Expert Help!

There is considerable information about Separation Anxiety online and elsewhere, and this can be misleading, be rooted in myth, or can offer inaccurate suggestions on how you can best help your dog. Much of this information is not based on up-to date research on how dog’s learn and respond to their environment. That’s why I went to the world-leading expert trainer on SA, Malena De Martini to train as a CSAT.  The CSAT-way of SA training is based on over 20 years evidence-based development in the skill, knowledge and practice of supporting recovery from Separation Anxiety.

My mission is to offer you expert support and understanding of SA, show empathy and compassion on the impact it has on your family life, and how we can help you and your dog find a way out of this miserable situation. If you are a guardian of a dog who is suffering from Separation Anxiety, book your free 30-minute call with me to find out how I can help you and your dog.  I look forward to hearing from you

One of the common themes that inaccurate and un-professional online advice presents, is that by comforting your dog, allowing them to follow you around the house, letting them sleep in your bedroom and/ or on the bed, molly-coddling them by giving support and love when they are distressed, ignoring them when they are trying to communicate a need; in a nutshell, loving your dog too much is what has made your dog suffer with SA. So if you have been told by someone, or you’ve read online that it’s all your fault, it’s just not true!

Dogs also do not have the ‘bandwidth’ in terms of brain and cognitive structure that humans do, so your dog is also not paying you back, being angry or resentful by demonstrating SA when left alone. Your dog’s very big feelings about being alone are purely driven by his or her anxiety in that situation.

SA training is not like many other types of dog training because SA is an emotional response to the situation of being home alone. It’s not the same training process as teaching a new life skill or trick.

As for humans who suffer from specific anxieties and phobias, there is no quick and easy answer or prediction for a timeline or ‘cure’. Each dog is unique and individual, as are the guardians and the home environment. There is also the factor of committing to the training programme and carrying this out at 5-days a week. Progress can happen quickly, or it can be slow – this is perfectly normal. I also expect there will be plateaus, where the dog gets ‘stuck’ and regressions, where the dog back tracks on previous progress. Again, this is perfectly normal and is actually expected as part of the normal process of training.

It is usually the case that after a slow first few weeks, progress starts to happen. The foundations of building the new emotions from panic to relaxation and contentment are so important; once these foundations are solid, progress tends to pick up pace. Remember, you will have me as part of your team to mentor, guide, coach and cheerlead you throughout!

Oh, if only this were true. I’d gladly become redundant if this was the case.

Unfortunately, most dogs with SA tend to become worse if left alone repeatedly while suffering anxiety. As with humans, this is a stressful situation for him/ her and their body is overwhelmed with the stress chemicals adrenaline (body); noradrenaline (brain) and cortisol and others which have physical and psychological effects. Day on day, the effect becomes accumulative.

Anxiety can begin before you step out of the door. Our dogs are masters of routine and understanding associations. So, if you pick up your keys or put on a particular pair of shoes or a jacket – OH NO! – your dog understands, even if you are not leaving for another 30 minutes or so, that your departure is coming. These pre-departure cues can be something you or I would find completely innocuous, but for our dogs, they signal alone time is coming.

It’s easy for us to feel frustrated with our dog’s behaviour: we know we are coming back, we are only going to be gone for 30 minutes, why can’t my dog understand this? The very clear answer is they just can’t, and repeated experiences of being left alone only escalate their emotional state.

Of course, the individualised training plan will involve leaving your dog alone – but this will always be in the zone of where they can cope: safe practice of absences, leads to re-learning that being at home is safe, and builds trust between you and your dog.

It’s my experience that while a small percentage of dogs won’t display anxiety if another dog is around, the majority of dogs will not feel differently by being left alone. If you go ahead and add another dog to your family just for the purpose of trying to support your dog with his/ her SA feelings, and your dog is one of the large percentage which does not feel better by being with a canine companion, then the problem is not solved. It may become a double problem, as the companion dog may be influenced and also start to develop signs of SA.

If you do decide that another dog is the right thing for you and your family, please get in touch so I can support you in finding out if this will help your SA dog.

I advocate that training your dog to be comfortable in a crate is a life skill and one that should be introduced within core puppy life-skill training. Most dogs will need to be confined to a crate at some time in their lives, whether this be due to illness, injury, travel, grooming or holiday boarding situations, and to happily accept this confinement from time to time is a great skill for each and every dog. 

For SA, the picture is often mixed, even if previously, the crate has been a happy place for the dog. Crate confinement during absences can exacerbate SA. Common issues are vocalisations (barking and howling), and injury as some dogs try to escape their confinement using their teeth and claws/ paws on the metal bars of the crate. The dog may also continue to eliminate as this is a stress-driven behaviour.
Using resources such as a stair/ baby gate in doorways, or an X-pen to give the dog more freedom within a containment situation, closing doors so that you manage the space and not the dog, can all help in situations where the crate is making life more difficult for your dog during alone time.

I understand that it’s scary to think of not using a crate for alone time, particularly if your dog has been destructive or has soiled in the house when alone in the past. I will have my eyes on your dog for the first time you leave him/ her alone once we start working together, and my assessment will cease before destruction/ elimination is triggered. I will always be setting you and your dog up for success. If the crate is absolutely necessary, then my assessment and the training plan will accommodate this, if this is your choice.

As part of the programme, I will also be coaching you on observing your dog and their body language and signals to help you interpret how they are feeling, and how they indicate their needs. It’s a fascinating part of the programme.

In my experience, it’s very common to hear how food has been used to help a dog to settle and/or distract from their human leaving the house.

Does it work? Yes, to a point, but using food to help your dog feel better when alone can have some significant difficulties. These include:

  • The food will only last a short while.  Even if you are a Master Kong Filler, and you’ve frozen it, so it takes longer for your dog to finish it, for most absences of any duration, the food is going to be finished before you return home. Once finished, your dog realises that he is alone, and his anxiety re-asserts itself.
  • As a distraction, your dog will be focussed on the food. He/she is not learning and not re-modelling their response to being at home alone.
  • Food can become a pre-departure cue. This means that the presentation, perhaps even the preparation of the food/food toy predicts to the dog that an absence is imminent. In this case, your dog can start to become anxious well before you depart, which may exacerbate his/her response to being left alone.
  • Does your dog refuse to eat while you are absent? This is known as alone-time anorexia and is a common symptom for dogs with SA. The stress hormones created by your dog’s anxiety, shut down digestion and can cause a feeling of nausea making food unpalatable.

Sometimes, this can be best thing for your dog, and if this is the case, we will discuss this thoroughly so you are fully aware of the benefits within the SA training plan, and I can help you approach your vet to discuss this in more detail with them. This is a personal choice and must be discussed with your vet.

There are several medications which can be of benefit to your dog as part of their personal SA training plan. However, without the comprehensive and personalised plan, medication on its own will not make a lot of difference to your dog’s behaviour.


If you want to find out more about SA and how this affects our dogs, here are my recommendations: 

Recommended Reading:

separation anxiety in dogs book by Malena DemartiniSeparation Anxiety in Dogs: Next Generation Treatments and Protocols
This latest book by Malena De Martini holds over 20 years of information, guidance and factual evidence about SA and living with a dog with SA. Well worth a read for anyone, whether a guardian or professional working with SA.

Available through most book shops and online providers. 

Self-Paced Online Course:

Mission Possible – Separation Anxiety Training for Guardians 
This course gives a great overview of how to help your dog with their SA if you wish to work without my supervision.  I am happy to share this link and if you do wish to go this route, please get in touch with me and I will send you a personalised ‘sign-up’ link to register.

Happy dogs = happy homes

Let me help you free yourself and your dog from a life limited by anxiety.  I can create a personalised and tailored Separation Anxiety treatment plan for you and your dog, and help you both back to enjoying life together.

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