Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Minimize Contrast


Dogs with separation issues have a hard time with… well… to state the obvious, separation. Want to help your dog? Then minimize the contrast between when you are home and when you’re not. This means, if you cuddle with your dog pretty much nonstop when you are home, you actually set your dog up for problems when he is alone. How can you make things easier for your dog? Start here:

Time to Detox!

Your dog is probably a junkie – a companionship junkie. And while companionship is why you acquired this pet, his profound need for it and dependence on it is the problem. And you are the solution.

Your dog is never – ever – going to sort this out on his own or come up with a workable solution. Think how hard it is for humans – who assumably know better – to change addictive-type patterns. Your dog has no chance on his own – change is up to you.

In short, your “you junkie” needs a good detox. And doggy detox begins with: Less is more. Less of you is more beneficial for him: less contact, less attention, less proximity.

Aim for no more than ten minutes of attention per hour when you are home. “Attention” means lap time, belly rubs, unconsciously stroking his head, and any body, eye, verbal contact between you and your dog. This includes resting his head on your foot or lap, gazing at each other adoringly, etc.

Hands Off Your Dog
Eyes Off Your Dog
Dog On the Floor
You on the Furniture
Dog Off the Bed

If you have clutched your chest and gasped at these suggestions: Excellent! That means we have plenty we can change, and that should help your dog.

Also, ten minutes an hour is a ton of attention when it is doled out in a conscious, sincere way. I don’t want you to cease enjoying your dog, just do so in a productive way, and for SA dogs, productive means limited and specific.
If you can’t imagine this, then think about interacting with him about as much as you interact with family members. How much direct attention do you give them when you are home?

Now contrast that with being in a new romantic relationship or having a baby—you dote for more than ten minutes an hour right?

And remember the pain you felt being separated from those people? You pined, you thought about them, maybe you called to check in? It felt like a physical pain. Guess what? You had a bit of Separation Anxiety!

Be Consistent about Consistency

For SA dogs, more than most dogs, change stresses them out. Change can be big, like a change in your work schedule or someone moving in or out of the house or change can be small like you letting some of your dog’s day-to-day structure slip.

It is easy to be inconsistent with what we say to our dogs and then what we expect. After all, it doesn’t really matter to us. We love him just the way he is. But here’s the thing: It matters to dogs and specifically, it matters to YOUR dog.
Make a list of the behaviors you expect and the words you use for commands. Now, stick to that. For the next few days, be aware of what you say to your dog. You may discover that you say: Sit; Sit down; Sit, Pip; Pip, Sit and the classic, Sitsitsitsit.

It’s rather a lot to ask a non-English speaking species to sort out all that, don’t you think? And, if you’re human, and if you’ve gotten frustrated from time to time at your dog’s “stubborn” lack of response, then words may have become stressful for your dog.

From today forward, you work hard to be as calm and consistent at your end, as you want your dog to be at his.

Food for thought: Listen to yourself speak to your dog for two days. Observe all the ways you change your words and actions when asking your dog to obey you. Inhale deeply. This is hard – have as much compassion for yourself as you do for your dog and vice versa.

This is the Routine

SA dogs don’t handle change well, so minimizing contrast also refers to minimizing shifts between weekdays and weekends, workdays and vacations. Even an illness when you are home in bed for a few days can cause more contrast than an SA dog can handle, setting off a new round of problems.

The key to success? Keeping things as routine as possible. Get up at the same time every day, working or not. If you confine your dog, then confine him as usual about the time you would be leaving.

Do not heap on extra attention or spend tons of extra time with him on your days off. A longer walk, an extra game or two are just fine, but if things are completely different, expect that to throw your sensitive dog for a loop.

Do your dog and yourself a favor and focus on your job as sensible, reliable coach, teacher and leader. Get your act together and your dog has a decent shot at improving his.

Make Every Interaction Count

Every interaction counts, whether we want it to or not, so bringing your awareness to that can make a huge difference. Often we try to comfort our SA dogs by giving them extra attention when we are home and “cutting them some slack” behaviorally by not asking much of them – but you know what?

That makes things worse.

Dogs with Separation Issues need someone to lead them. The world is stressful and scary for them. They don’t need commiseration, they need help. Being able to count on you, the rules of the household and the routines are gifts you give your stressed out dog.

From now on, keep in mind that every time you speak to your dog, touch your dog or interact with him in any way, you are teaching your dog who you are, who he is and how the world works. Also understand that how you interact with your dog when you are home directly impacts on what he does when you are not. So…he does something for you before you do something for him. Always.

This is not mean or demanding. This is kind. Dogs love this. Dogs calm down – relax – and become more attentive and responsive. This simple program is as close to a “magic bullet” as there is in dog training. So easy. Completely free. Do it!

Food for thought: YOU are the most important person/thing/event in your dog’s life. Take that in, and then help your dog by asking more of him. Assume he is capable – we promise you he is.

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