Actionable 18 Steps to Treating Separation Anxiety
Using Technology in Your Treatment Program
Webcams, PDAs and smartphones have given us a whole new approach to separation anxiety training and monitoring. Technology lets you and your clients monitor the dog so you know how he is doing during absences and can set your criteria accordingly. You can talk to your clients on the phone (or through the computer) and guide them through an absence protocol in real time while watching how the dog is doing on your home computer. Your clients can record these absences so you can point out body language cues (see Chapter 8) and, again, set criteria accordingly with them later (which also makes owners better at looking for body cues and eventually helps them set criteria on their own).
The use of these tools is integral to the treatment of separation anxiety. They remove much of the guesswork about what’s going on behind closed doors, and about how much time is too much or even too little. And as you watch from afar, dogs are no longer tipped off by your presence at a training session. Using technology allows you to have greater efficiency, which equals greater success—this is, of course, what we are all striving for.
Technology has allowed me to treat many cases outside my local geographic area. Separation anxiety is one of the few behavior disorders in which the trainer doesn’t need to meet the dog or even be present to implement the training. On the contrary, the presence of the trainer greatly affects the dynamic of the absence training, and watching from afar allows for a more realistic setup. I always encourage trainers to see the use of technology as an opportunity to take on clients outside of their regular driving area. I have personally counseled clients around the country and, in a few cases, internationally. The treatment protocol does not change at all when treating from afar versus in person.
I suggest setting up one or two weekly live webcasts with your clients where you walk them through their exercises and point out body language signals and set criteria for them. The rest of the week they can carry out the exercises on their own (with email feedback from you), recording them, if possible, so you can review them when needed.
If you are worried that you or your clients are not technically savvy, don’t be. I’ve never had a single client who couldn’t figure out how to use one of these applications, regardless of age. None of the applications that I am referring to here are difficult to use or set up. All that is required is a webcam and a laptop or even a regular desktop. Any webcam will do. Most computers purchased in the last five years have a webcam built in already. If you or the client happen to not have an internal webcam, one can be purchased quite inexpensively. In addition to the webcam, it would be preferable for viewing when your client has a smartphone or a tablet such as an iPad.
As a side note: If the client doesn’t have an internal webcam in their current computer, there are many options to choose from including stand alone wireless cameras. Without going into the technical specifications some of my favorites include Dropcam, Foscam and Lorex. These three all have apps that can be integrated to view from a smartphone or iPad by the owner or trainer.
I’ll review a few of the easiest applications I use, but many others—for a variety of platforms—are available and can be researched online.
Using webcams and smartphones or tablets to view the dog when alone, you will be able to very accurately set criteria. Additionally, your sessions can be done remotely, which is not only convenient but also quite effective. Here Sylvia is getting ready to do an absence watching her dog Fonzie using iCam.
Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangout, iCam and Presence
If you won’t be recording sessions, but only monitoring your clients during live sessions (which is perfectly fine), I suggest you use one of these programs. Skype, FaceTime and Google Hangout are the easiest and user-friendliest of the webcam programs and they can be used with all computer platforms. Again, you won’t be able to record your sessions if you use them, it’s only for direct, face-to-face communication via an Internet-connected computer. Skype and Hangout can be viewed from most smartphones as well, so the owners can watch their dog during the absence and set their return time according to what they are viewing. Remember to mute the resident computer when using Skype or Hangout so the dog doesn’t hear the outside noises through the computer. If both you and your client have an iPhone or iPad, then you can use FaceTime to communicate easily as well, and it is probably one of the simplest of all to set up.
If you and your clients have a tablet or a smartphone, they can use an application I’m particularly fond of called iCam. It’s very easy to set up and I highly recommend it, provided recording the sessions isn’t a priority. The iCam app allows you and the owners to watch the dog live from your respective locations. The only drawback is that you need to interrupt the live viewing to talk to each other (or send a text), unless you have a second phone. I do use this app often with owners who have iPhones or Androids, because it’s so simple to use. At time of writing, it’s priced at $4.99 in the app store.
Presence is quite similar to iCam, but the owner would need two Apple iOS devices in order to watch the dog during absences. For instance, she would have to have both an iPhone and an iPad or an iPod, or two iPhones. You as the trainer would need to have an Apple device in order to watch as well. It is a nifty little program if sufficient Apple devices are available, and it is free in your app store.
This is a tremendously useful program, it’s free and it’s my preferred program to use if I require a recording to be made. Owners can record their dog live and you can watch the broadcast in real time or review it later. The live feed can also be viewed on a smartphone. With this setup, owners can watch their dog during an absence and time their return for before anxiety sets in. Criteria setting is much more efficient given the greater level of accuracy available.
Note: If the bandwidth isn’t high enough, there might be a time lag when watching live feed. A significant delay obviously affects the accuracy of the timing. At the time of this publication, the reliability of Ustream has become quite shaky and they were beginning to add a number of commercials to their broadcasting. If the reliability and speed of this program doesn’t return back to its former capacity, this may not be the ideal program.
While I feel the most effective use of video is often live, having recorded video can be useful if live feed isn’t available due to poor Internet capacity or if a webcam isn’t available for some reason. When this is the case, I use a program called Vimeo where owners can upload regular video from their camera and allow me to view it online. I prefer this way of sharing video over YouTube because it’s really private, easy to use and free. YouTube is also free and does have a privacy setting, however it is not nearly as user friendly as Vimeo in my opinion.
For the live training session with her trainer, Sylvia and Kevin use Skype at their respective locations.
The Treat & Train® (formerly known as the MannersMinder®)
The Treat & Train is a wonderful tool that can accelerate separation anxiety treatment. For those who aren’t familiar with this training device, it’s a remote-activated kibble dispenser. Developed by Dr. Sophia Yin, the Treat & Train wasn’t specifically created for separation anxiety treatment, but the device has proved highly successful for this purpose. The Treat & Train remote control can reach at least 100 feet and can go through walls so you are able to dispense even when you are outside while watching the dog from your smartphone or tablet. Additionally, you can put the Treat & Train in automated mode where it will dispense automatically on a variable ratio depending on the time setting you select. It will dispense randomly anywhere from every three seconds up to every five minutes and can continue for hours depending on how much kibble you have loaded it with. For many dogs, it can speed up the training process dramatically. I audition the Treat & Train with dogs at the initial consult to see if this might be a useful tool for them.
Desensitizing the dog to the Treat & Train
Some dogs startle at the noise the turnstile makes, in which case you need to introduce it to them gradually. Follow the steps below when introducing the Treat & Train and watch body language carefully, making sure you create a strong positive association with this clever, interactive device.
Note: The Treat & Train has been designed to use kibble, but not all sizes and shapes work in it. If the Treat & Train is jamming frequently, first change the kibble size or shape. A shape with body mass works best, for example ball-shaped or pyramidal kibble, rather than flat.
Step 1. Set the “tone” switch to “off.” (The tone can be left on if desired, but it is not necessary.)
Step 2. Fill the Treat & Train cavity and have it ready to dispense. Check that it works by having it dispense once, but do it well away from the dog so you don’t startle him.
Step 3. Place the Treat & Train on the floor and let the dog investigate.
Step 4. Take some kibble or treats from your bait bag, place them in the Treat & Train receptacle so the dog can eat from it. Allow him to continue to investigate the device. Feed several treats in the bowl without dispensing.
Step 5. Once the dog is no longer concerned about the presence of the Treat & Train, hit the dispense button and then immediately toss a few treats a short distance away from the Treat & Train.
If the dog startles at the noise of the turnstile, keep tossing treats a short distance away from the device, and work toward getting him used to the noise.
If the dog returns to investigate, reward him with treats and dispense again while also rewarding from your bait bag.
If the dog retreats dramatically, toss the treats farther away when dispensing. Never try to lure the dog closer to the Treat & Train. He will approach when he feels sure it’s not something to fear. Continue to build the association between the sound of the turnstile and treats until the dog eats freely from the bowl and associates the noise only with getting kibble.
If the dog displays extreme fear of the Treat & Train to the point that he isn’t desensitizing to it over the course of several 15-minute sessions, you need to consider whether this is the right training tool for this particular dog. In my experience, few dogs are too afraid to overcome the noise of the Treat & Train with time, but it’s important to work timid dogs up to a positive association from the beginning.
Lola gives a lovely example of how to lie quietly in front of the Treat & Train, the behavior that I suggest you teach your separation anxiety clients. Lola’s Treat & Train is affectionately named Maggie.
When to reward
Only dispense kibble when the dog is quiet, preferably sitting or lying down. I like to ask the dog to go into a down position and then shape him to stay in this position by rewarding only when he chooses to stay down. It happens quickly for most dogs. I prefer them to be in this relaxed position so that when they are left alone in the future, they don’t stand expectantly at the Treat & Train for hours. You want to build the association: calm behavior equals food. In the early stages, you will be dispensing often so the dog first understands that a magic food-generating machine has appeared in his world. But you build the deeper association over a few days or, in the case of a really shy dog, a few weeks. The kibble can start to come out more gradually once the dog begins to understand that by settling down and relaxing in a down position, he can control the supply of food. (It’s fun to watch the owners’ joy when faced with their dog’s enthrallment, waiting for that next round of kibble to appear.)
Many dogs will try to get the kibble to come out faster by pawing, licking, barking, nosing and so forth. Particularly the first few times you use the Treat & Train, it is important not to dispense kibble when the dog does any of these things, and to instruct the owners to observe the same rule. The dog has to learn that none of these behaviors work to get the machine to dispense kibble.
Using the remote function
After you finish the initial desensitization, get the remote into the owners’ hands right away. During the first stages of the treatment plan, the owners will use the remote to dispense kibble from the Treat & Train so the rewards are well timed for the dog. For instance, the owners should dispense heavily as they walk out of the baby gate or as they open the front door, but not as often when coming back through the baby gate.
Later in the treatment plan, when the association is deeply ingrained and the dog is hooked, you can instruct the owners to put the Treat & Train in variable dispense mode. When using the variable dispense mode, the owners should start at the lower levels (meaning shorter time intervals) and work up to the longer durations, getting the dog even more hooked. Remember that the Treat & Train can be set to dispense at a variable rate as low as three seconds and as high as five minutes and will continue to dispense for several hours. (An example of when to increase the dispense ratio is included in the sample treatment plan #2 in Appendix 3.)
You can see the different variable ratio settings displayed on the dial setting here. It is important to move gradually when increasing the automated variable dispense mode.
A brand new product on the horizon
There is a new product called Pet Tutor that is getting ready to be released that should prove to be revolutionary to use for separation anxiety training. Unlike the Treat & Train, it is a kibble and/or treat dispenser that is smart phone compatible and has programmable dispensing time ratios. Even you, the trainer, will be able to reward the dog from your remote home location with your smartphone via Skype, FaceTime or two way audio webcams. Additionally, the design of this product allows for it to either be on the ground, easily hung inside or outside a crate/gate or placed high up on a shelf so that the dog does not have access to the device itself but will still get fed. Because of the way the product is put together, it is almost soundless, which eliminates the need to desensitize the dog to a noisy turnstile and the product has no problems with jamming. The Pet Tutor can accommodate any size kibble or relatively hard treat and most of the components are dishwasher safe. I am very excited to start using this product. Keep your eye on the release of the Pet Tutor by going to www.smartanimaltraining.com.
There is an app for Pet Tutor for your smartphone in addition to being able to be run it from the remote control or in automated mode.