I love Nicole Wilde. She is such a lovely woman and a true powerhouse in our collective quest to promote positive training at the expense of dominance and fear-based methods. I first met her several years ago when she stopped by our house in Atlanta for some dinner while she was in town for one of her popular dog training seminars, and we instantly hit it off.
I recently caught up with Nicole to discuss her latest book, ‘Don’t Leave Me!’ – a fantastic resource for those who have dogs struggling with separation anxiety. I love this book, and recommend you buy it today if you don’t already have it!
Victoria Stilwell: What made you decide to write “Don’t Leave Me!”?
Nicole Wilde: Well, actually, I wasn’t intending to write a book about separation anxiety! But a year after our dogs had crossed over, I found myself searching the shelters for a new family member. I eventually found a wonderful female husky-keeshond mix. When I went to sign the adoption papers, I learned that she’d been impounded four times previously. I now believe that was probably due to a combination of separation anxiety and being a consummate escape artist. After the first year living with Sierra and her separation issues, I realized that a comprehensive book on the subject was warranted. That’s our girl Sierra on the cover!
NW: Living with Sierra has given me a much deeper understanding of what owners of dogs with this issue go through. Although I had helped many clients to address separation anxiety over the years, I hadn’t really understood the extent of the emotional turmoil it caused to both dog and owner and the upheaval to one’s lifestyle.
It became important for me to come up with creative management solutions even beyond those I had previously used in my professional practice. Overall, my experiences with Sierra caused me to search beyond the traditional recommendations for addressing the issue, to get creative with solutions, and to become very organized in my approach.
VS: The book appears to be partly a workbook. Can you talk about that?
NW: Because the problem of separation anxiety can seem so overwhelming, and because so much of the available information is very general, I wanted to give owners a way to formulate a plan for their own individual dog. The book begins by guiding the reader through a few simple exercises to determine whether their dog has true separation anxiety, is simply acting out of boredom, or has “isolation distress,” meaning they are fine as long as there is another warm body present. In subsequent chapters, owners are assisted in brainstorming management solutions and in creating an appropriate “Alone Zone” for their dog, and are given step-by-step assistance to formulate a customized treatment plan. Getting it all down on paper helps owners to feel less helpless and overwhelmed, and empowers them by creating a solid plan of action.
VS: Along with useful exercises such as desensitizing the dog to departure cues, you offer a few different behavior modification protocols. Why not just one?
NW: Because every dog is starting at a different point along the anxiety continuum. Some dogs become distressed when separated from their owner physically or visually—these are often the “Velcro dogs” who don’t want to let the owner out of their sight, even for a minute! Then there are those who are fine so long as the owner is at home, but become anxious as soon as the owner prepares to leave. Other dogs don’t become upset until the owner is actually gone. So there are different protocols to follow, depending on the particular dog.
VS: You also discuss complementary tools and therapies that may help. Can you discuss one or two?
NW: Leaving calming music playing when you are gone is one of the easiest ways to help your dog to relax. This goes beyond the old advice to leave a radio or television playing. Studies have shown that classical music, played with sparse instrumentation at a specific tempo, can have a calming effect on dogs. I recommend the Through a Dog’s Ear CDs, which are psycho-acoustically designed specifically for this purpose—but the chapter also discusses how you can use classical music you have on hand.
Another helpful modality is DAP, or Dog Appeasing Pheromone. This product chemically mimics the pheromones that are given off by a lactating female dog. In addition to being calming to puppies, it is also calming to adult dogs. The product looks like a plug-in air freshener, and you place it in your dog’s main resting area. I’ve had good success with DAP with some of my clients’ dogs. All of the things mentioned in this section, including the natural alternatives to pharmacological drugs, may help and won’t cause harm. They are definitely worth trying, and should be done in conjunction with behavior modification.
NW: Absolutely! It’s an unfortunate fact that some dogs who are rehomed will have separation issues. I offer deep discounts to shelters and rescue groups. Some organizations hand the books out to adopters of dogs with known separation issues, while others sell them, for example, in on-site humane society gift shops. This is an issue that is very close to my heart, and I want to do whatever I can to help. My hope is that the book will help dogs and their owners, and by doing so, keep dogs in their forever homes.
VS: Fantastic stuff – thanks so much, Nicole, and I’ll see you in a couple of months!