Misinformation Anxiety

This wasn’t the blog I was planning to post this week. I had a perfectly fine, dare I say interesting, blog ready to go. Then I happened on a website where advice was being given to an owner whose dog had severe separation anxiety. The answer was very brief, and involved crating the dog. It then advised that if the dog became a “butthead” in the crate, to use an electronic collar on him. To say I was aghast would be an understatement.

There are plenty of articles online about separation anxiety. Most recirculate the same advice that’s been around for many years; some of these recommendations are sound and stand the test of time, while others are sadly out of date or just plain wrong. Completely withdrawing your attention from your dog, for example, is more likely to create stress, frustration, and other problems than it is to cure a separation issue. Then there are the sites that make it sound as though separation anxiety is something that can be cured in “5 Easy Steps.” Naturally, that involves purchasing the handy-dandy, fix-em-quick manual that’s instantly downloadable. If only it were that easy.

The truth is that separation anxiety is a challenging problem, and one that gives even experienced trainers pause. I can only imagine the confusion and frustration of the average dog owner who gets conflicting advice from trainers, television, and the internet. Although I’ve been successfully treating dogs with separation issues for the last twenty years or so, I never truly understood what owners go through until we adopted Sierra. Not only that, but Sierra was such a non-typical case that pretty much all of the standard protocols and advice…well, let’s just say she hadn’t read those books. So I had to come up with creative alternatives.

The first few weeks were extremely tough, and one day when I was standing in the kitchen venting my frustrations to my husband, he turned to me and said, “You know what this is—it’s your next book.” I won’t repeat my response to him at the time, but as it turns out, he was right. Don’t Leave Me: Step-by-Step Help for Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety was the result of the combination of my personal and professional experience. The reason it’s in a workbook format is because I know how unwieldy separation anxiety can feel, and I also know that just being able to hold a workable plan in your hands helps to vanquish that feeling of helplessness, and instills hope and confidence. The book reviews and emails from owners whose dogs have been helped by the book warm my heart and make me grateful for the opportunity to combat some of the more questionable information that continues to circulate.

Although I still love presenting my seminar on Helping Fearful Dogs (another topic that’s very close to my heart) and others, this year I’ll be rolling out a new presentation called Two Timely Topics: Separation Anxiety and Dog-Dog Play. The morning is all about new and creative ways to help dogs with separation issues. Although it’s based on my book, it goes farther with even more tricks, tips, and new approaches. The dog-dog play half is extremely video-intensive, and I was amazed when sorting through the endless hours of video at just how much the human eye misses when watching interactions in real time; the slow motion playback segments of the seminar are truly eye-opening. I’m hoping to see a lot of you trainers, owners, and other dog folks at these seminars, and to get the word out that separation anxiety can be treated effectively in a humane and compassionate way.

11 Responses to Misinformation Anxiety

  1. Thundershirt says:

    We came accross your blog about separation anxiety in dogs and wanted to offer some advice. We have helped thousands of dogs with separation anxiety and we have also had a lot of great conversations on our Facebook page between pet lovers like yourself. Many dog owners have asked questions on our page and received great advice from each other. We would love to invite you to check out our Facebook or our website, please let us know if you have any questions and we hope you get some great tips on dealing with dog anxiety! http://www.facebook.com/thundershirt

    • wildewmn says:

      Thanks, Claudia. I recommend the Thundershirt in my book on separation anxiety (as well as in my book “Help for Your Fearful Dog“). I also have some information about separation anxiety up on the Thundershirt website. 😉

      • Cricket says:

        Hello Nicole,
        This is Cricket keedy owner of ocean (the dog we thought was wolfier than dog and with your help we see he is more doggy than wolf. I digress ….Ocean is now One and has come a long way. He still is afraid of people though. I never force him to be around others but put him in situations where he can have an escape if he is so inclined (as is almost always the case). City sidewalks,folks coming over to the house(even when they ignore him, are still a huge problem. He is sooo skittish and full of panic. I will try the thunder shirt to see if this helps. Thank you for all your beautiful and informative books and help.I will update after we have tried the thunder shirt for a few weeks.

  2. Ettel says:

    I just found your blog, and love it! I’m hoping to make it out to NJ for your seminar, so will hopefully see you soon! And am actually in the midst of a series of posts on SA on my own blog. I dealt with it with my own dog as well – it was what got me into dog training in the first place. Nothing quite so emotionally tolling in so many ways. Thank you for all you do!

    • wildewmn says:

      Hi Ettel,
      Thanks, I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. And it looks as though you have some great information about separation anxiety on your blog series as well. I can see that you’ve been there, done that, and are spreading the benefit of your experience. 🙂
      Take care,

  3. Michelle says:

    II think one of the reasons that there are so many ‘quick fix’ solutions out there is that separation anxiety has become a sort of catch all term for any stress experienced by a dog who is left alone. Many dogs will have a little anxiety when first left alone but their issues are quickly resolved with fairly simple solutions (e.g. a good stuffed kong or more exercise). To put those dogs on the same level as the ones with actual, full blown separation anxiety is a big mistake that gets made too often 😦

  4. Cindy Ludwig says:

    I recommend the Anxiety Wrap, the original pressure wrap designed by Susan Sharpe, certified professional dog trainer. I have used it on my own dog and recommend it to clients with anxious dogs as part of an overall treatment plan.

    Nicole, I am anxious to get your book on separation anxiety because you’re right, this seems to be a common ailment, at least in my practice. In my area you would not believe some of what is prescribed by local trainers. One area shock collar trainer took a dog with separation anxiety in for two weeks of board and train services with catastrophic results. The public was never made aware and so people remain ignorant of legitimate methods of behavior modification for separation anxiety and other behavior problems.

  5. Anxiety Wrap says:

    Here’s a link to The Anxiety Wrap site: https://anxietywrap.com/About/HowItWorks.aspx if anyone wishes more information. We’re thrilled that Tufts University has found The Anxiety Wrap to be 89% effective in a clinical research study conducted by Dr. Nicholas Dodman and Nicole Cottam.

  6. Jade says:

    I adopted a dog from a shelter a year ago that turned out to have a LOUD case of separation anxiety (complete with all the other panic symptoms, too) and an undisclosed case of leash reactivity. I lived in an apartment at the time. I couldn’t even go to the grocery store because of the anxiety and my neighbors; It was like being in prison. The months of training attempts were so unsuccessful that we gave up and just decided to keep using a dog daycare long term for now. I’m considering if he needs to be medicated to successfully train him to be okay alone, and that is not something I take lightly.

    • wildewmn says:

      Hi Jade,

      I’m sorry to hear that your dog’s separation issue is so severe, but it’s good that you have management options. I agree with not taking medication lightly; it can help many dogs, but there are side effects and other things to consider. If you have my book “Don’t Leave Me!” take a look at the natural alternatives (alpha-casozepine and L-Theanine), as they may help enough that you don’t have to go to pharmacological intervention. But if you do end up taking the medication route, be sure to work with a vet who really understands behavior and will work with you on getting the right drug and the right dosage for your particular dog. I wish you the best, and commend you for hanging in there with this difficult issue.

      Take care,

  7. OMG whos dog is that 🙂 It looks like my Charlies twin but we have no idea what he is mixed with. Lucky Charlie only eats rubber doorstoppers. Love your blog that I found today and have to agree on the Thundershirt, we have one for our Gypsy during thunderstorms

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