I’ll never forget when I brought home my oldest dog from her breeder.
The first night at her forever home, she barely slept a wink as she cried all night long in her crate.
My wife and I positioned the crate next to our bed so she knew that we were in the room and she wasn’t alone.
However, it took almost a week before the crying stopped at night.
That was a small victory but the battle wasn’t won. The first time we left our Alaskan Klee Kai at home alone, she screamed and screamed.
After research online, we thought the “cry it out” method was the way to go. Fast forward two years, she still suffers with a degree of separation anxiety. Her brother is even worse.
Most prospective dog owners will have done thorough research before bringing home their pup, You may – or may not – have encountered separation anxiety with previous dogs. If you haven’t, the prospect of separation anxiety may have not crossed your mind at all.
In the seventh and final part of our interview with separation anxiety expert Malena DeMartini, we learn about why it’s “biologically appropriate” for a puppy to display some signs of 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 Five: How long does it take to break a dog’s separation anxiety?
Part Six: How to prevent dog separation anxiety
Jump To Section
Can a puppy grow out of separation anxiety?
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?
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!
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].