January 2021 Training Challenge: Video Your Pet Home Alone

 

We are full swing into our free Separation Anxiety Workshop this week! In honor of that workshop and our Separation Anxiety Immersive Digital Course which starts this upcoming Sunday 1/10/21, I wanted to do a separation anxiety-related training challenge this month. Here it is:

Video your pet home alone

Here are a few screenshots from one of our consultants, Ellen, doing this activity:

 

Why everyone should do this

In Ellen’s blog post about her dog’s separation anxiety journey last month (check it out here if you haven’t read it yet), she mentioned that scientists are starting to think that more pets have separation-related issues than we previously thought– up to 22.3% – 55% of the dog population. That’s a whole lot of dogs! Even if you think your pet is fine being left alone, let’s double check just to make sure. 

For those of you who do have a pet who you think may be displaying separation-related issues, this is definitely something you’ll want to do. The first thing we ask potential separation anxiety clients to do is send us a video of their pet home alone. With other behavior issues we’re able to ask questions about what the person sees their pet doing and we can determine what’s going on that way without needing to see the behavior (more info here). However, with separation-related issues the person can’t know what their pet is doing without a video. There can be other explanations for certain behaviors aside from separation-related distress, so a video is incredibly helpful in this situation.

Note: if it’s pretty obvious your pet is distressed being left home alone, work with a consultant before doing this. There’s no need to cause unnecessary stress and a professional can give you more specifics on the set-up than what’s feasible in a blog post. 

 

How to do it

There are a lot of ways to get a video of your pet home alone. Here are a few of our favorites (Disclosure: Affiliate links ahead. We receive a small commission for purchases made through these links at no extra cost to you. This helps us continue to put out free content to help you and your pets live more harmoniously!):

  • Zoom yourself. Set up a zoom meeting between two accounts (both of which can be owned by you!). One camera stays in the house (laptops work great here) and the other goes with you (i.e. phone or tablet). I love this option because you get real-time streaming + recording function that you can send to your behavior consultant. 
  • Ring or Nest systems. A lot of folks already have home security systems set up in their house that can be accessed in real-time and can save recordings. If you already have something like this, use it! 
  • Furbo cameras. Furbos are designed specifically for knowing what your dog is up to while you’re gone. A super cool feature is their event-triggered recording option (available through an optional subscription with the device) so you can better learn what triggers a reactive dog throughout the day. 

What you’re looking for

Long-time readers of this blog won’t be surprised at the first answer: body language. We’re looking for stress signals before and after leaving. Everyone– pets included– shows stress a little differently so the specific signals will be dependent on the individual. Common signals include vocalizing, pacing, drooling, and destruction. However, shutting down is a not uncommon signal that can also be difficult to distinguish from true rest and relaxation. 

We’re also looking for how long it takes them to calm down if we do see stress signals. Some pets’ anxiety is more centered around the actual departure than being alone for a long time. A video makes all of that clearer. Again, if it’s pretty obvious that your pet is distressed being left alone I recommend working with a consultant first so they can give you more specifics on the video set-up. 

 

Now what?

  • Figure out the technology you’d like to use to get a video of your pet home alone. 
  • Record your video. Since it’s hard to go places at the moment, a quick walk around the block can be a good start. 
  • Watch your video. What body language signals do you see? What activities do you see them performing?
  • If you’re seeing signs of stress, we recommend starting on that behavior modification journey now before it becomes a real problem when we’re back to leaving our pets for longer. Our Separation Anxiety Immersive Digital Course or a private session are both great options. We recommend Ellen for separation-related problems– she’s finishing up a program to be a certified separation anxiety consultant! Email us at [email protected] to get started with either option. 

 

Happy training!

Allie

5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting A Separation Related Problem Journey

When I realized my pup, Griffey, was showing signs of a Separation Related Problem, I felt crushed. This was not what I agreed too. I agreed to give him the best life I could, to help him be successful, but THIS was not one of the things I considered before adoption.

I was committed to him, and helping him on this journey, but being tied to him felt isolating and suffocating.

I “just” wanted to go to the bathroom in peace.

I “just” wanted to go out to dinner with my friends.

I “just” wanted a “normal” dog.

As I look back on our journey (and a successful one at that!), these are the things I wish I knew when I started.

 

You feel alone, but you are far from alone.

Griffey needed me. I expected him to need me. I mean, I am the one with opposable thumbs and the money to buy food. Of course, he was going to need me! But I was not ready to be NEEDED. All. The. Time.

Knowing that he was miserable (and by miserable I mean: crying, scratching at the exit, barking, whale eye, frantic pacing) when I even tried to close the door to go to the bathroom broke my heart. I hated that he was so stressed, and I felt powerless to help him.

My partner and I immediately ceased all non-essential departures, and it felt isolating. We chose to take turns leaving the house for errands, so we could minimize his time alone. I had so many friends with “normal” (what is “normal” anyway?!) dogs. I received all sorts of well meaning, but also hurtful advice. They just did not “get it”.

Griffey was an anomaly, right? Turns out, research is finding Separation Related Problems in 22.3%-55% of the general dog population.

You are so far from alone. Which means, other people out there do “get it”, and can help support you on those days that feel so isolating. The amount of incredibly smart and creative management strategies, the celebrations of small successes, the vulnerability and relatability within the community can be invaluable.

 

Remember to see your whole dog.

We started seeing Griffey’s behaviors nearly as soon as we got him home. It was extremely easy to tunnel vision on separation being the goal and the area we needed to work on. We took to contacting colleagues, buying books, searching the internet. I was going to research this to death. We were going to build a plan for separation training. Hello, coping strategy!

Yes, we did need to find an appropriate protocol and plan for training. Yes, getting expert feedback was necessary. But Griffey’s behavior when we left was only a small part of him, even if it felt like a big part to us. He had other needs that also needed to be met. He just joined our family, we needed to build healthy relationships between us and our resident dog, Laika. He had to learn what living in our house was like, what noises he would encounter regularly, what our routine entailed, and how he could communicate with us. We had to learn what his physical and mental needs were so we could meet them.

Yes, we will need to train for separation, but remember the rest of your pup. Making sure their needs are fully met will help facilitate your training immeasurably.

 

Suspending absences will really make a world of difference.

This was the hardest part for me. How are we supposed to make sure he is never alone? We both work full time. He is uncomfortable around strangers, so pet sitters and dog walkers were not going to work. He is uncomfortable around other dogs, so we could not do dog daycare. We lived across the country from our families. We had some wonderful friends who took the time to build relationships with him and they helped us out from time to time. We adjusted our weekends.

While living in Florida, we were not able to fully suspend absences, and we made some progress, but were slogging along.

Fortunately, we ended up moving back to the Pacific Northwest, and my partner was able to stay home for a few months and work on the separation training. And HOLY SMOKES! We were not taking 2 steps back for every 1 step forward. We were able to commit to manage absences to a much greater degree and we saw tremendous progress.

Finding ways to manage absences is completely worth it. It may take some creativity, asking for help, and a village, but it will make a difference.

 

Track your progress.

We had our initial goal: 4-5 hours. We had our plan and protocol in place. It is great to have a goal but focusing on progress will keep you in the game.

Find a way that you enjoy tracking your progress. It can be a habit tracker and each successful step gets a box filled in with green. It can be a jar that you drop a coin in for each successful step. It can be a white board or clipboard where you can cross off each successful step. Watching your tracker or jar fill up will show you how much success you are having.

Frequent, visible wins are important. It is hard to feel like you are making progress when you just focus on how much farther you have to go, instead of how far you have come.

 

Getting started was harder than going through.

To say I was resistant would be an understatement. I looked at what I needed to change, and it felt overwhelming. Managing absences felt impossible with all his other big feelings. Which do I prioritize? I needed to take a minute to be honest with myself as to why I was so resistant. What if it did not work, what if I failed him? If I do not start, then I cannot fail. I needed to reframe my goals: helping him be more comfortable and embarking on a LEARNING journey for both of us. I was not in this to “fix it”, I was in this to grow.

Figuring out the management of departures, finding a system that was sustainable for the entire family felt like too much. Having a professional help you get started can take so much of that burden away. Once you start, it is one day at a time. One day at a time is doable. So, start, and go one day at a time.

 

Now what?

  • Do you suspect your pup has a Separation Related Problem? What leads you to think so? What behaviors do you see surrounding your departures, or separation? 
  • Check in with yourself. How are you feeling? Does any of my story sound familiar? Can you identify why you feel that way? Your training plan can include things that are important to you. If you need an hour to go to the beach alone, can a family member watch the dog? Can a pet sitter or a neighbor? Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Your needs are important too!
  • Discuss with your family (or yourself!) if you are ready to embark on this journey. If you are not sure, Allie recently discussed this in our blog. If “you have tried a program before, but….” Allie also has you covered.
  • If you are ready to embark on this journey, but going alone feels overwhelming, email us at [email protected] to set up a consultation so we can help you work on it or join us for our upcoming FREE workshop: Roadmap to Behavior Solutions

 – Ellen