The Benefits of Working with a Trainer for Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety is one of the most daunting canine behaviors issues a dog guardian can face. In a general sense, a dog with separation anxiety experiences distress when left alone that can manifest as a variety of behaviors like barking, destruction, and house soiling. Often times, these dogs can begin to panic at the first sign that they may be left alone.
Not only are these dogs experiencing severe levels of stress, but they can cause a tremendous level of stress for their owners as well. Their owners may have no idea how to help their panicking pup – turning to the internet, friends, and other sources desperate to find information about how to remedy this issue. The amount of information available can be quite overwhelming. Suggestions vary, and often it’s difficult to know what’s best for your pup.
I wrote previously about the months I spent with trial and error with my own separation anxiety dog, Briar. Even after we learned about systematic desensitization, a method we knew worked well, I was still overwhelmed! Learning about all of the pre-departure cues, trying to determine whatever the heck Briar’s ‘threshold’ was, and attempting to create my own training didn’t go as smoothly as anticipated. Thankfully, we found guidance.
Several months into our training journey, we looked into hiring our first certified separation anxiety trainer (CSAT). Almost immediately, I felt a sense of relief as we participated in our first assessment together and the trainer was able to answer my questions with ease as we walked through our first training session.
Working with a trainer instead of working alone has numerous benefits – but one of the first benefits I had noticed was how comforting it felt to have immediate access to an expert on separation anxiety and its treatment. Knowing that my trainer had education, credentials and qualifications in their field only helped to bolster my confidence and build a sense of trust. Any questions I had could be answered with certainty and any concerns I had could be addressed as well.
Over the course of the next month, my trainer directed Briar and I through training sessions and guided our efforts using strategies they had studied and helped dozens of clients with.
Staying on Track
One thing I personally struggled with was my time management. Making time for training, remembering what days to take off, and sloppily trying to track my data became cumbersome. Our CSAT took the guesswork out of the process.
In addition to meeting virtually every week for assessments, they provided pre-written training sessions for us to follow with a streamlined template that included directions and fillable notes. Tracking data became much easier. Although I knew success was far from being linear, it was difficult not to become discouraged when Briar had a difficult day. The CSAT helped track our data and made upwards trends visible even if our progress felt slow.
Not only was this kind of assistance incredibly helpful and encouraging, but it helped me with another struggle – accountability. Treating separation anxiety takes a tremendous amount of dedication on behalf of the dogs’ owner. Dedication to helping their dog, first and foremost, but also commitment to the process via consistency with training, absence suspension, etc. Prior to working with a trainer, I had completed a self-paced course and joined some ‘do-it-yourself’ groups with the intention of saving time and money. Unfortunately, I found myself falling off track seemingly every other week – lacking the accountability to maintain the consistency Briar needed. The intensive nature of a separation anxiety protocol served as the push I needed to ensure that we were doing training on a consistent basis… and the saying “consistency is key” could not be more true about separation anxiety training! It was when we started working with a CSAT that we first began to see improvement.
Yet another challenge owners of dogs with separation anxiety may face is a feeling of isolation. It can feel as though no one understands their challenge, why they care so much, and what their efforts really entail. A lack of support only makes the process more challenging. When I started working with a CSAT it was as if “finally, someone understands my struggle”!
Having a supportive figure that has experience with separation anxiety is a feeling like no other. A CSAT is someone who will celebrate your small wins with you, encourage you on down days, and work with you in a supportive manner – having experience with this process with dozens of clients, and possibly their own dog! Whether it’s verbal encouragement, or a small celebratory note in a data sheet, it has always felt very meaningful to me, and I couldn’t be more appreciative to have a trainer on my ‘team’ as we work towards our alone time goals.
Go For It!
Starting to work with a CSAT has been one of the best decisions I’ve made. Briar and I have a long way to go, but rarely am I discouraged with the help of our trainer. I highly recommend working with a CSAT to anyone I know who is struggling with a dog with separation anxiety and will continue to do so for all the reasons mentioned above and more!
So, if you have a dog showing signs of separation anxiety and have thought about working with a trainer, this just might be your sign to go for it!
Remember, you are NOT alone in this process when you are working with a CSAT!
There are SO many "cookie" cutter and algorithm based "methods" of creating long lasting behavior change, but they lack the individual nature of training that your dog needs. If you have been training solo, on a self-paced journey, or have just been "winging it" I encourage you to at least set up a call to ensure you are on the right path! Time and time again I am seeing well-intentioned families accidentally sensitizing their pups to the training process based on these cookie cutter approaches.
Do your sanity and pup a favor, and get a second opinion!