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.


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