from home and would love the company or a playmate for their own dog to tire them out and enrich their life.
- Vet techs from your dog's clinic are often eager to help as side work or may know someone available.
- Dog walkers and pet sitters - professional or side hustle sitters offer in-home sitting or sitting at their home.
- Pro Tips
- Use pet sitters association directories to search for one in your area.
- Ask if you can negotiate a good rate given your needs and planned regular patronage. You'll be amazed and what they may be open to.
- Pro Tips
- Take your dog with you to work. Don't think that'd be allowed. Ask. You might be pleasantly surprised.
- Pro Tip: Take that a step further. Ask if you can work from home a day or two a week temporarily while you work with your dog.
- Family - drop off and pick up from their home on your way to and from work. This builds in extra family time!
- Trade sitting with another separation anxiety dog guardian. Win-Win!
- Post a cute pic of your dog and description of their sitting needs on your local NextDoor.com, HOA, Facebook or church community board. Local seniors, retirees, high school and college students or stay at home parents would love this opportunity.
- Look up meal delivery services for those who are homebound in your area. Let them know you are in need of a helper or two to watch your dog who has separation anxiety.
When I had my first dog who suffered from Separation Anxiety, I had daycare, three sitters (who he knew from his daycare) and a neighbor in the mix to cover all scheduled needs and the occasional unexpected item that popped up. Otherwise, I took him with me to run errands. Weather and temperatures permitting, I left him in the car when I had to go into a store briefly.
Take your calendar out and plan your needs accordingly. It will bring you a great sense of relief and empowerment in getting your life back and helping your dog at the same time.
I can tell you first hand that, though it does take planning and dedication, helping a dog with separation anxiety ends up being an extremely rewarding endeavor and is completely doable. My clients learn so much about themselves and their dog’s needs on this journey, and there’s nothing more thrilling and rewarding than watching your once panicked dog sleep through a four hour absence.
You’ve got this! Take action and make it happen.
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