“You will NOT just believe what happened today!” I excitedly told my friends over the phone.
“What?” they inquired, curious to hear the good news.
“I… left my dog alone! For THREE WHOLE MINUTES!” My excitement over the wonderful news was suddenly met with silence as confusion took over the line.
A Small Club
There’s a reason I don’t often talk to people about my dog’s separation anxiety. Often not even people I’m close to. The people who understand why “three whole minutes” is so exciting are few and far between. These people are most likely in or have been in the same boat as me. We have dogs with separation anxiety. Dogs who panic when we move out of sight, howl when we’re gone for so much as a minute and begin to tremble when we put on our shoes in the morning.
Some of us were fortunate enough to find and begin training our dogs using systematic desensitization, often with a trainer. We leave our dogs for extremely brief periods of time, in a manner that will NOT cause them to panic under any circumstances. A concept we call ‘keeping the dog under threshold’. Through slow and steady training, the dog’s tolerance for being left alone increases. During this training period, the dog is to be kept under threshold as much as possible, which means that many of us do not leave our dogs alone. Ever.
While there are multiple ways to manage this feat, it can be exhausting to miss out on social events, pay for a sitter each day, and meticulously schedule outings so that the dog will never be left alone to panic. Those of us who own wonderful, yet painfully co-dependent separation anxiety dogs are all too aware of this. We are dedicated to helping our dogs and make sacrifices in the name of improving their quality of life… but often come to realize that many people are very confused by our efforts.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably come up with excuses on behalf of your separation anxiety dog. If a person asks me to explain why I can’t go somewhere, “I can’t leave my dog alone” is not my go-to response, despite the usual truth of the statement. This is because I am quite sure what the reaction to my response will be. To anyone not aware of the training I am doing, and my efforts to keep my dog under threshold, a statement like this sounds… peculiar to say the least.
A brief explanation that my dog has separation anxiety is likely to elicit responses such as “what?”, “just leave the dog” or “put the dog in a crate”. Some people may brush off the explanation entirely – others may go as far as to tell me to “give up the dog”.
Even after an attempt to explain ‘thresholds’ and the detrimental impact that leaving my dog to panic can have on his training, many people seem unable to grasp the situation and continue to make suggestions and retorts that can feel unsympathetic at times.
Telling people “I’m busy” or “I’m not available” tends to do the trick – though I’d be lying if I said I’ve never thought to myself; “If only they knew that I’m actually just hanging out with my dog”!
Friends and family are often more understanding, listen to explanations, and can sympathize with how much we are willing to do for our dogs and why we do it. After all, it would be relatively safe to assume that most of us did not sign up for a separation anxiety dog willingly!
Unfortunately, there are exceptions to every rule – some of us may have that one family member who just chooses not to listen and insists on letting the dog ‘cry it out’ after having systematic desensitization explained to them… for the fifth time. Others may have those friends who insist that you to join them for lunch every week… despite knowing exactly what you’ll say about needing to stay home with your dog.
The struggle can be exasperated by people who take your decision to suspend absences the wrong way. People may feel as though you are trying to avoid them, or simply shutting yourself in on your own accord. While these things typically could not be farther from the truth, the emotional turmoil that results from these situations only adds to the stress of owning a dog with separation anxiety.
A Party for One
Imagine yourself putting on your shoes, then gazing over to see your dog comfy and resting nearby. You walk out the door nonchalantly and drive away. Checking a camera, you see your dog continue to rest. Five entire minutes pass and your dog is curled up without a care in the world.
For many owners of dogs with separation anxiety, this a moment worth dreaming about. A moment worth screaming about! Not to mention a moment that was likely the result of weeks, months of tedious training. As much as I believe a moment like this should require a literal party, I know that enthusiastically bragging about leaving the house for five minutes would cause the ‘average’ person to briefly question my sanity!
The training we do to help our dogs with separation anxiety can be very difficult, but milestones are often strewn throughout the process. First time picking up your car keys without your dog running over in a panic? Incredible! First time walking out the door while your dog stays relaxed on the couch? Amazing! First time leaving your dog for a minute without incessant barking and howling as the door closes behind you? Literally crying happy tears!
Seeing your dog grow more comfortable with something that is so scary to them is an incredible feeling – one that gives us joy, relief, and hope for the future. It can be isolating to feel unable to celebrate as openly, or to feel as though no one understands why you’re celebrating in the first place.
Having a reliable support system is one of the most important ingredients to success with anything, especially separation anxiety training! The effort required to commit to frequent training sessions and suspend absences for weeks or months is a lot for any dog owner.
While most of us have likely encountered people who couldn’t quite sympathize with us, we are also likely to have a few people who are understanding, encouraging, and cherish them for their support. Whether these people are family, friends, or a trainer, having someone rooting for you is an empowering feeling and often a driving motivator to keep pushing forward.
If you’re struggling with your dog’s separation anxiety, finding a trainer that will assist you with systematic desensitization like a CSAT (certified separation anxiety trainer) and a community of other dog owners struggling with their dogs can help alleviate feelings of isolation and provide motivation and inspiration to persevere with your own dog.
My heart goes out to anyone who is facing this struggle! It’s not easy, and us separation anxiety dog owners are definitely part of a small and exclusive club. Meaning it’s all the more important to never be afraid to reach out and find support! Just know thatdespite how it may feel at times, you are absolutely NOT alone, and you CAN get through this!
Thanks for reading, Briar and I are rooting for you!
Do you feel like a prisoner in your own home with no friends and family that understand?
>>>>>>>>> YOU ARE NOT ALONE! <<<<<<<<<<
This is exactly why I created my self-paced online program Home Alone: Four Phases to Comfort which includes unlimited access to Home Alone: The Support Group.
In the Support Group you will be able to follow the stories of fellow students that are navigating the alone time protocol, have a place to share your many wins and milestones, a place to seek support from peers, and a place to ASK AS MANY QUESTIONS AS YOU NEED!
Are you interested in signing up for this innovative approach to creating long lasting alone time comfort? Click the link below to sign up today!