We’ve been walking around our house all week picking up keys, but my dog still has separation anxiety
Does this sound familiar? Maybe a cousin or even a dog trainer, not certified in separation anxiety, suggested this. “Just walk around your house all day and randomly pick up your keys.” So you do this until your dog no longer reacts to you picking up the keys. Great, now you try to leave and he’s still barking and howling after five minutes. What happened?
Pre Departure Cues for Dog Separation Anxiety
The keys are a pre-departure cue to your dog. Just like putting your shoes on, or picking up your purse, the dog knows when this happens it likely means you’re going to be leaving and he’s going to be all alone. So your dog reacts when he sees you pick up the keys.
You took your cousins advice and walked around picking up your keys and guess what? Your dog no longer reacts and gets anxious. That’s great, right? Not exactly. What you just did was desensitize your dog to picking up keys. That has done nothing to help your dog with their actual issue which is the panic and anxiety of being left alone. What would have been a more effective use of your time would’ve been to work on desensitizing your dog to being left alone by gradual departure training.
But I need to take my keys with me when I leave
You may need to take your keys with you when you leave, but do you need to pick them up right before you depart. Perhaps you could leave your keys in your pants pocket all day. Or if your dog reacts to shoes, maybe they can be left outside the door so your dog doesn’t react when you put them on right before leaving. These are called avoidable pre-departure cues.
When starting separation anxiety training it is best start working on building up duration with your dog and avoid any pre-departure cue that is avoidable. These cues can always be added into the training program after your dog has built up a solid duration.
Why not work on these cues at the beginning of training
Here is the thing, the cue is predicting a scary thing for your dog, being left alone. After you have built up a solid duration, being alone isn’t as scary to your dog as it was previously. So when you add the cue back into the training, your dog likely will not have such an anxious reaction because he’s not as anxious about being left alone as he was when you first started training.
Now some dogs be have setbacks when something changes with the training, like adding in shoes or keys, but these setbacks are typically remedied mush quicker when your dog already has a solid foundation of being home alone.
Why work with a certified separation anxiety trainer
With separation anxiety training, it’s always best to work with a dog trainer who is certified in working with separation anxiety dogs. These trainers are up to date on the latest methods and training programs that actually work to help your dog’s separation anxiety.