There are a whole lotta people on this planet working hard to make dogs’ lives better. One of the leading voices of that movement is ethologist and author Marc Bekoff, Ph.D, who has just released his new book Canine Confidential: Why dogs do what they do. In it, Bekoff shares the latest research about dogs in hopes that we humans will take the time to understand our dogs as the wonderful individuals they are, and treat them with love, compassion, and care. (Full disclosure: I am quoted several times in the book.)
“When I write about what dogs want and need, I focus more on what dogs feel as the marker for how they should be treated,” Bekoff writes. YES! Let’s all take a moment to appreciate that our dogs have feelings too and start there. I find that many people — those who share their homes with dogs and those who do not — don’t realize that dogs can suffer a great deal.
We all know that to teach dogs to handle being alone we have to go in and out the door a bunch of times and do things like jingle our keys, put our coat on and off, and pick up and put down our bags and briefcase.
Why then do most dogs NOT improve when we do so? The answer: Because they are scared.
"Right," you say. "Of course they are scared. That's why I'm doing all these silly exercises -- to teach them that I always come back in."
Yes. But in order for the training to work, we need to do these exercises UNDER the point where the dog becomes frightened. For some dogs, the simple act of you touching the door handle is terrifying to them, because every other time you did it they were left home alone in an absolute panic. Other dogs might be okay for a minute or even 10 minutes, but once you cross that line, they melt down.
Does this sound familiar? "I've tried everything, and nothing worked. My dog is never going to overcome her separation anxiety."
That was something I said three years ago. I tried leaving stuffed Kongs for Emma the Beagle before I walked out the door, but she was too scared to eat. I tried using "relaxation protocols" where I taught Ems to stay in her bed while classical music played and lavender perfumed the air, but no matter how good Emma got at staying in the bed while I was there, she bolted to the door every time I walked out. And I worked with multiple veterinarians, nutritionists, behavior experts, trainers, and even a masseuse, to no avail.
Tracy Krulik, CTC, CSAT
Certified separation anxiety trainer, founder of iSpeakDog, and mom to Emma the Bravest Beagle.