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been around for many years; some of these recommendations are sound and stand the test of time, while others are sadly out of date or just plain wrong.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.