Caring for a dog, any dog, can be a challenge. Puppies need constant attention and loving guidance to teach them how to behave. Adolescent dogs can challenge us with their independent teenage attitudes. Even the most well-adjusted, fully mature adult dogs take work. As you look back on the time and energy you have given to your dog, consider the challenges of caring for a dog who struggles with fears or anxieties. Separation anxiety is one of the most challenging fear behaviors to deal with.
Owners of dogs who are afflicted with separation anxiety experience some of the most debilitating emotional, social and financial pain of any dog owners I know. They worry for their dog’s emotional health. They are often forced to smooth out rough edges with neighbors, landlords and local animal control authorities to deal with complaints about barking or howling. They endure endless taunts and comments from friends and family about their dog’s anxiety and what they “should do” about it. Owners also incur a good deal of financial cost in property damage and specialized veterinary care, on top of the cost of hiring a trainer and/or behavior specialist certified to treat separation anxiety. It is incredibly challenging. They do all of this on top of taking care of the normal challenges we all have in life. Owners of separation anxiety dogs are some of the most amazingly dedicated, compassionate and generous people I have ever met.
As a certified separation anxiety trainer, I feel lucky to work with these amazing people. They invite me into their lives, and they share their experiences and emotions. They share the details of their daily activities so that we can develop personalized plans to help rehabilitate their dog’s alone-time emotions. These amazing owners ensure their dog is never left for longer than he can comfortably accept. It takes a lot of commitment, dedication and support. This is where owners need a village: a village of dedicated and compassionate resources to provide much-needed help and emotional support to owners of separation anxiety dogs, so that they can go to work, go to the grocery store, go to dinner or a movie, or just have a short break to recharge their own batteries.
Separation anxiety support villages are populated with friends, neighbors, family members, church congregations, local pet sitters, dog walkers, dog day care facilities, local businesses who extend a welcome mat to dogs in need, employers who are able to offer flexible work schedules (or even allow dogs to come to work) and so on. Most village members do not realize it, but they are providing a lifeline to both the owner and the dog. They are helping to keep a dog in his home instead of being relinquished to a shelter because he’s too difficult to live with. They are helping the owners who so often find themselves shut in and tied to their dogs, unable to have a social life away from home. These golden nuggets of the community who join the separation anxiety relief team willingly take on the responsibility for ensuring the dog is not left for any time longer than he is comfortable while he is in their care. They sign their own “contract with the dog,” and even though it is inconvenient, they are playing an important role in the lives of this dog and his owner. These village members are what make the rehabilitation process possible for so many dog owners.
Do you know somebody who has a dog with separation anxiety? Are you able to offer a lifeline, volunteer to dog sit, maybe offer a sympathetic ear to the person? If you are a business, are you willing to allow these special dogs to escort their people into your establishment?
It takes a village, and the more we can shed light on the need, the greater the village can become.