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Family Dynamics in Training Separation Anxiety
Family Dynamics in Training Separation Anxiety

By Malena DeMartini

It is a lovely thing when we get to have relationships with loved ones and that includes the dog! I find it fascinating that the majority of our separation anxiety clients are either single or just two people in the family. Is this some sort of self-selecting process? Maybe, or maybe families with kids have a different level of at-home time so the separation anxiety is not as prevalent. It is worthy of research in my opinion.

The thing to know about separation anxiety is that despite whether you are single, in a relationship or have a full family, it still takes a village to work on the disorder. In order to help a dog overcome their separation anxiety, we have to safeguard against any absences that are scary, which means any absence that is of a duration that will cause the dog to panic. Yes, that is a tall order, but please trust me when I say that it is doable and completely worth it in the end.

Working with a separation anxiety dog is difficult in many ways. The process itself is simple, it just isn't always easy to execute properly. For any guardian working on separation anxiety there are challenges, but in some ways even more so for a couple or family; lots of coordination has to be put into place.

In order to work on a dog's separation anxiety, we have to schedule absence rehearsals in very small increments. We start with something very easy for the dog and as he gets used to the easy absence, we can start to increase the duration in a gradual and succinct fashion. As a single person working through this, one can schedule the absences into their day and rehearse by themselves. When we have a couple working on the problem, we have to schedule times where one or the other person leaves and then other times when both leave together...as you can see, this takes a little more coordination. Finally, when we are working with a family that has children, having the children involved in some of the absence rehearsals will be necessary. This can be a lot to coordinate and I empathize with those going through the process.

Each couple or family that is working through their dog's separation anxiety has different dynamics. Take for example Dan and Bethany with their dog Starbuck. Starbuck has been suffering from separation anxiety since she was adopted and it has been a source of great stress for the couple. When they began working on training they had to coordinate times where one or the other would leave Starbuck alone in addition to when they could leave at the same time. 

Dan works from home so his alone-time exercises were more simple to coordinate, however, Bethany works long hours as an emergency room nurse. Her schedule is such that scheduling time to do alone-time training on her own or with Dan is challenging. Fortunately, this is a committed couple and they make it work on the off hours, Starbuck is showing great progress now that they have committed to a training plan.

For the Rollins family training looked different. They had lots of time to devote to the training, but with the kids being ages 3 and 5 it was not easy to coordinate lots of rehearsals involving them. It took time to work their dog Oliver up to being alone when Mom and Dad left, but they are still working on having the whole family leave together at one time.

For any person/s working through separation anxiety, organization is key. Having a spreadsheet or other document to track daily rehearsals will allow for better tracking of the day to day improvements and even regressions.

Finally, a second set of eyes on the training process is always recommended. It is hard to write daily exercises for oneself and having a trainer or other professional reviewing the protocol will help immeasurably. 

Separation anxiety is resolvable, but it does take time and commitment on many fronts.

Malena DeMartini is renowned in the dog training world for her expertise in canine separation anxiety. She is the author of the book, Treating Separation Anxiety in Dogs, and has contributed articles on separation anxiety to publications around the world. She is a sought-after speaker internationally and is training worldwide dog professionals to work within this specialty through her Separation Anxiety Certification Program. Malena is passionate about furthering education in this field through science-based research. Whether a dog professional or guardian, feel free to reach out to Malena at for a free phone 30-minute phone call. www.malenademartini.com. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. 

Tags: Behavior, Personal Responsibility, Relatives, Stress, Tips
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