Get Started with Training for Separation Anxiety

Are you ready to get started with training for separation anxiety? Here’s what it takes.

Get started with training for separation anxiety. Teach your dog that it's safe to be home alone. You'll be your dog's hero! Photo of relaxed dog lying on side looking at camera.
Get started with training for separation anxiety. Teach your dog that it’s safe to be home alone. You’ll be your dog’s hero!

Unsure if you’re ready to start training to help your dog overcome separation related challenges? Looking for information about what training might entail? Here’s some information to help you prepare for what’s to come. As separation anxiety expert Julie Naismith says, separation anxiety training is simple, but it’s not easy. Are you ready to get started with separation anxiety training?

1. It’s simple.

The great thing about training for separated-related problems is that we can actually control the thing that upsets your dog — being home alone. We simply do not leave the dog for longer than they are absolutely comfortable.

We’ll start by finding a version of being left home alone that is easy for your dog, where we see no signs of stress. For some dogs, this might be the guardian moving partway towards the front door. For others, it might be the guardian standing outside of the door for mere seconds. For others, it might be a few minutes. From there, we very gradually build up, moving closer and closer to the goal of your dog comfortably being alone for a few hours. 

Simple right? Well, there are a lot of little details and dog-dependent nuances that can complicate the training. When you work with a qualified separation anxiety trainer, you’ll get very clear step-by-step training plans and instructions. You’ll get their help in watching your dog to determine whether your dog is completely comfortable or not. They will help to simplify the process for you.

2. It’s not easy.

While the overarching idea — only leave your dog for as long as they are completely comfortable — is simple, it’s also a challenge. This not-leaving-your-dog business applies not only during training, but also in day-to-day life. Many clients cannot imagine how they’ll manage to not leave their dog…at all. No quick trips to the store or last-minute dinners out with friends. It requires a massive adjustment to your routines, and sometimes an investment in daycares or dog sitters while you work through the training. But it’s critical to your chances of success. Every time your dog experiences a scary absence, it proves that being alone is scary and sets the training back. And nobody wants their dog to experience that terrible panic and anxiety. The good news is that many people do figure out how to make sure their dog is not left alone.

3. It takes as long as it takes.

The training progresses at your dog’s pace. It’s often a very long process. Because we don’t want your dog to experience anxiety or distress, we err on the side of caution. We set our daily training goals to what we think the dog can comfortably achieve. The process can be long-winded. Think in terms of several months and often much longer. So, it also takes perseverance.

4. It requires keen observations.

Ideally, we’d never see anxiety at all during training. If we start to see even subtle signs of stress, we stop the exercise and make adjustments. It’s therefore critical to develop a keen eye for subtle signs of anxiety or stress in your dog’s body language. Watch your dog during their normal day-to-day activities. Knowing what’s normal for your dog can help you identify the contrast between comfortable and starting to get upset.

5. It involves a lot of ups and downs.

Your dog will have some bad days and will wobble or struggle with the training, despite our best efforts. Expect variability without letting it deflate you. We’ll make adjustments to set your dog up for success, and then we’ll keep going with the training. Even when that means we drop our duration back to where we were a few weeks ago. While there will be loads of ups and downs, the overall trend over time will be upwards.

6. It takes consistency.

Train regularly. Aim for four to five training days per week, with at least a couple days off for you and your dog. If there’s been a stressful event for your dog, such as a vet visit, fireworks, an upset tummy or construction at your home, it’s wise to take that day off, and maybe the next day too. Similarly, if your dog struggled with a session (see previous point about variability), a day or two off can be really helpful. In general, the clients who have the most success are those who regularly train four or five days a week. And because we always train in scenarios where you dog can be successful, consistency (at least for awhile) can also apply to variables such as time of day, who does the training and the amount of exercise and activity the dog had prior to the training session. It also takes time and repetition to achieve consistency at any given duration.

Be your dog’s hero.

Separation anxiety training takes hard work and dedication. Progress is usually slow. The ups and downs take an emotional toll. It’s a constant scheduling challenge to make sure your dog is not left alone. But you know what? It’s worth it. It’s worth knowing your dog is no longer feeling panicked and anxious when home alone. It’s worth no longer coming home to destruction or pee on the floor. It’s worth not getting complaints about barking or howling from neighbors. And it’s worth it to your dog. If you embark on the separation anxiety training journey, you are your dog’s hero. I hope this blog inspires you to take the plunge. Your dog will thank you!

So, are you ready to get started with separation anxiety training? Click here to get started.