How to really fix Seperation Anxiety

I am writing this to officially commit myself to a full separation anxiety program with Vito. I have decided that just working on it now and then and has helped, but each time I have to leave him alone for real it undoes most of the work I have put in. While I was extremely excited about his behavior when I first left him alone in the kitchen, it has since gotten worse as he is now whining, pacing, and not eating his bones anymore. So here is my pledge for the next 4-8wks to do the full SA program.

For those of you who are interested I will describe a little bit of it.

1. Keeping my departures and arrivals unemotional. I already do this so it shouldn't be a problem.

2. A counterconditioning program. This is most of the work. Luckily since Vito isn't a horrible case, I can skip a couple steps in this and don't have to get him used to my pre-departure cues. Most dogs feel anxious as your getting ready to go, like when you pick up your keys, put on your shoes, etc. Since Vito comes with me most places he doesn't know when I'm leaving him until I actually close the door behind me. So this will save me at least 1wk of work as I can skip to actually leaving the house right away.

However, most of this work with Vito will involve me putting down a bone (that he probably won't eat in the beginning), opening the door, closing the door, and picking back up the bone. Then gradually extending it till I am actually leaving for longer periods of time before coming back in and picking up the bone. The first 10mn will be the hardest to conquer, since I don't really want to raise criteria until he he is calm enough to actually eat something when I'm gone. I want Vito to think "Drat! She's come back! I want my bone!"

3. Never Leaving him alone. This is why most people think they can't do this program. If you do all the counterconditioning work with your dog and then leave him alone why you go to work, your dog feels anxious again and you are back to square one. Luckily with my jobs I only have to leave Vito alone x2/wk when Lance has his classes. But now I have made a commitment that Vito will not be left alone to feel anxious during those times so Vito will be dropped off at daycare. For other people out there, options are dropping your dog off at a neighbor's house who works from home, hiring a dog sitter, or doggy daycare. IF you have absolutely can't do that, you could set your dog in 2 seperate areas of the house. One room you would use when you are working with him and where he will never feel anxious, room 2 is where he would go when you have to leave for real and he will get anxious. Just be careful that you put your dog in the 2nd room before you go through those predeparture cues or you will undue all your work.

4. Getting your dog un-velcroed. This is mainly what I've been doing with Vito so far. Teaching Vito that he only gets bones when he is in his crate, away from me. Doing crate games where he has strong drive to run to his crate and stay in there with the door open. Not letting him snuggle with me for long periods of time. Letting him "chill" in a room where he can see me but is baby gated away from me. Working on stays, especially doing out of sight stays. And just basic impulse control where he can learn to be patient and deal with frustration.

Most dogs can be completely "cured" of SA in 6-8 wks. So while it really involves a ton of work, seriously it will be so annoying to have to keep leaving and entering the house, it has an extremely high success rate. I am hoping that if I keep at it, Vito will be better in a lot less time because of his age, non destructive behavior, and lack of predepature cues I have to desensitize. But either way, I am announcing my commitment to once and for all get rid of the SA beast!

Update:  I spent 13wks devoted to fixing his SA and you can read any and all posts relating to his progress under the label "SA". We built up to about 3hrs of absences and seemed to hit a wall but with our lifestyle, 3hrs was liveable.

Update 2/2012:  Vito's anxieties increased dramatically when he hit 2yrs of age.  Due to the likely strong influence of genetics, we decided to put Vito on medication.  He is currently on Fluoxetine.

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Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.- Roger Caras

Email: lkwaudby (at) gmail.com

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