As previously mentioned, continuing to learn about dogs (health and behaviour) is really important to us. Both Katie and I are indeed dog nerds, but the information we accumulate is valuable, and we love to share it with you. Here's part one of Katie's entry regarding the recent Nicole Wilde seminar on separation anxiety hosted by Speaking of Dogs Rescue. Nicole Wilde was recently in Toronto for a two day seminar and I attended Day 2 with two topics: Separation Anxiety and Dog-Dog Play. Having had multiple dogs with separation anxiety myself, I was interested to hear if there were any new items to walk away with from a personal standpoint, as well as a professional one.
First off, it was a reminder of how isolating and difficult life with an SA dog can be. Standard protocol for working through SA is that the dog is never left alone longer than it can handle. That can mean a minimum of a month of arranging daycares, doggie babysitters, no nights out, etc... while working through a dog's state of stress/panic that they experience every time they are alone or leading up to the event of being left, and the destruction that can be an expression of those emotions. It's no wonder, when asked by Nicole, a majority of the trainers present agreed they'd prefer working with an aggressive dog over a separation anxiety dog; it's an emotionally charged situation with slow progress and some owners may not have the tools at their disposal to accomplish each step.
That said it is imperative to work with a professional in these situations and you must have a proper diagnosis – is your dog stressed whenever it's the only one in the house or when it's away from a certain person? Will your dog settle with other family members or friends?
The best way to get these answers is to know exactly what your dog is doing when left alone by recording them with a webcam or digital camera. Nicole busted some long held myths such as “true separation anxiety dogs don't eat when left alone” by showing video of a client's dog bouncing between a food toy and howling at the door.
Nicole's favourite tool for ongoing monitoring is Skype: set up a dummy account that you connect to your smart phone and using that fake account to call in to your computer at home and watch your dog. (You can set your skype to auto-accept calls, or, if you're popular on Skype, make another account that's just for this purpose). The most common separation anxiety symptoms are destruction (there were many photos of shredded doors), vocalization, and house soiling. Nicole really drove home the importance of nutrition alongside management, confidence building, and calm/mentally stimulating exercise (ie: a hike with lots of sniffing, not a 10k run).
If you're an owner working through this, remember to make a list of your resources – people you can leave your dog with, places you can take your dog along with you, friends with dogs that you can have over for play dates, etc.
There was more information than I can sum up in a short blog post, but the last point I want to mention was the question of when a dog should be medicated. If the dog is in danger of harming itself, is experiencing severe emotional distress or is in danger of losing its home over the issue, it may be time to discuss medication with an experienced trainer and Veterinarian working together.
For your own metal well being, it may help to join an online discussion forum dedicated to SA. Sometimes it helps to have a support network of people who know exactly what you're going though.
In part two Katie will discuss Dog-Dog Play.