Desensitization Techniques for More Severe Cases of Separation Anxiety

 

The primary treatment for more severe cases of separation anxiety is a

systematic process of getting your dog used to being alone. You must

teach your dog to remain calm during “practice” departures and short

absences. We recommend the following procedure:

 

Begin by engaging in your normal departure activities (getting your

keys, putting on your coat), then sit back down. Repeat this step until

your dog shows no distress in response to your activities.

 

Next, engage in your normal departure activities and go to the door

and open it, then sit back down.

 

Next, step outside the door, leaving the door open, then return.

 

Finally, step outside, close the door, then immediately return. Slowly

get your dog accustomed to being alone with the door closed between

you for several seconds.

 

Proceed very gradually from step to step, repeating each step until

your dog shows no signs of distress. The number of repetitions will

vary depending on the severity of the problem.  If at any time in this

process your actions produce an anxiety response in your dog, you’ve

proceeded too fast. Return to an earlier step in the process and

practice this step until the dog shows no distress response, then

proceed to the next step.

 

Once your dog is tolerating your being on the other side of the door for

several seconds, begin short-duration absences. This step involves

giving the dog a verbal cue (for example, “I’ll be back”), leaving, and

then returning within a minute. Your return must be low-key: Either

ignore your dog or greet him quietly and calmly. If he shows no signs of

distress, repeat the exercise. If he appears anxious, wait until he

relaxes to repeat the exercise. Gradually increase the length of time

you’re gone.

 

Practice as many absences as possible that last less than 10 minutes.

You can do many departures within one session if your dog relaxes

sufficiently between departures. You should also scatter practice

departures and short-duration absences throughout the day.

 

Once your dog can handle short absences (30–90 minutes), he’ll

usually be able to handle longer intervals alone, and you won’t have

to repeat this process every time you are planning a longer absence.

The hard part is at the beginning, but the job gets easier as you go

along. Nevertheless, you must go slowly at first. How long it takes to

condition your dog to being alone depends on the severity of his

problem.

 

 

 

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