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Separation anxiety: 7 reasons why you need to have strong support

By Julie Naismith

Have you been out for a coffee recently? Did you spend the time chatting about your dog’s separation anxiety? I’m guessing not. Or if it did come up, your friends probably didn’t want to go into it in any detail.

At the risk of sounding dramatic, it’s a socially isolating condition. Having a dog with separation anxiety sets you apart. No one else is going to get it. No one understands what it’s like to own a separation anxiety dog until they have one themselves.

I recently met with a group of owners whose dogs had recovered from separation anxiety. We discussed what they valued about the trainers they had worked with. Resoundingly, they said the most important thing the trainer gave them was the resolve to keep going and the resilience to overcome the challenges.

There was a magical moment at the end of the session when they said this had been the first time they had talked to people who understood what they were going through. The room filled with warmth and good vibes.

What this group said rang true for me since one of the things I found hardest was not knowing anyone else with a separation anxiety dog. Or, at least not knowing anyone who was going through the process of treating their dog, and the accompanying topsy-turvy life changes that can go with that.

As I’ve written about in previous posts, when you commit to treating separation anxiety, you also commit to changing your life in significant and unexpected ways. You’ll probably question what you’re doing at times. And you’ll often be dealing with raised eyebrows from friends.

So, instead of going it alone, I’d strongly recommend you connect with other owners facing the same challenges. In this highly networked world, there are many ways to reach out to people who are experiencing what you’re going through.

Here’s why teaming up will help you.

1. Separation anxiety training is simple, but it isn’t easy

When done properly, separation anxiety training is successful in up to 80% of dogs. But there are going to be times when you think you will never get there. Chatting to other owners who are working on the process – especially when you’re stuck – will remind you there are highs too, not just lows. If you have an active group around you, there’s a strong chance one of them will be up when you’re down. And you, in turn, can support them through their dips.

2. “Teaching is the best way to learn”

Even though it’s a straightforward process, there are many moving parts to the training method. One area in particular where you might benefit from input is reading your dog’s body language. Another pair of eyes on your dog may help you see something you’re missing. And, you can reciprocate. You’ll likely get better at reading your dog by helping others assess their dogs.

3. Sharing stories lightens the load

While separation anxiety is undoubtedly a serious topic, it does have its lighter side. If you think about it, we owners do some odd things:

  • Missions where you go in and out of the front door 15 times – even without a coat in the winter because you’re not on the “put your coat on” training step yet. (As an aside, our training plans are highly practical, so we won’t put you through that!)
  • Standing in the street and listening out for your dog, while whispering to your neighbour that everything is ok, but you can’t chat right now because you’re trying to hear what your dog is doing.
  • Sitting in a coffee shop and Skyping your home laptop so you can spy on your dog. (Who Skypes themselves, people?)
  • Getting so excited about seeing your dog sleeping that you share screen grabs with your friends. “Look, I just went out, and he slept the whole way through. ERMAHGERD!” If your friends are anything like most people’s, they politely indulge you while at the same time thinking “Uh, it’s just a sleeping dog. Get over it!”

While we’re in the midst of separation anxiety, all of this is routine stuff. But no one else you know will get it. If you’ve done any of the above, you need to connect with other separation anxiety owners because they will understand.

4. Goal setting

Having goals and getting others to hold you to those goals helps enormously.

The “how long will it take question” is the one everyone asks. What I love about connecting owners is this issue becomes less important than “how’s my dog progressing.”

It’s not that it isn’t important to know how long it might take for the challenging stuff to end -of course, it is. It’s just that I see owners go through a refreshing change where they start to become motivated by progress and not by the “is this over yet” syndrome.

Through having a support network, you can embrace the notion that celebrating the small successes along the way motivates you to get to your end goal. It’s the same with any behaviour change, like going to the gym, losing weight, or learning a new language. Some excellent platforms can help with goal setting, being a good example.

5. Communities are pivotal to good habits

Separation anxiety training is best done little and often. This means you have to get into the habit. Much has been written about how habits form, but community and accountability are big factors. That is, we’re more likely to do something if people around us do the same thing. And we’re more likely to stick with a new behaviour if others we know keep us accountable.

Join a group of people going through the same training process. Share your plan and get them to keep you on track when you’re struggling. Even if your community isn’t a particular separation anxiety one, find buddies to help you stick to your training schedule.

And for more on how peer accountability supports healthy habits, here’s an excellent article on how Twitter helped smokers kick the habit.

6. Getting help with the basics

Even if your separation anxiety group is an online community, they can still assist with practical, local matters. Take managing absences. There are going to be times when you are in a bind. Perhaps something unexpected came up, or maybe a sitter canceled. See if your online community can help.

The internet shrinks the concept of six degrees of separation. Even if you’re in Tampa and they’re in Toronto, they may know someone who knows someone. Or they may have some brilliantly creative idea you’ve never thought of. Or, who knows, maybe someone in your online group may be close enough to jump in and help out.

7. Simply knowing you’re not the only one

It can feel like you’re the only person with a dog who has separation anxiety, but when you join a group, you’ll be astonished by how many other people are going through the same thing.

If you’re inspired to join a group of like-minded folk, I’ve just launched a brand new Facebook Group. It’s a space for support and conversation about separation anxiety dogs. I’d like to invite everyone who’s interested to join our community.

Do try to connect. You’ll be glad you did. Already have a group? Tell us about it in the comments!

About the Author

Julie Naismith is CEO and Founder of SubThreshold™ and a self-confessed separation anxiety geek. When her dog, Percy, developed separation anxiety she became a woman on a mission – determined to cut through the swathes of incorrect advice to find how to fix it. Having successfully resolved his separation anxiety, with little support and lots of judgment, she founded SubThreshold Training™ with the vision of pioneering treatment for separation anxiety.

Prior to SubThreshold, she apprenticed with one of the world’s leading force-free, evidence-based trainers, Jean Donaldson. She graduated with honors from Donaldson’s Academy for Dog Trainers (CTC) and is a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer (CSAT) having studied with leading expert Malena DeMartini’s separation anxiety program. Naismith works solely with separation anxiety cases, making her a true specialist in the field. She is also a member of PPG’s Shelter and Rescue Division.

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