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How We Overcame Separation Anxiety

Prince with head under a chair
Out of sight

Separation anxiety is a nightmare for any pet parent, and it can take many forms. Whether your little loved one is terrorising you by destroying your shit or wailing like a banshee every time you close the front door, you can end up feeling like you're being held hostage and, eventually, you too begin to feel a dreaded stab of anxiety whenever you need to leave the house.

For me, overcoming the boys' separation anxiety was the biggest hurdle in the journey of learning how to be a good pet parent. Each of them had their own individual problems - with Prince, it was a case of fucking my shit up in retaliation to him having being left alone (trust me, if you knew him, you would agree with this suspected motive) and since my ex and I broke up, Yoto would wail as though he had been stabbed from the moment that I closed the door.

Essentially, when training around separation anxiety, you have to slowly build up the amount of time your dog is able to be left alone, making sure to avoid leaving them for longer than they are comfortable with at any given time.

For an unexperienced pet owner, the prospect of overcoming separation anxiety via the long process of baby steps can seem like an insurmountable task. Indeed, if you research online about the topic of separation anxiety, many posts will tell you that it can take many months of patient training, with regular sessions with a dog trainer.

Don't Go It Alone

While the cost of soliciting expert advice on how to successfully train your dog around their separation anxiety can seem quite daunting, going it alone could lead you to make mistakes that exacerbate the problem.

Initially, I attempted to go it alone. Yoto had a vibration collar, which my ex purchased in the time following our breakup. His separation anxiety had previously been successfully dealt with using an electric shock collar when he was a puppy (I say successfully, as in the time prior to the breakup he had long since reached the point of being at ease while home alone for up to 12 hours).

The vibration collar was a successful reminder of the shock collar and worked for about 6 months. However, while the vibration had initially prompted him to keep quiet, he eventually either realised that there would be no pain at the end, or else his separation anxiety was so bad that he simply couldn't hold it in anymore.

In the end, attempting to deal with the separation anxiety without expert help simply meant that it took much longer to successfully deal with the problem.

We Were Lucky

The thing that had initially held me back from seeking professional advice was the cost - I wasn't working at the time, and the rates of many dog trainers in Berlin are rather high (€80 per hour on average, for call outs).

As luck would have it, when I eventually adopted Yoto, a friend who was helping happened to mention the problem to a friend of hers, who ended up putting us in touch with a dog trainer she knew who offers her services more or less for free.

Our dog trainer, Elisa, was, despite not taking compensation for her time, very good at her job, and she solved our separation anxiety challenge in just three, very thorough and rather long, sessions.

Get A Nanny Cam

One of the first things that Elisa recommended was that I get a nanny cam so that I could monitor what was going on when the boys were home alone, and so that I could record footage and send it to her so that she could advise accordingly.

With the help of the nanny cam, training progressed rather quickly. Initially, they would howl from when the door was closed. By the end of the first day of repeated sessions, I could close the door for about half an hour. Within a few weeks, We reached about 2 hours.

When I was out for long periods, I would still leave them with friends, as I didn't want to leave them for longer than they were comfortable with, and risk losing our progress. I believe that leaving them with friends helped to teach Yoto that he would be okay if he wasn't with me 100% of the time, and that over time this benefited our training.

Top Tips For Separation Anxiety Training

With the help of Elisa, we cracked the separation anxiety problem within just a couple of months of sporadic training sessions. Top tips from what I've learned are as follows:

  • Monitor your dogs while you are out, so you can see what they're doing

  • Barking is okay if it only lasts a minute, and they settle down afterwards

  • Don't shut your dogs in one room or in a crate, as it can make them feel trapped and exacerbate the problem

  • Build up time alone in progressive sessions. Doing multiple sessions per day can hasten the process

  • Supplements can also help

What Supplements Can Help With Anxiety?

While pharmaceuticals such as clomipramine are reported to assist in training around separation anxiety, they are expensive and I wouldn't recommend drugging your dog when there are supplements that can be just as good, with added health benefits. These include:



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