How Long Does It Take To Break A Dog’s Separation Anxiety?

Kieran Beckles
By Kieran Beckles
Updated on 8 August 2019

Separation anxiety in dogs can be challenging and upsetting for pet parents.

There is so much information online about separation anxiety that you can be left feeling utterly overwhelmed.

You won’t struggle to find articles that offer advice on how to tackle the issue of separation anxiety.

In spite of their best intentions, some advice can be misguided and serve to exacerbate the problem.

Alternatively, it may not hurt your dog but it may prevent any progress being made.

Separation anxiety is a canine disorder that comes to the fore when a dog is left at home alone.

It can manifest itself in a number of different ways. These include consistent and persistent barking, howling or whining, destructive chewing or digging, and defecating or urinating.

In some severe cases, a dog could injure itself trying to escape.

If you’ve encountered separation anxiety in dogs like me, you’ll know how helpless the condition can make you feel – and that’s not to mention the distressed state of your precious dog.

In looking to learn more about separation anxiety, we spoke to San Francisco Bay Area dog trainer Malena DeMartini, who is an expert in the field of dog separation anxiety.

In the fifth installment of our interview with Malena, we spoke about how long it takes dogs to overcome separation anxiety.

Part One: What is separation anxiety in dogs?
Part Two: Dog Separation Anxiety Myths And Misconceptions
Part Three: Should I Crate My Dog With Separation Anxiety?

Part Four: Do feeing toys help dogs with separation anxiety?
Part Six: How to prevent dog separation anxiety
Part Seven: How To Help New Puppy With Separation Anxiety

Before we look at Malena’s answer to this question, it’s important to understand separation anxiety is curable.

Can dogs overcome seperation anxiety?

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

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

You may have encountered dog trainers or dog owners who give you a negative outlook on separation anxiety.

However, Malena was eager to stress to helloBARK! readers that it’s simply not true.

In fact, she debunked one of the biggest myths surrounding separation anxiety in dogs:

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’. 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.

Fresh with the knowledge that separation anxiety is not a “death sentence”, let’s take how long it can take a dogs to beat 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.

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

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]

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