Features September 2012 Issue

Helping Your Dog with His Separation Anxiety Issues

This is the sort of desensitizing exercise recommended for a dog with separation anxiety. The goal is to actually do the exercise so many times, in such small increments, and without ever allowing the dog to go “past threshold” (become anxious at all), that the dog becomes bored stiff with your behavior.

For the first couple of months, Sam spent weekend mornings at a dog daycare and boarding facility, while Sandi taught her classes.

I had to desensitize Sam’s “She’s leaving me!” triggers. For Sam, this was walking toward or reaching for the door; being a former street dog, he hadn’t yet learned that an owner who was picking up keys or putting on a coat equaled leaving. I included these things anyway. During these exercises I was in “robot mode”– showing no emotion at all and ignoring Sam. I was keeping a very close eye on him though – making sure he showed absolutely no sign of anxiety. My goal during these exercises was for him to become so bored with my comings and goings that he stopped paying attention to them at all. Here is the sort of thing that I would do:

Calmly and while ignoring Sam, pick up keys, sit back down. Repeat every few minutes (keeping time variable).
Pick up keys, stand up, take a few steps toward door. Put keys down, sit down. Repeat. Adding more steps toward the door until I could touch it.

-Keys, touch doorknob, sit down.

-Keys, touch doorknob, turn doorknob, sit down.

-Keys, turn doorknob, open door a smidgen, shut door, sit down.

-Keys, turn doorknob, open door a few inches, shut door, sit down.

-Keys, turn doorknob, open door a foot, shut door, sit down.

-Keys, turn doorknob, open door wide, shut door, sit down.

-Keys, turn doorknob, open door wide for two seconds, shut door, sit down.

-Keys, turn doorknob, open door wide for four seconds, shut door, sit down.

-Keys, turn doorknob, open door wide for eight seconds, shut door, sit down.

-Keys, turn doorknob, open door wide for five seconds, step out with one foot, step back in and shut door, sit down.

-Keys, turn doorknob, open door wide for five seconds, step out with both feet, step back in and shut door, sit down.

-Keys, turn doorknob, open door wide for 10 seconds, step out with both feet, step back in and shut door, sit down.

-And so on and so on. Or rather, until Sam falls asleep or goes about his other business, completely bored with my antics and unconcerned with my whereabouts.

Comments (3)

hi, i am curious as to what breed Sam is :)

Posted by: 04sue06 | April 19, 2013 11:10 AM    Report this comment

This is great! We recently adopted Mancha, a 3-4 yr old Toy Fox Terrier/Jack Russell mix. Having gone thru a foster home he was already used to being crated & having the humans leave for a few hours a day. Once we got him home we went thru the crating process, never leaving him for more than 4 hours. But Mancha would come undone as soon as he saw us go out the door. Before leaving we ignored him & went about our leaving like it was no big deal. He has improved greatly but still gets a bit anxious. The desensitizing exercise will help him even more. Thank you so much.

Posted by: s.ched | November 16, 2012 10:43 PM    Report this comment

This is great advice. We, as animal communicators also actually talk to the dog and help them, by asking them questions and get answers from their perspective about what frieghtens. We also find out what their needs are to help get them over these types of issues. You'll see from our testimonails on our site, we make a lot progress with this approach. Both pet and pet parent are respected :)
Thom w/ Animal Healings

Posted by: AnimalHealings | October 9, 2012 11:17 AM    Report this comment

New to Whole Dog Journal? Register for Free!

Already Registered?
Log In