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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi all,
I'm looking for advice from anyone who's successfully tackled separation anxiety. We recently foster failed a ca 2yo male GSP. We have an 8yo female already. I'm in private dog training with him for all of his basic obedience already and the trainer has given me a lot of tips for SA but I don't feel like any of this is working. I've already read pretty much every article out there on it, so I am fully aware of how the training works in theory, but I am really struggling with the execution. So here are my specific questions/issues:

Background: he's very fixated on me. We've gotten to the point where my husband can successfully manage him while I run errands but it can be a bit hit or miss and some days he has meltdowns while I'm gone. He has never been fully alone more than 10-15 min. I had to go get food one time when my husband was out of town and I watched him on the camera. He cried and barked. So I don't actually know what happens beyond those 15 min, if he'll eventually just settle or if he'll escalate. I'm too scared to try for fear of traumatizing him more and worsening it. No Kong or treat works. We've tried CBD oil for a few days but I don't really see a difference.

- When I try to establish his base tolerance, it goes anywhere from 1 second to 30 seconds, and it bounces around all over the place, so we never get anywhere with the training because one day, he already whines when I as much as look at the door and the next day, he's cool with 30seconds out the door. I should note that he has a high anxiety personality and pretty much whines 10 hours a day, so it's hard to tell what's real SA and what is just him being his whiny self. I've probably done close to 100 walks out the door over the past 2 months and I'm not sure any desensitization is happening. I just tried again earlier and he was already on highest alert when I just approached the area of the door but was good with 15-30seconds of me gone 3 days ago. ??????

- How do you guys with 2 ppl in the house actually train this? I find it sheer impossible to find the right time of the day to train bc it needs to be my husband is walking the other dog, I have time to do it workwise and he isn't already in his high anxiety mode to begin with.

- Am I not seeing results because I actually have to go run errands a few days a week or take out the trash etc? Do I literally never have to leave the house again for weeks at a time? Is this what it will take? We already haven't been able to go anywhere for dinner in 4 months that isn't dog friendly and boarded him for nights where we were invited to parties etc.
 

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The crying and barking itself isn't that unusual, if that's all it is. It's pretty normal for dogs to fuss a bit when their owner leaves, especially if this is a new dog that isn't used to your routine or used to you leaving. Usually they settle. It might take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour, but they give up when the fussing doesn't bring their owner back. Is it stressful for the dog? Yes, it will be for a bit, but dogs, like all animals, can recover from stress and will be fine with the separation once they understand you're coming back, and their fussing won't expediate it.

Now, if your dog refuses to settle the entire time alone, becomes destructive (if not usually overly destructive), tries to escape, injures themselves in the process of trying to escape, drools, or urinates or defecates, that is likely separation anxiety and not the normal amount of fussing expected when you leave a dog alone. If I were in your position I would likely consult with a behaviorist or a trainer who has experience with separation anxiety to determine if this is truly separation anxiety or a situation where a bit of tough love is needed.

If it is determined that your dog suffers from separation anxiety, you should consider speaking with your vet about medication to take the edge off. You will likely still need to do separation training, but the medication should at least put the dog in a place where they can learn instead of immediately leaping over threshold. There's no way to tell if that will completely fix the problem. You may never be able to leave him alone for more than an hour or two, but you won't know until you try.

Having a dog with separation anxiety is a life adjustment, depending on how severe the affliction is. But yes, some people do have to always have someone home with the dog, or arrange to have the dog boarded or babysat if they need to leave. It is not for everybody and few people can do it.

Although I don't have a dog with true separation anxiety, when we first got him my dog would fuss and whine and bang on the bars of his crate for hours after we left for work. It ended after a week once he learned the routine. He would fuss when I left but my husband stayed home (I am the primary caretaker). He stopped the 4th or 5th time. When we moved to our new house he started in with the fussing when we left again, which ended after a week. He will still fuss if we stay at a new place and leave him. He's needy and doesn't much like change, but 90% of the time he's fine with being alone.

So, in a nutshell, I would first get help in determining which flavor of anxiety you're dealing with and work from there.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Thanks, Lillith. I'm stuck with this trainer for now since we paid a good chunk of $ for a whole basic training package that will last another 3 months or so. She has advised me not to try to leave him longer to not exacerbate it but work on desensitization instead. I've resisted the temptation of leaving him to test it out because of this. My last foster had true SA in my opinion. He hurt himself trying to get out of the crate.

This one doesn't do that or hasn't been given a chance yet. He just employs the most high-pitched bark (for a 50 lbs dog) and a guttural squeal and I saw him digging around on the crate pad.
Judging by his miraculous independence at the dog park, I am inclined to think it's BS and not true SA.

But either way, I don't want him to suffer while I'm gone, so I'm interested in hearing if people with high anxiety, ultra whiny dogs have successfully tackled the SA situation.
 

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I recommend looking up Malena DeMartini and signing up for her Mission Possible course. It's $99; I'm not affiliated with her in any way. But it's literally all she does as a professional trainer, she has I think over a decade of experience, and she's the leading expert on the topic in the States. Modifying separation anxiety is a long journey, but if you've seen no progress in 2 months then something is amiss.

There are typically three criteria that must be fulfilled to treat SA:
-The dog cannot experience distress from being alone during treatment
-(ususally) Medication to help with overall anxiety
-Desensitization - BUT, it's easy to do desensitization improperly and have it seem like it isn't working

If all three factors are not fulfilled correctly, you may see no progress.
(I'm a professional dog trainer who has worked on SA cases and helped clients see success. But I usually refer out because it is an extremely complex issue that requires months to modify, and in my area it is thankfully not as common as other behavior issues that I more regularly work on).
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 · (Edited)
Thanks, this is great info. I think one of my issues with this is that the trainer isn't around when I try to desensitize the dog. She can only see what we are able to tackle during our regular training sessions and that's often just not so representative of my regular day. This dog in particular has a way of being a different dog when the trainer or other people in general are around. E.g. he's always way more chill and doesn't turn up the crazy like he does on a regular Tuesday afternoon, for example. I will definitely look up Malena.
Edit: It's $199 and I'm perfectly willing to pay that. And I love the idea of doing it via zoom etc because I think that works better for a dog like him that needs to be observed without others around. I just didn't want to get started with another trainer that'll cost me $100-150 for every session.
 

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WOW the price change must be recent! I'll have to let my team know, since we recommend her program a lot (again, not affiliated, just a very effective package geared towards this one issue). And I agree with you, separation anxiety is one of those things best addressed virtually - dogs just behave differently when there's a trainer around.

Best of luck and kudos looking for help for your dog!
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
WOW the price change must be recent! I'll have to let my team know, since we recommend her program a lot (again, not affiliated, just a very effective package geared towards this one issue). And I agree with you, separation anxiety is one of those things best addressed virtually - dogs just behave differently when there's a trainer around.

Best of luck and kudos looking for help for your dog!
Update on this. I was a wrong about what the $199 training entails. The $199 is entirely self-guided. If you want any actual live support via zoom, you either have to do the Mission Possible Deluxe, which contains 2 live sessions for a total of $399, or you have to buy the full 5-week or so package for $850. [edit: the deluxe isn't on the website, but they tell you about it during the consult; note that there's also a wait list right now for these live sessions.]

I had the initial free consultation with a trainer on the phone yesterday and voiced my concerns about identifying the threshold but the conversation was encouraging. But after purchasing the $199 package, going through the materials and doing the initial assessment, I feel like it was a waste of money as I'm stuck at exactly where I was before. My dog already shows signs when I as much as move. I move, he moves, that's his thing. So before I even get to taking keys or walking to the door, he already shows signs like following me with his gaze and licking his lips. And I have no idea how to put together a training mission that doesn't involve me moving.
The trainer sent me a follow-up email and I expressed my concern to her. Will update once I hear back.
 

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It's at that point in time where I would seriously consider medication if the dog is so very quickly pushed over threshold. He can't possibly learn if a single movement triggers anxiety. I'm sure the trainer will tell you this, but even a step toward the door without him reacting will be progress.

Good luck.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
It's at that point in time where I would seriously consider medication if the dog is so very quickly pushed over threshold. He can't possibly learn if a single movement triggers anxiety. I'm sure the trainer will tell you this, but even a step toward the door without him reacting will be progress.

Good luck.
Plot Twist - I showed my assessment video to my regular trainer and she thinks he doesn't show actual signs of anxiety until it's clear I'm going to the door. This is likely because we never actually leave him. If I run errands, I usually put him in the yard and sneak out the front door while my husband entertains him there. So he likely associate keys, shoes etc. with walkies, not necessarily my departure. My regular trainer thinks he's still excited about the prospect of an adventure until he realizes that's not what's happening. But I guess, I'll never know until I spend another $200 extra on expert sessions with those CSATs. I'm honestly beyond frustrated.
 

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Sorry to hear that this experience is so frustrating for you. SA is a real challenge. I have never taken the Mission Possible program but have heard good things from others. I have heard that if you need more help, it is super pricey...

I would trust a CSAT assessing the video over a regular trainer. Honestly, the fact that your regular trainer hasn't suggested consulting with a vet about meds, and hasn't suggested a virtual session to address SA (in-person is not as effective for the reasons you stated), and that you haven't seen progress in 4 months, suggests to me that your trainer may not be qualified to work with SA. I am not saying they are a bad trainer! It just takes a very specialized trainer to work on this problem though. I'm a "regular trainer". I've helped clients see success with SA. I once worked with a dog with such severe SA that she would show stress signals when the owner was in her work clothes, let alone around predeparture cues like shoes and keys being put on. The dog had jumped through a window and had peed and bloodied herself trying to escape her crate when alone. So the poor owner would spend all day in loungewear and felt like a prisoner in her own home, with a steady rotation of friends who could watch her dog at odd hours. I helped to the point where the dog was totally fine as the owner put on her work clothes, went through all the predeparture cues, exited the home, and started her car. Zero stress signals and the dog didn't even care when she exited. Undeniable progress and YET, I did not cure that dog in the long run and there was a limit to what I could do. I still refer out because the long game is not my field of expertise.

Thinking about it more, I think I know someone who tried the Mission Possible, was also mildly frustrated and wanted more, and signed up with a CSAT. Granted, money is not an issue for this person. But I see her every now and then, and last I asked her dog was doing great. "Great" like... she said something like she could leave her dog for 2 hours? And they've been working on this for like 8 months (Disclaimers - She didn't start with Malena's pathway at the beginning, dog's separation issues are relatively minor, person has connections to watch the dog constantly so she still could have a life and working on the missions was not urgent, and take all my numbers with a grain of salt). But point being, for most families this is a 'months not days' process. And the important thing is the owner I'm referring to is happy. Even though her dog is not at a full work day of separation, whatever number of hours the dog can be alone is TRUE ability to be alone - no luring with food, no dancing around the departure routine, no stress. The dog just settles on various mats or furniture and sleeps. This is a dog who used to follow her owner to the door the moment the owner moved, and immediately start vocalizing and scratching when alone.

So a few things to think about... one thing is what others have stated, which is medication. None of us here are qualified to know what your dog needs. But if your dog is truly on a hair trigger, is generally anxious, and you aren't seeing any success... It sounds like it's time to try the thing that MOST dogs with SA need to succeed, which is medication.

The other thing is a hard but important question, which is whether or not you are equipped financially, emotionally, operationally, to deal with this. It takes a very special home to deal with SA. I know I couldn't do it even though I have training credentials and years of training experience. I'd take child-mauling aggression over SA any day. Not saying you aren't equipped or that it isn't worth it, and not suggesting that you give up. But just saying, this is a VERY long and invested process once you start and if you can start. Regardless, sorry that you are struggling with this with your dog. I know that this behavior issue can be emotionally crushing and anxiety inducing for even the most experienced dog owners out there.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Sorry to hear that this experience is so frustrating for you. SA is a real challenge. I have never taken the Mission Possible program but have heard good things from others. I have heard that if you need more help, it is super pricey...

I would trust a CSAT assessing the video over a regular trainer. Honestly, the fact that your regular trainer hasn't suggested consulting with a vet about meds, and hasn't suggested a virtual session to address SA (in-person is not as effective for the reasons you stated), and that you haven't seen progress in 4 months, suggests to me that your trainer may not be qualified to work with SA. I am not saying they are a bad trainer! It just takes a very specialized trainer to work on this problem though. I'm a "regular trainer". I've helped clients see success with SA. I once worked with a dog with such severe SA that she would show stress signals when the owner was in her work clothes, let alone around predeparture cues like shoes and keys being put on. The dog had jumped through a window and had peed and bloodied herself trying to escape her crate when alone. So the poor owner would spend all day in loungewear and felt like a prisoner in her own home, with a steady rotation of friends who could watch her dog at odd hours. I helped to the point where the dog was totally fine as the owner put on her work clothes, went through all the predeparture cues, exited the home, and started her car. Zero stress signals and the dog didn't even care when she exited. Undeniable progress and YET, I did not cure that dog in the long run and there was a limit to what I could do. I still refer out because the long game is not my field of expertise.

Thinking about it more, I think I know someone who tried the Mission Possible, was also mildly frustrated and wanted more, and signed up with a CSAT. Granted, money is not an issue for this person. But I see her every now and then, and last I asked her dog was doing great. "Great" like... she said something like she could leave her dog for 2 hours? And they've been working on this for like 8 months (Disclaimers - She didn't start with Malena's pathway at the beginning, dog's separation issues are relatively minor, person has connections to watch the dog constantly so she still could have a life and working on the missions was not urgent, and take all my numbers with a grain of salt). But point being, for most families this is a 'months not days' process. And the important thing is the owner I'm referring to is happy. Even though her dog is not at a full work day of separation, whatever number of hours the dog can be alone is TRUE ability to be alone - no luring with food, no dancing around the departure routine, no stress. The dog just settles on various mats or furniture and sleeps. This is a dog who used to follow her owner to the door the moment the owner moved, and immediately start vocalizing and scratching when alone.

So a few things to think about... one thing is what others have stated, which is medication. None of us here are qualified to know what your dog needs. But if your dog is truly on a hair trigger, is generally anxious, and you aren't seeing any success... It sounds like it's time to try the thing that MOST dogs with SA need to succeed, which is medication.

The other thing is a hard but important question, which is whether or not you are equipped financially, emotionally, operationally, to deal with this. It takes a very special home to deal with SA. I know I couldn't do it even though I have training credentials and years of training experience. I'd take child-mauling aggression over SA any day. Not saying you aren't equipped or that it isn't worth it, and not suggesting that you give up. But just saying, this is a VERY long and invested process once you start and if you can start. Regardless, sorry that you are struggling with this with your dog. I know that this behavior issue can be emotionally crushing and anxiety inducing for even the most experienced dog owners out there.
Thanks, Canyx. To be clear, I haven't fully worked on SA for 4 months. We fostered him for the first 8 weeks and the main priority was basic obedience, his nipping, jumping etc. to get him adopted. I started a bit of SA training and reading up on it probably about a month into that. I did a 2-week dedicated spreadsheet-based sting similar to this Mission Possible plan back in May but stopped when I felt that despite making it to over a minute, he was still wheezy/whiny even though he didn't escalate. And the lack of guidance then led to different attempts, new approaches etc. but nothing seemed to really work.

We didn't hire our trainer to help with SA. She gave us free private training on obedience while we were fostering and once we adopted him (after 2 months), we signed up for a basic obedience boot camp with her that lasts anywhere from 3-6 months. She's been trying to help us with SA but it's definitely not something she's very familiar with. I also don't discuss it with her that much that would've given her prompt to suggest medication, to be honest.

I've been mostly just trying to do this myself but in a spotty manner and clueless as to whether or not I'm doing it right and it's obvious that it's not working.

I wrote out the first mission last night and tried to do it today and already had to abort the whole thing after 6 out of 10 rounds because he was just whiny in the crate from the beginning. I've had days before where I got him to over a minute or so, but today he was whiny/wheezy in the crate already when I was still in the room and it was just downhill from the get go.

This is kind of what I mean when I say, he's extremely hard to assess and there seems to be no rhyme or reason to his behavior sometimes.

I think a huge challenge is that I have to do the training when my husband and other dog go for a walk. But that may not be the best time for the dog, like today. But I also can't dictate when my husband should leave the house because he also has work calls and we live in Atlanta, where the temps get freaking HOT quickly during the day and then you can't take your dog out. To find a time in the day where he can leave, it's not raining or too hot and I have time between my own work calls and the dog isn't already in a non-starter state of mind, is actually really hard.
 

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Yeah, it sounds like your setup is tricky to work with! Thanks for the clarification about your situation. I'm glad that your trainer has been helping you so readily. I just think it can get confusing if they are not very involved with the SA part of things but then provided an assessment of the footage. As you put it, it created a "plot twist" and can add more confusion to an already complicated situation. I really am not trying to rail on your trainer and is sounds like she has helped a lot in many ways! But this is a sensitive situation and the wrong advice can absolutely make things worse.

It really does sound like you need professional help, and although a CSAT is expensive it is the most reputable place to start. That, or another credentialed trainer that specializes in separation anxiety. For starters, crating a dog is almost never part of the treatment for 'true' SA. As you put it, your dog was "whiny in the crate from the beginning", so you are attempting a (supposed to be) mildly stressful protocol on top of an already stressed out dog. There is no chance of success with that configuration. Your last paragraph illustrates this really well. I hope you can find the professional help and perhaps the medical route that your dog needs!
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Yeah, it sounds like your setup is tricky to work with! Thanks for the clarification about your situation. I'm glad that your trainer has been helping you so readily. I just think it can get confusing if they are not very involved with the SA part of things but then provided an assessment of the footage. As you put it, it created a "plot twist" and can add more confusion to an already complicated situation. I really am not trying to rail on your trainer and is sounds like she has helped a lot in many ways! But this is a sensitive situation and the wrong advice can absolutely make things worse.

It really does sound like you need professional help, and although a CSAT is expensive it is the most reputable place to start. That, or another credentialed trainer that specializes in separation anxiety. For starters, crating a dog is almost never part of the treatment for 'true' SA. As you put it, your dog was "whiny in the crate from the beginning", so you are attempting a (supposed to be) mildly stressful protocol on top of an already stressed out dog. There is no chance of success with that configuration. Your last paragraph illustrates this really well. I hope you can find the professional help and perhaps the medical route that your dog needs!
I've thought a lot about the crate but it is essential to the structure we're trying to provide him. He's quite honestly a tornado in the house and a hot hot mess. Any minute that he isn't sleeping, outside or I'm working with him, he's trying to get into stuff. No amount of exercise, mental training or whatever is changing that right now. So this guy would 100% wreck my house if we addressed his SA outside of the crate. When he has nothing to do, he finds sh*t to stir up, that's what he does all day long.
 
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