Separation Anxiety can be one of the hardest dog behaviours to work with and emotionally overwhelming for both you and your dog.
It's really hard to find the correct information to help your dog, especially when Google is filled with "let them cry it out", which isn't only inhumane and cruel but also further damaging the emotional wellbeing of your dog.
It's important to first run through a checklist, such as even if your dog appears healthy, if this is a new behaviour and not a puppy, get a full vet check. Not a 6 month check up but a formal appointment for separation anxiety.
If the vet can't find anything medical, reaching out to a Canine Nutritionist can also be beneficial in ensuring diet isn't playing a role.
Keeping a journal, documenting sleep patterns and the hours of sleep they have. Their diet and whether they are eating or not eating or needing more. If there are any changes in the home or in the environment outside.
Addressing noise phobias and as well as sound desensitisation see https://youtu.be/DygQqzykxFk also invest in a white noise machine to help to drown out noise.
Entirely change your routine and lifestyle for the time being, try to ensure someone can be at home with them during the training process.
Sit with your coat on or shoes and grab your keys, sit down and read a book, go on your laptop etc, give them enrichment and allow them to get used to being with you but occupied.
Once you have come past this stage and your successful then move onto the same set up for them with enrichment and try to do chores in another room. So your still home but not with them directly. If they come in or follow you, don't stress, just try another time.
Also feeding from a licki Mat or a snuffle mat, depending on the texture of the food that you feed your dog will have a big impact on their mental stimulation which can also be soothing and promote natural sleep. Enrichment and licking help to soothe dogs and promote the feel good brain chemicals.
You can move on from this step when your ready slowly building up to leaving the house for short incremental bursts. For a full protocol the following books are super helpful:
The Do No Harm Dog Training and Behaviour Handbook by Linda Michaels MA https://amzn.to/3i8ogSq
Don't Leave Me! By Nicole Wilde https://amzn.to/3i9DKWj
Treating Separation Anxiety in dogs by Malena Demartini-Price https://amzn.to/3EqVUKA
I can vouch for all of these books, highly recommend them and they all share the same protocols and practices to work with your dog holistically!
Image description: six window comic strip on a
grey background. The title reads: separation anxiety, written and illustrated by Tasha Attwood of Miyagis Dog Training and Behaviourist Services brought to you by #cookiepushersunited
The first window has a Wolfdog howling in front of a window with a black and white stripe background. With the title: "a brief guide to helping your dog"
The second middle window on the top row reads "Now is the time for an holistic training plan" on a pink backdrop with white clouds.
The third right top hand window has a journal, keys, a Kong and an ostrich twist. With a red bubble which reads "vital", an orange speech bubble which reads "Vet check for any changes
or new behaviours and Check with a Canine nutritionist so diet can be eliminated." A white speech bubble which reads "Keep a journal! Document the good & bad
Document what works and what doesn't,
Keep notes of any changes In behaviour."
The first bottom left window has the owner sat on an orange sofa reading a book, whilst the Wolfdog plays with a Kong on a red rug. The first green bubble reads" Pick your keys up, sit back down
Put on a coat or whatever you normally wear,
Grab a book, give them enrichment and chill." The second speech bubble in green and yellow reads, "Try and observe if there are any sound sensitivities for example a change outdoors such as bird scarers" and the blue bubble reads, "White noise machines are great for drowning out outdoor noises or noisy neighbours as well as TV or the radio."
The middle bottom window has a Wheelchair user washing the dishes whilst the Wolfdog is in the other room on his back playing with the Kong by the orange sofa on the red rug. The first green bubble reads,"Once you've got to a point your dog can relax and not interact try doing chores in another room whilst they enjoy their enrichment." The second pink bubble reads "If they come into see you don't get stressed, let them be and try again later."
The last bottom window has an a image of the Wolfdog is in the other room on his back playing with the Kong by the orange sofa on the red Rug. The other half of the picture is the wheelchair user on the pavement with a bag of shopping. The Wolfdogs thought bubble reads "Nom, Nom, Nom, I'm so happy…", the Wheelchair users thought bubble reads "I wonder if he will be excited to see me when I get back? It's took time but it's so worth it to see him happy and settled" The bottom yellow speech bubble reads "It takes time, dedication and repetition, you need to go at The Dogs pace and keep them under threshold, but with a clear plan, you can do it!" Finally the last white speech bubble reads, "Don't be tempted to rush the process or go back to old habits."
Still today, people worry about giving their dogs treats and see this as bribery. Giving dogs treats isn't only a kind thing to do and the bank account analogy (I'll briefly refresh - the bank account analogy is every dog has a bank account. When we pay our dogs with treats the account fills, which means we are making not only a payment to our dog like we do for work but we are also forming an association of training means treats, which is likely to encourage the dog to repeat the behaviour again).
For me personally knowing that when our dogs see us, we give them treats or verbal praise, an area of their brain lights up is absolutely amazing. Not only does this area of the brain light up but the dog recalls these memories and the process of learning.
The limbic system is a beautiful and complex part of the brain. Which must be treated with care and respect. The limbic system can control and influence emotions like joy, happiness and excitement. But the darker side of the limbic system is that it also controls fear, anxiety, aggression and sadly this area of the brain can overtake the dogs thinking and decision making part of the brain which causes a dog to feel overwhelmed, stressed, bite or depressed.
For me personally I would much rather know that everytime dogs experience something good, their brain lights up and how beautiful that is. Rather than ever putting dogs in a position where their brain chemistry is altered through a negative or aversive experience.
So there we have it, science, in its beautiful simplicity with a magical piece of knowledge about the wonder that is dogs.
Image description:title in grey "Cookie pushers vs the limbic system" a comic strip with 4 windows with a grey background. The first window on the top left has two speech bubbles, one says "I was called a cookie pusher today!" on a dark pink and purple background on a spring.
The second speech bubble says "That's a good thing, I'll explain why!" on a green background with white clouds.
There is an image of a chocolate smartie cookie and a plain smartie cookie. Three pink stars surround the cookies.
The second window to the top right has the dogs brain with the larger outer of the dogs brain and an intersection of the smaller inner brain of the dog. With two arrows pointing out the cerebrum and caudate nucleus. There are two speech bubbles. The top right speech bubble reads: ”the caudate nucleus lights up with rewards and love!” and the bottom right speech bubble reads ”the cerebrum is the limbic system, responsible for over riding the cortical system during times of fear and stress! Who would want to do that to a dog? Not a cookie pusher!
The bottom left window has an explosion speech bubble in the middle of the top of the window which reads Thanks to dr.berns fmri study (2015)
The bottom left speech bubble reads ”the caudate nucleus is also responsible for learning with good old habituation!” To the right of the window there is a jar of treats filled with sprats, cheese, beef, crab sticks, bacon stripes, chicken and Jr pate coins. Above the treat jar is an orange explosion bubble which says "Wow" in blue and green gradient.
The right hand bottom window has a purple speech bubble with lightning coming from the bottom which reads: Just like us Dr.berns also used hotdogs (no cookies). There is a green and red speech bubble which reads: ”so remember each time you use positive reinforcement, you are literally lighting up your dog's brain!” to the right of the window is a grey and cream Wolfdog, with his tongue lolling and amber eyes. To the left of his head is an explosion bubble in yellow and green which reads "wow."
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