The Challenge of Separation Anxiety

Canine behavior specialists deal with fear issues, aggression issues, and everything in between. Most would agree, however, that separation anxiety can be one of the most difficult behavior problems to solve. Not only do separation issues present in challenging ways and sometimes to a severe degree, but the success of any rehabilitation program depends largely on the commitment of the owner to make lifestyle changes as necessary, and to persevere through what may be a long-term project.

Although I have always had compassion for my training clients and what they were going through, my empathy reached new levels when we adopted Sierra. A beautiful eighteen-month-old husky-keeshond mix, Sierra had been impounded at a county shelter in the desert four times before we adopted her. She’d been brought in as a stray, and once we got her home, the reason became apparent: she had a serious case of separation anxiety, combined with the talents of Houdini. It was easy to imagine her missing her owners and then jumping the fence or digging out to go find them.

Our fencing went from six-foot chain link to eight-foot with overhangs. I patiently went through all the steps I advise my training clients to take. Some helped and some did not, as Sierra’s case was different and challenging in more ways than I can go into here. Suffice it to say that I had to become creative, to find new tools and to put together new behavior protocols. Those ideas, along with my newfound awareness of what it was like to live twenty-four seven with a dog with this issue, led me to write Don’t Leave Me! Step-by-Step Help for Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety. I wanted to create a comprehensive, interactive workbook that was based on the latest scientific research and sound behavioral principles, that would allow owners to customize a program for their dogs much as consult with a behavior specialist would do.  I decided to include stories from other trainers as well—the fabulous Victoria Stilwell among them—to show how real-life cases were solved. The solutions were sometimes creative, sometimes more obvious, but the stories were fascinating and even included one dog whose separation anxiety was so bad, the owner came home and found her on a third-story ledge!

My fondest hope is that the book will be helpful to people whose dogs have separation issues, not only because the dogs are suffering, but because owners are suffering as well. If you have a dog with separation anxiety, read the book, work with a trainer one on one (the Association of Pet Dog Trainers website’s Trainer Search is a good place to start), and above all, have patience. It can be a long journey, but your most powerful tool is your love for and commitment to your dog, who is, after all, worth every bit of effort.

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Positively Expert: Nicole Wilde

Nicole Wilde is the author of ten books and lectures worldwide on canine behavior. She is a columnist for Modern Dog magazine, and blogs for Positively, the Huffington Post, and her own blog, Wilde About Dogs. Nicole runs Gentle Guidance Dog Training in southern California.


12 thoughts on “The Challenge of Separation Anxiety

  1. Jackie

    I wish I'd had this guide when my dog was facing separation anxiety issues. it's hard to know which techniques are working and which ones aren't because it can be such a slow process. I do have the Fearful Dogs book and it was really helpful.

  2. Meghan Riegler

    I wish I could have figured out how to fix my previous black lab's seperation anxiety. We had tried MANY different things and he would only get worse. After 1 1/2 years and thousands of dollars, our vet said we had no other options than to help him calm down by putting him to rest. They decided he had an auto-immune disorder that effected his demeanor and no amount of medicine or training could fix it. He was even shaking very badly when they gave him the medicine to calm him down before putting him to sleep. Not a day goes by that I don't miss him and we are currently fostering dogs until we find the right match for our other dog. I do like watching "It's Me or the Dog" though to help with problems that arise with any fosters or our current dog. They help a lot! I love training the dogs. =) Thanks for posting this.

  3. Daniela

    I really need this book, I have a 1 year and 10 months schnauzer who will howl non-stop when left alone.
    But I live in Brazil and the book is not available here yet, is there a e-book or kindle version?


  4. Dennis Fehling

    Nicole has always been one of my favorite trainers, I have read all of her books and been to many of her workshops and have learned so much from her. I am looking forward to adding this great book to my favorite required reading list. Thank you Nicole for writing another great book.


    Dennis Fehling
    friends for life dog training

  5. Elena

    I am happy that you gave some clues how to handle with husky. They are very specific breed. In my opinion they are more difficult than other popular breeds becouse they are very "wild" and sometimes they think like wolves.
    Training huskies is more challenging and creative but gives more satisfaction.
    Thank you for your book, and greetings from Poland 😉

  6. Gill

    What is the best way to PREVENT separation anxiety in the first place? I have a 5 month old puppy who is none too impressed when we leave and gives a little whimper but that's about it. We have 2 cats that keep him entertained (much to their dislike!) and we always give him a Kong ball with treats whenever we go out so that us going out = good things to him. We also have a dog walker for the days we both work. Is there anything else I can do? He's a happy pup and i'd like to keep it that way!

  7. Nicole Wilde

    Hi Gill,

    It sounds as though you are already doing a lot of the right things. Although you have a dog walker, which is great, I would suggest making sure your dog gets some exercise BEFORE you leave as well. It makes a huge difference. The stuffed Kong is excellent, and to make it last longer, you might try freezing it. Of course, there are a lot more tips in the book, but it sounds as though your pup is acclimating to your absences fairly well. Keep up the great work!


  8. Pingback: Severe Separation Anxiety - Please Help! - Beagle Forum : Our Beagle World Forums

  9. cass

    Aaw my husky has this problem to she howls when left alone then decides to chew my furniture instead of her toys defo going to but this book ive tried everything to help her hopefully i will find some new tips 🙂

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