Dog Separation Anxiety interview

Kieran Beckles
By Kieran Beckles
Updated on November 20, 2019
Exclusive

Separation anxiety in dogs is upsetting for both dog and dog owner.

Some dogs will go into a state of panic or become highly distressed when their owner leaves the home.

Separation anxiety is a disorder that is thought to affect between 15 and 20 per cent of dogs.

The symptoms of the condition include barking, whining or howling, digging or chewing, and defecating or urinating.

We spoke to separation anxiety expert Malena DeMartini to learn more about separation anxiety, some of the myths surrounding the condition and whether dogs can recover from the disorder.

We’ll discuss the following topics in this interview:

• Who is Malena DeMartini?
• What is Malena DeMartini’s background in separation anxiety?
• What are the misconceptions about separation anxiety?
• Why are some dog trainers afraid of taking on separation anxiety cases?
• Is there still a prevailing attitude in the dog world that separation anxiety can’t be cured?
• How do you define separation anxiety to a dog owner?
• What are the varying extremes of separation anxiety?
• What are the varying extremes of separation anxiety?
• Do you recommend crating an anxious dog?
• How do you decide whether your dog is better in a crate or not?
• What are the simple steps dog owners should think about [with regards to separation anxiety]?
• The process of desensitization
• How long does it take most dogs to overcome separation anxiety?
• When should I contact a dog trainer about separation anxiety?
• Do I need a professional?
• Is medication a last resort?
• Can a puppy grow out of separation anxiety?
• What about dogs or puppies with the separation anxiety gene?

If you would like to learn more about Malena, you can visit her website malenademartini.com.

Malena is offering helloBARK! readers the chance to avail of a special discount code for her online self-paced course for dog owners. For more information, contact [email protected]

Who is Malena DeMartini?

Malena DeMartini is an expert in separation anxiety in dogs. With nearly 20 years of experience working exclusively on separation anxiety, Malena has encountered hundreds of cases. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Malena continues to be innovative to find better ways to treat the condition and support clients.

What is Malena DeMartini’s background in separation anxiety?

In 2001, I was doing all manner of behaviour work – everything from aggression to recalls and so forth.

Very early on, I got my first separation anxiety case. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m a very green trainer so I don’t know if I should take this on’.

The dog owner said she had talked to seven different dog trainers and all of them had refused to take her on so she didn’t know what to do. I said I wanted to be fully transparent with her and that I do understand the principles of separation anxiety but I haven’t done it before. So I said I’d help her but if I was in over my head, I’d call someone else.

We worked on the separation anxiety with her dog Guinness. After a short bit of time, we were very successful with his separation anxiety. Word spread like wildfire that I had success with a separation anxiety dog so I started to get a ton of referrals. People didn’t like working with separation anxiety.

The second case I took crashed and burned. From that point forward, I set out to research, trial and error and was very transparent with every client, letting them know that I didn’t have the perfect solution but I’d work with them in every aspect to make progress.

It went on for several years as I learned what works and what doesn’t work. Over time, I found a successful direction to go. It quickly became my passion! But I do always say that separation anxiety chose me, I did not chose it!

What are the misconceptions about separation anxiety?

There are a lot of misconceptions [surrounding separation anxiety in dogs]. It’s one of my biggest motivations to get solid, science-based information out there about what works when tackling this issue. There is so much misinformation and there are so many dog trainers and dog owners throwing spaghetti at the wall trying a myriad of different things. Every time they try something that’s not going to be effective, it makes the process longer, causes more frustration and potentially costs that much more money. As individuals, we have a limited amount of emotional bandwidth, financial bandwidth and time availability. The more you put into the not-working-well bucket, the more likelihood that you’re going to start to deplete in motivation.

Myth One

Golden Retriever at the park (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Golden Retriever at the park (Photo: Adobe Stock)

One of the biggest myths is that you – the dog owner – caused the separation anxiety in your dog. It’s shocking to me the number of people who say ‘well if you didn’t coddle the dog so much’.

A very common thread is the overwhelming feeling of guilt. Somehow they broke their dog and it’s their fault their dog has this issue.

If you don’t take anything else away from this interview, this is one of two things I want people to know: it is not your fault!

You cannot take a dog out of the box and say what are all the things I can do to make a dog have separation anxiety. It doesn’t work that way. Not only are you not causing it by giving additional affection or letting your dog sleep in your bed, but people should understand that there’s considerable research that shows a genetic marker that is associated with separation anxiety. You could do everything right and still end up with a dog that has separation anxiety.

It’s an important myth to understand whether you’re giving your dog a lot of affection, you’re letting your dog sleep in your bed or your room. Look at it this way, let’s think of the percentage of people who let their dog sleep in their bed or their room. If that was a risk factor or contributor to separation anxiety, can you imagine the percentage of dogs that would be suffering?

Myth two

A pug at the vet (Photo: Adobe Stock)

A pug at the vet (Photo: Adobe Stock)

The second equally important myth to debunk is that separation anxiety is not treatable. This a pervasive myth. If you walk into any dog park or training group, you’ll get people who are like ‘Oh your dog has separation anxiety, I’m so sorry to hear that – good luck with that’.

People feel the outcome for success is typically dismal. It’s absolutely not true.

I understand why this myth exists. Alluding back to the misinformation out there, it feels like it’s not fixable because we’re doing things that aren’t effective at resolving separation anxiety. It’s entirely fixable. If you’re a dog trainer or a guardian of a dog with separation anxiety, please flip that switch and know that it’s a treatable disorder. Success is rampant when the clients do the proper training.

Why are some dog trainers afraid of taking on separation anxiety cases?

Black and white Alaskan Klee Kai Skye (Photo: lifewithkleekai / Instagram)

Black and white Alaskan Klee Kai Skye (Photo: lifewithkleekai / Instagram)

Typically, what we hear is stuff a kong, use a crate and remove a certain amount of attention or create a removal of over-coddling.

There’s a lot of discussion about the learn-to-earn concept stating something like “unless the dog is lying on his bed, I’m not going to give him attention”. There are some strict condition rules when to give the dog affection in the general literature.

There are also other supposed ways to treat separation anxiety such as lots of exercise and enrichment. If exercise and enrichment fixed separation anxiety, I wouldn’t have a job! It’s not widespread or common knowledge regarding the very detailed gradual incremental steps [to tackle separation anxiety] and how to implement them. That treatment protocol and training knowledge must be broken down enough so that owners know how to use it.

I used to say, ‘can’t hurt, might help’ about a lot of the more innocuous suggestions like using a thunderwrap or increasing obedience behaviors. Now I think about it as, ‘can’t hurt, might help, but really, could kind of hurt’. These types of suggestions are not going to hurt a dog or make a dog go backwards in his training but it might deplete some of the emotional, financial and time availability bandwidth.

Is there still a prevailing attitude in the dog world that separation anxiety can’t be cured?

Alaskan Klee Kai Copper (Photo: @lifewithkleekai / Instagram)

Alaskan Klee Kai Copper (Photo: @lifewithkleekai / Instagram)

It’s really about getting the right information out there. Dog professionals, whether it’s behaviorists, trainers or vets, shouldn’t go above their pay grade, is the best way to put it.

If you’re really not sure how to systematically work with separation anxiety, maybe you should not work with that case or you should postpone working with separation anxiety until you feel confident and comfortable with how to proceed.

Separation anxiety training should be a very hands on and smooth process; it is important to be able to direct the client succinctly as opposed to ‘today we’ll try a Kong, tomorrow we will try crate training or we’ll do a stay exercise’. It should be systematic.

How do you define separation anxiety to a dog owner?

Destructive chewing can be a symptom of separation anxiety (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Destructive chewing can be a symptom of separation anxiety (Photo: Adobe Stock)

When I talk to a dog owner who has a separation anxiety dog, the biggest message I initially want to get across is that this is a fear, phobia, panic about being left alone.

It might seem completely irrational to you because you’re like ‘I always come back’ but fears and phobias are often irrational.

How many people suffer from a fear of flying in a plane? The percentage of people who die in a plane is X but when you multiply that by 2,000, you get the percentage of people who die in car accidents. From an absolutely logical standpoint, you should be more afraid of driving than flying. The fear of flying, particularly the extent of panic that people feel, is an irrational fear. Just because it’s irrational doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel incredibly real and overwhelming to the person experiencing it.

While it may seem irrational to us, it absolutely isn’t irrational to the dog. It’s an involuntary response.

If someone throws a spider at me, I’ll scream and run in the other direction. If someone throws a spider at you, you might be like, ‘whatever’. Anxiety and fear are extremely important to address.

It’s so important that people understand the underlying welfare issue. The outward manifestation of separation anxiety – barking, chewing or urinating – is not what we are treating. We are treating the underlying separation anxiety issue. The outward stuff will fall away as we tackle anxiety in the process.

I go to great lengths to explain that to owners. If they don’t have empathy for their dog and what they’re going through, it’ll be much more difficult to take this prolonged and gradual step protocol and commit to some of the pieces in the process that are required to tackle separation anxiety.

What are the varying extremes of separation anxiety?

Dog owners should make themselves aware of symptoms of chocolate poisoning (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Dog owners should make themselves aware of symptoms of chocolate poisoning (Photo: Adobe Stock)

I love this question because it’s also myth busting. It’s so important for people to understand it. I’ll try to wrap it up in a small package.

Let’s take three people: Alice, Betty and Carol. Alice sees a spider and she screams and screams and that’s her outward manifestation. Betty sees a spider and her initial reaction is to pick up the largest object and hurl it at the spider. Carol sees a spider and begins silently weeping, walks out of the room, and texts her partner that she’ll be hiding until he comes home and deals with the spider.

If I were to ask you which of those three people is the most afraid of spiders, who would you say? Just because Carol’s outward manifestation looks quiet and demure, do we know if she’s experiencing less fear than the individuals who are screaming or hurling things at the spider? By observing the outward symptoms, we can’t determine who is the most distressed or worried.

People will often say the dog that is destructive is suffering with severe separation anxiety rather than the other dog that is whining, drooling or trembling.

If you think about humans, there are so many people who are stoic when they do a speaking event but throw up when they walk off stage. Just because they looked brilliant in the moment, doesn’t mean they’re not suffering. There is a reason we have the term invisible disorders for a lot of people. We don’t know what people are suffering on the inside.

We have to be very judicious about saying one dog has more separation anxiety than another dog for a couple of reasons.

If we defined severity level by outward symptoms, and I said, ‘wow, that dog destroys stuff all day, or screams all day’, and we say that dog is more severe, but if your dog paces and whines but she doesn’t really bark or destroy things, we say, ‘she’s pretty mild’.

It would be logical to most of us to say that the ‘mild’ dog will move through the separation anxiety protocol more quickly and more easily but the ‘severe’ dog will have a potentially long and tedious protocol. That would be a logical deduction based on the labels. But what we’ve found over the many years and the hundreds of dog that we’ve seen is the outward appearance or manifestations of their anxiety has zero relationship with the ease or difficulty of success.

Some of the most severe looking dogs zoom through protocol and some of the more mild appearing dogs could take months and months to make progress. There’s no reciprocal relationship between the outward display of the dog and how quickly or easily the dog will be successful.

It’s important to remember that the outward display of the dog’s anxiety is not an indication of how easily or quickly a dog will make progress in their separation anxiety training.

So I urge you to think about it – do we really know what the degree of severity of the internal state of the dog is based on outward appearance?

For someone reading this interview with a dog who has a mild outward appearance (with regards to SA), how can you tell if your dog is suffering with separation anxiety?

It’s slightly nuanced but it’s easy with time to be able to discover it.

When we assess a dog with separation anxiety wherever on the spectrum they appear to be falling, it’s really great to be able to take a mental snapshot or video of what a dog’s baseline body language looks like – in other words what does the dog look like when people are home.

For example, a dog may snuggle on the couch, it might go for a drink of water, it may chew on a toy. This is what the dog typically looks like. We can then do a video assessment when the dog is alone. We’ll compare those videos side by side. The body language that we see during alone time comparative to the baseline body language is one way to discern if this dog is simply experiencing frustration or boredom versus a dog who is experiencing distress.

In my opinion, if we observe some distress, personally I’d want to help the dog feel better about alone time. Any dog that is anxious or upset however different the baseline versus the alone time could use our gentle support through training. I’d want to improve the dog’s quality of life when left alone because we know that experiencing anxiety is very uncomfortable and can also be physiologically and/or psychologically damaging, particularly over time.

Do you recommend crating an anxious dog?

Yellow Labrador in his crate (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Yellow Labrador in his crate (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Here’s a couple of things about crates with regards to separation anxiety.

First of all, to go on record, I think crates are terrific management tools for many reasons. For example, it’s important to crate train your dog because at some stage they’ll have to go to the vet. If they were never exposed to a crate, it would be much more difficult for them to be crated in the vet environment. I don’t want people to think crates are bad.

Having said that, it’s really common that dogs with separation anxiety suffer from crate anxiety (or confinement anxiety). For example, if I leave my dog free in the house or outside of a crate environment, it might take one minute before he starts whining and two minutes before he starts howling. If I assess him in the crate and then walk out my door, within a millisecond he’s screaming.

It’s so common with the clients that we see that the crate exacerbates the problem.

Having said that, some dogs love their crate. Often times I hear dog owners say things like: “he goes into his crate at night and he loves it” or “he goes in there on his own and likes it”. While these are positives, it doesn’t mean the crate is the ideal area or correct management tool during alone time for a separation anxiety dog. It’s really important to assess and determine what is the most comfortable situation for that particular dog.

If you’re putting a dog in a crate and his anxiety is exacerbated, you’re unnecessarily making your job much more difficult.

How long should you leave your dog alone when doing separation anxiety training outside of the crate?

When you’re training a dog with separation anxiety, you’re going to be working beneath the dog’s anxiety threshold.

For example, your dog is good for 20 minutes and doesn’t bark or destroy anything, but by the time he gets to 30 minutes, he starts to get anxious, his threshold is 20 minutes or less. So in that example, we would be fastidious about not leaving him for 30 minutes and allow him to rehearse this behaviour over and over and build up his anxiety.

It is key to back up and keep the dog under his anxiety threshold during training.

If the dog is under his anxiety threshold, he will not be barking, peeing or destroying things so is there a need to have him in the crate? The reason most people use a crate is because they don’t want their dog chewing their stuff up, peeing on the floor or howling under the door. If he’s not anxious, he won’t be exhibiting those behaviors.

How do you decide whether your dog is better in a crate or not?

Whenever we’re looking at a dog or assessing what situation is best suited for them, we have to compare apples to apples. You will likely have some pre assessment information.

If you feel the dog might do better in a crate or even if you feel that is the preferred place for you to use, you need to determine the dog’s comfort level. (By the way – if the dog has never been crate trained I highly discourage doing this sort of assessment.)

I would do an apples to apples assessment – place the dog in the closed crate and exit the apartment door. Observe the dog to determine to what degree he expresses anxiety. In a day or so, do a second assessment and leave the dog outside of the crate in a generally free area and see if they are better, worse or the same. That’s the only way to really know.

Some dogs won’t care as long as you’re in the house. The difference between exiting the front door and remaining inside the house is really important to assess.

What are the simple steps dog owners should think about [with regards to separation anxiety]?

Yellow Labrador in his crate (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Yellow Labrador in his crate (Photo: Adobe Stock)

This could be a very long answer and I could go on for hours as to how to proceed. There are a few basic things I want to point out. I’ll start with a couple of things that I don’t want people to feel so reliant on.

The first one is going to be a shocker to many. It’s the most commonly recommended starting point for separation anxiety: give the dog some kind of interactive feeding toy.

Much like crates, please know that I am the first to shout from the mountain tops that you should reward your dog frequently in life, and food is by far one of the most efficient and effective means of reward.

However, with separation anxiety, many people say give your dog a feeding toy and leave for a set amount of time and build from there. I completely understand the logic of this but there are a few pitfalls to consider.

Firstly, there’ll be a lot of dogs happy with a feeding toy but the moment the owner steps out, the food is dead to the dog. They won’t touch it. We call it separation anxiety anorexia. In that situation, it’s not offering the purpose we thought it would.

Secondly, for those who are trainers, it’s very easy to create an antecedent arrangement that is predictive of something bad. If I give a hand signal or say sit, the dog sits, and the dog gets a reward. In separation anxiety treatment, people often reverse the training order which we know can be troublesome. In other words we say, “here’s a yummy food item, goodbye”, and we walk out the door. What is the arrangement there? The food item predicts the yucky thing rather than the other way around.

It’s shocking to me how easy it is to poison food or a feeding toy when training like this.

If every time I pull out that red beehive thing that has tasty stuff inside, I leave within a few minutes, that thing predicts scary stuff. Whether it takes a day or two or three to create the association, we often times get dogs that see the toy and that’s the moment they start to get upset or scared.

We don’t want to create any departure queues that are married to food.

Lastly, some dogs may be happy to chew on their feeding toy even after you have left. You leave and you come back before the dog has finished with the feeding toy. If that’s the case, how do we progress past the feeding toy?

If I give a dog a feeding toy and he chews on it, what should we expect when the food is gone, is he going to forget his anxiety and just take a nap?

I always tell people that it may not be noticeable – in some dogs it is – that dogs can and will eat while still feeling anxiety. When the food is gone, the outward manifestation comes to the fore. I personally can be anxious and cry but still eat a bowl of ice cream!

The process of desensitization

Pomsky cost between $1000 and $5000 (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Pomsky cost between $1000 and $5000 (Photo: Adobe Stock)

The bottom line is we have to use the specific process of desensitization.

The dog has to essentially become bored with our comings and goings.

In the beginning, those comings and going could be opening the door, step out, count 1,2,3 and step back inside. The dog could be like ‘OH MY GOSH…. You’re back!”.

After some repetition, your dog will be like, ‘oh goodness, they’re doing that stupid thing again where they go and come back. I don’t care’. When we get to that point, that three seconds becomes, say, 10 seconds, which then becomes something like a minute [and so forth].

That’s the really small basic chunk that is the key element of desensitization and it is the gold standard for working with separation anxiety.

How long does it take most dogs to overcome separation anxiety?

It would be logical to most of us to say that the ‘mild’ dog will move through the separation anxiety protocol more quickly and more easily but the ‘severe’ dog will have a potentially long and tedious protocol. That would be a logical deduction based on the labels.

But what we’ve found over the many years and the hundreds of dog that we’ve seen is the outward appearance or manifestations of their anxiety has zero relationship with the ease or difficulty of success. Some of the most severe looking dogs zoom through protocol and some of the more mild appearing dogs could take months and months to make progress.

There’s no reciprocal relationship between the outward display of the dog and how quickly or easily the dog will be successful. Remembering that the outward display of the dog’s anxiety is not an indication of how easily or quickly a dog will make progress in their separation anxiety training.

When should I contact a dog trainer about separation anxiety?

A dog patiently waits for owner to return (Photo: Adobe Stock)

A dog patiently waits for owner to return (Photo: Adobe Stock)

In terms of contacting someone about separation anxiety, it comes down to a personal decision. Do you as the dog owner feel that you have a grasp on what to do, how to address it and how to take gradual steps? Are you seeing bits of progress as you move forward? Some people – and I’d say a large percentage of people – have no clue where to start. After a week, two weeks or a month, they’ve made no progress.

Do I need the help of a professional?

A lot of people whether it’s day one, a week or a month, decide they don’t want to make these decisions because they don’t know what they’re doing. They want someone who’ll say ‘today, you’ve got to take these eight steps’.

A qualified trainer can take the guesswork out of the owner’s hands which can be a tremendous relief in addition to making the process more expedient.

I had a chuckle one time when a client said to me ‘some people can build an airplane from reading a book, the rest of us take United Airlines’. That always stuck with me. Some people really want to DIY it. That’s ok. It may take you longer as it depends on how much you do and how succinctly you can implement a protocol.

If you feel frustrated, it may not hurt to consult a trainer to at least guide you in the right direction.

Is medication a last resort?

Medication is not a last resort [if you’ve tried other ways to tackle separation anxiety].

Of course, we don’t need to have prozac in the water for everybody. I do worry that people will do a, b and c and if nothing works after six months or whatever it is, then consider medication.

If you went to your doctor and you said your tripped and fell on a barbed wire and slashed your leg open, would you think your doctor was being a bit irresponsible if he said let’s wait until massive infection sets in before you get antibiotics?

I want people to be less afraid of reaching out for medical help. Medication isn’t typically permanent. It shouldn’t change your dog’s personality (if it does, it is not the correct med or correct dose and you should talk to your vet). It’s not for everyone and not for every dog, but I don’t want people to write it off as a last resort.

Keep in mind that your dog is actually suffering even between absences when he is anticipating further alone-time. That is a difficult way to live and if we can alleviate some of that distress, I think we should.

How do dog owners prevent separation anxiety?

Bichon Frise lying down on the floor of her home, alone, waiting for her owner (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Bichon Frise lying down on the floor of her home, alone, waiting for her owner (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Maybe you can’t! I’m very sensitive about the word ‘preventing’ when it comes to separation anxiety.

I would encourage people to use the phrase ‘optimizing their dog’s chances of alone time success’ rather than preventing separation anxiety.

We will do everything we can do to make it the best possible world when the dog is alone. Help them to be comfortable with that from the get go whether it’s a new puppy or it’s a recently acquired dog.

Having said that, you can do everything right from the start and there is still the potential that separation anxiety pops out. It is definitely worthwhile doing everything right nevertheless because you’re a couple of steps ahead if separation anxiety does occur. Please be very careful about saying ‘here’s a separation anxiety prevention programme’ as that is technically inaccurate. We cannot prevent something which we don’t have a succinctly defined cause for.

If you’re an anxious person, could your dog be anxious because of you?

Golden Retriever has a check up at the vet (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Golden Retriever has a check up at the vet (Photo: Adobe Stock)

I think to an extreme, if you’re displaying really anxious behaviours, stuff can travel down the leash, so to speak, but I am really talking about tremendously overt anxiety behaviors.

I don’t think most people’s behaviour is causing separation anxiety and it is most likely not affecting negatively on a dog that does have separation anxiety – again that is within reason.

We recently sent out a questionnaire for a research study I am doing with a University. We received 2,300 solid responses. We distilled that down and learned one thing that will made some sense. We asked: “Does your dog follow you from room to room or shadow you relentlessly?” In those 2,300 responses, we had approximately 50 per cent who were separation anxiety dog owners and approximately 50 percent who were non separation anxiety dog owners.

We were quite pleased to discover that the number of velcro dogs in both categories (separation anxiety dogs and non-separation anxiety dogs) were quite similar. This result allows to see that shadowing an owner is not a diagnostically significant component or symptom. We have worked with many dogs who are sleeping in the owner’s bed, following them from room to room or cuddling them really closely. With most of those dogs, once we get them completely over their separation anxiety we see that they will still shadow and sleep in the bed – what a relief!

The attachment issue is actually something that we need to be very careful of lumping into the separation anxiety problem, however, I will state that it is a commonly debated topic so you may see lots of contradictions about this.

Can a puppy grow out of separation anxiety?

Pomsky is a cross breed between a Husky and Pomeranian (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Pomsky is a cross breed between a Husky and Pomeranian (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Separation anxiety – I’ll use the term loosely – is biologically appropriate for a puppy to display. If during the weaning process, the dam gets up and leaves the whelping area, you’ll often times hear those cute potato-looking-puppies whine, bark or even scream.

It’s a biologically appropriate hard-wired behaviour to help the puppy reunite with Mom. After weaning, the puppy comes home with you. It’s normal for the dog to vocalise and be somewhat concerned in the new context, particularly when you are not readily available.

Just because it’s normal, it doesn’t mean we should let puppies cry it out until they get over it.

Unfortunately there are a lot of people who are diehard about the cry it out method and recommendations to proceed this way are rife on the internet. People will claim that in two, four or eight weeks, the dog will get over it.

My personal thoughts and beliefs about this are why shouldn’t we try to help a puppy avoid experiencing this distress and provide a soft place to land.

The first week we might only leave him for a short amount of time (maybe 10 or 15 minutes?). We’ll make sure he’s gradually comfortable with these smaller increments (viewing on a free video app is quite useful for this). By the time we get to a few weeks in the home, after having increased the time alone in increments, the dog has successfully acclimated because he has been exposed to absences in a safe way and environment feels secure.

Interestingly, we may likely have a similar looking result with the puppy that we let cry it out – both no longer vocalising. We have a dog that’s not vocalising when we choose to give them a soft place to land. We get a dog that’s not vocalising when we use a cry it out approach.

Unfortunately, even though the outward appearance is similar, we have to remember that we put the cry it out puppy in a position of having to experience stress which can add to mental and physiological concerns both short and long term.

The last thing to say is that if the puppy is acclimating smoothly through gradual absences, that’s great. However, if you go through this gradual and incremental process, and in four or six weeks your puppy is still screaming his head off every time you go out the door, there is still some good news.

Although you’ve got to buckle up and do a really succinct protocol in order to help the pup further, you’ve just put in four to six weeks of positive and gradual introduction which is a tremendous advantage. You’re already ahead of the game even though it may not have fixed it versus having spent four or six weeks allowing a dog to scream its head off and potentially solidify his anxiety further.

What about dogs or puppies with the separation anxiety gene?

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel are the 19th most popular dog in USA (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel are the 19th most popular dog in USA (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Let’s talk about the separation anxiety genetic marker (it is the sepanx haplotype that has been identified). I’ll relate it to something currently being talked about. They’ve found the genetic marker for Alzheimers. You can go to your physician and have a test done to discern whether you have that marker. If you test positive for that marker, all that it means is there’s the potential for Alzheimers to occur; it does not mean you will for sure develop Alzheimers.

With the dogs who have the genetic marker for separation anxiety which is new from a study standpoint, they can have the genetic marker and never get separation anxiety. Dogs can display separation anxiety from day one or they can start to show symptoms later, particularly when some type of precipitating event results in it popping up.

It’s important people understand this so they don’t blame themselves for causing their dog’s separation anxiety. Additionally, please understand that genetic predisposition does not mean “un-fixable”.

How many people do we know that seem to have been born with a predisposition to anxious behaviour or thoughts? They go through counselling, they maybe utilise pharmacology, they take other steps and come out the other side completely and sufficiently well. It’s important for people to remember that.

Just because it runs in your family, doesn’t mean it’s not modifiable. It does mean it’s easier to present itself, but it doesn’t mean it can be adjusted and fixed.

Who is Malena DeMartini?

Malena DeMartini is an expert in separation anxiety in dogs. With nearly 20 years of experience working exclusively on separation anxiety, Malena has encountered hundreds of cases. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Malena continues to be innovative to find better ways to treat the condition and support clients.

What is Malena DeMartini’s background in separation anxiety?

In 2001, I was doing all manner of behaviour work – everything from aggression to recalls and so forth.

Very early on, I got my first separation anxiety case. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m a very green trainer so I don’t know if I should take this on’.

The dog owner said she had talked to seven different dog trainers and all of them had refused to take her on so she didn’t know what to do. I said I wanted to be fully transparent with her and that I do understand the principles of separation anxiety but I haven’t done it before. So I said I’d help her but if I was in over my head, I’d call someone else.

We worked on the separation anxiety with her dog Guinness. After a short bit of time, we were very successful with his separation anxiety. Word spread like wildfire that I had success with a separation anxiety dog so I started to get a ton of referrals. People didn’t like working with separation anxiety.

The second case I took crashed and burned. From that point forward, I set out to research, trial and error and was very transparent with every client, letting them know that I didn’t have the perfect solution but I’d work with them in every aspect to make progress.

It went on for several years as I learned what works and what doesn’t work. Over time, I found a successful direction to go. It quickly became my passion! But I do always say that separation anxiety chose me, I did not chose it!

Further information

If you would like to learn more about Malena, you can visit her website malenademartini.com.

Do you suspect your dog is struggling with separation anxiety? Malena is offering helloBARK! readers the chance to avail of a special discount code for her online self-paced course for dog owners. For more information, contact [email protected]