We realized that Ray had developed separation anxiety within a short time of him moving in with us in 2013. We have had various attempts at teaching him that he can survive without us for a short while, but whereas each attempt has been successful to some degree, there has always been “diversions” that were more important to resolve (it’s all in his book!). With a serious case of separation anxiety such as Ray, any significant break in the training program virtually dictates starting from the beginning all over again.
Ray’s situation is complicated further because of his reservations with people which limits our “dog sitter” option to one individual. Needless to say, Carol and I have not had a life without Ray for just over three years now and while we are not complaining (we love his company), it is in his interests to establish a comfort level without us. He made need to stay over at the vets some time in the future!
This past week, as the weather was a little more congenial, we started once again on his training to relax and chill out while we were away. For anybody who has not had the pleasure (?) of working with separation anxiety, it has to be dealt with in really baby steps.
Dogs are very routine driven, and are very cognizant of not only their schedules and habits, but also of yours. In our situation, as soon as Ray sees us putting shoes on, he knows that we are going out and typically he comes with us. To teach him that it is quite alright for us to leave him behind is where the problems start!
Separation anxiety training for Ray therefore starts with putting our shoes on; touch the door handle, and then taking our shoes off. This is extended to turning the handle; to opening the door just a little; to closing it and taking our shoes off. This then progresses through to opening the door wide; to us going through it; to closing it behind us; to leaving for a few seconds; to leaving for a few more seconds etc. The build up is very slow and Ray must always be monitored as, once he loses his composure, the training has to wait and the time away very slowly built up again.
Yesterday (April 25), we managed to walk just beyond our neighbor’s property which meant that Ray was on his own for a little over 60 seconds and, while he was not particularly happy about it, he managed to stay calm!
The biggest problem is simply impatience. It is so easy to think, let’s try him for five minutes, and then 15 minutes… but it is a total gamble, and Ray’s sense of security and potential health are the stakes. Dogs have been known to eat through doors, walls, and jump through glass windows in order to find their owners. They have also been known to lose all self control and tear furniture apart and, in some cases, mutilate themselves. Who could possibly want to risk putting their dog through those kinds of circumstances?
So we are currently at 60 secs and, by the end this week, we could be at perhaps 2 minutes… or even more! Exciting eh! Who knows, we may be able to go to the store without him by the end of May… but that may be a little optimistic! 🙂