Actionable 18 Steps to Treating Separation Anxiety
Siam Sam was a scrawny street dog living in Thailand during “The Great Bangkok Flood of 2011.” He and two other dogs were found on the second floor of an abandoned building seeking refuge from rising flood waters. The province had been declared a disaster zone, all the local people evacuated. The already ten-foot water levels were rising daily. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of animals had died and the survivors were facing death by drowning, starvation and disease. But this was Sam’s lucky day: he and his two dog friends were spotted peering out the second story window by an animal rescue team patrolling the streets by boat.
Sam and friends were lured to the boat with food, sedated and then transported to a makeshift shelter at a cattle facility. There were hundreds of dogs there whom I was helping to house and care for while waiting for the water to recede so they could be returned to the streets. It was here in this crude shelter that Sam and I met.
When I brought Sam home from Thailand, I discovered that he had that disorder I had studiously avoided my whole career—separation anxiety—and he had it in a severe form. He screamed hysterically, panted frantically, clawed at doors, evacuated his bowels and chewed his forelegs bloody within minutes of being left alone. I was heartbroken. I had anticipated he might have a hard time adjusting to his new life and that it would take patience, time, and understanding. I also knew that, considering the trauma he’d been through, there was a chance he would suffer from some separation anxiety, and was completely on board for that.
But I wasn’t prepared for the severity of his disorder, and I wasn’t prepared for the hardship of helping him overcome his affliction.
Before Sam, I could not imagine going through the tedious protocol involved and not being able to leave my house during the lengthy rehab process. You see, this is why I never took on sep-anx cases. If I couldn’t picture myself spending hours each week doing mindlessly dull, repetitive desensitizing departure drills with the dog’s success measured in seconds, how could I advise someone else to do it?
And I wasn’t alone. The secret sentiment among my trainer peers was that we’d rather have any other behavior problem with our own dogs than separation anxiety. Well, the joke was now on me. While I had been a professional reward-based dog trainer for nearly 30 years in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’ve never shied away from behavior challenges, with one exception: separation anxiety. Luckily I had for years been referring all my “sep-anx” cases to Malena DeMartini-Price, the only trainer in the area that would take them on, stick with them for the long haul and actually solve them. In fact, Malena worked exclusively with SA and had hundreds of successful outcomes.
So while I was daunted by Sam’s severe problem, Malena was able to guide me through the process step by step. She gently coached me, reassured me when my spirits were down and expertly got me through it. It took eight months. It was hard, but not impossible. Now, Sam is completely relaxed while home alone and I joke that he eagerly pushes me out the door in order to be granted his special “alone-time Kong.” A complete 180.
Treating Separation Anxiety in Dogs will give trainers systematic instruction in as well as the confidence to work with separation anxiety. We very much need a well-armed body of sep-anx schooled trainers. Dog training is currently unlicensed, unregulated, and without consumer protection or educational requirements, so owners of sep-anx dogs too often fall victim to snake-oil salesmen wielding not just useless but often harmful advice.
I shudder to think of the amazing dogs like Sam who never get the help they deserve because good trainers shy away from this problem, as I once did. Dogs with separation anxiety needn’t live in misery or be euthanized because there are not enough educated trainers to skillfully guide people through their treatment.
This exciting book is a long time coming. It is the most important dog training book in decades. It will help save countless dogs. It will radically change the number of trainers solving separation anxiety cases. Read it. Use it. Be part of this change.
A myth exists among trainers, veterinarians, behaviorists and dog owners that separation anxiety is close to impossible to treat. And yet I know from experience—and from mounds of research—that separation anxiety is highly treatable. In fact, in my experience, about three out of four dogs can be fully relieved from their suffering, an astounding percentage in the realm of canine disorders.
Why, then, is the myth so widespread and persistent?
Mainly because the process of treating separation anxiety is slow—sometimes excruciatingly so—and often badly carried out. Many owners give up on separation anxiety training in the early frustrating stages when it looks as though no progress is being made on the mistaken assumption that their dog’s case is one of the untreatable ones. And so the myth grows.
In this book, you will learn how to make separation anxiety treatment work by observing the dog’s behaviors and body language to establish the proper course of treatment. Using management strategies, technology and medications when appropriate, you will tailor a training and behavior modification plan to meet the needs of separation anxiety dogs, and you will also learn how to teach the dog’s owner to carry out the treatment protocol you recommend. Lastly you will learn how to make treating separation anxiety a viable part of your professional training business.
Separation anxiety affects about 17% of the 78 million dogs in the United States (according to Eli Lily, a drug company), a staggering number by any standards. These unfortunate dogs and their owners need help from qualified trainers, which makes separation anxiety both a business opportunity and a chance to make a much-needed difference. It’s my hope that many of the trainers who have found separation anxiety training too difficult to take on will get a new perspective on the process through this book.
This book is written for trainers and is intended for them to use as a guide to treating separation anxiety with their clients. However, I have used non-technical language so trainers can share the book with owners should they want to. I’m also convinced that owners willing to dedicate time and patience to the process can pick up this book and work on their dog’s separation anxiety problem on their own. Please note that the appendices at the back of the book contain information that should not be overlooked, including client handouts, an initial consultation questionnaire and detailed training instructions for teaching key behaviors such as relax/stay and go to your mat in case you need to refer to them.