What is gradual desensitization and how does it help my dog overcome separation anxiety
Gradual desensitization is exposing your dog to being home alone at a threshold that your dog can handle.
Does gradual desensitization really work? Think about this, if you were afraid of heights, would the first thing you do to try to overcome this fear be to climb Mt. Everest? Probably not. You'd probably start by going to the roof of a building at a height you were comfortable with then gradually increase the height from there.
But wait, my dog barks and destroys things the minute I close the door - It's possible your dog may be at a very small threshold, and if that is the case we'll start your dog slow and build up duration.
I can't trust my dog to be alone without pooping on the floor or destroying the couch - With gradual desensitization we are always working with your dog below threshold. What does this mean? We're only training your dog based on what he can handle. With the training, the goal is to not let your dog go over threshold and into a state of panic. With this training method, your floors and furniture are safe because your dog never gets to the point where they are in a state of panic.
So how exactly does this gradual desensitization work?
First, we would determine your dog's separation anxiety threshold. We do this by recording your dog while he is alone, looking for any signs of fear, stress or anxiety. Maybe it's 5 minutes or 60 seconds or maybe even 1 second. Whatever it is, we start working from there.
From there, we start training your dog at a level below what his threshold is. Say your dog starts to panic at 3 minutes of alone time. We'll start the training below this threshold to set him up for success.
Throughout the process, you'll keep track how your dog is doing. When he does well, we will increase the duration for the next training session. Or if your dog didn't do so great, we'll evaluate what may have caused this and take it from there.
And if you're training with us, here's a bonus! We use the Be Right Back Separation Anxiety training app so all your training plans and data are right at your fingertips.
Why should I use this training method instead of something else I heard or read online
Can't I just lock my dog in an indestructible crate when I leave and call it a day? - Indestructible crates, regardless of what their marketing material may say, do not cure separation anxiety. In fact, they almost always make the situation significantly worse than it was before. Besides, most dogs with separation anxiety also have containment anxiety so being locked in a crate is only going to make their anxiety even worse.
My cousin said I should just come out for a drink and just let him "cry it out"eventually he'll be okay Unfortunately letting your dog cry it out in a state of panic is just going to make his separation anxiety even worse. This is a form of flooding and in separation anxiety this process has been proven not to work. Instead it will typically make your dog's separation anxiety worse than it was before.
I read if I just walk around all day shaking my keys with my shoes on my dog will eventually be desensitized to these things and not be afraid of me leaving - While departure cues can trigger your dog, walking around shaking your keys is not going to get your puppy over separation anxiety. The keys are not causing your dog to panic when you leave. The fact that he is alone is what's causing the panic. The keys can work as a predictor that something scary is going to happen and that's why we try to leave out any avoidable departure cues until your dog has built up a solid duration of alone time.
If you have tried any of these other methods mentioned above, you’ve probably come to realize they don’t work. The training process that’s been scientifically proven to work is gradual desensitization. If you’re struggling with your dog’s separation anxiety, reach out below. We’re here to help.