This case study with Lenny the Cavapoochon and his absolutely lovely humans will be in two parts, and is a good indication of what I mean when I say working through separation anxiety takes time…..but is also a very good example to show you that it DOES work and you WILL get there, no matter how overwhelming it may seem at the start!
Lenny – Part 1
I started working with Lenny initially in June 2021 when he was 5 months old – wasn’t he cute!
In our initial assessment, he was standing at the door when his humans exited the house, started whining at 6 seconds, barking at 27 seconds, and his behaviour escalated at 45 seconds of alone time. During this first period of working with Lenny, it was safe to say he struggled. It was not an easy journey for Lenny, nor his humans. While he did build up to about 17 minutes, this was not consistent and nor was he able to remain settled. After a couple of months Lenny was put on medication, but while this was settling into his system he regressed a bit (which is very common) and, long story short, his humans needed a break from it all for a number of reasons. We have to remember that separation anxiety work is hard for the dog, but it is also a really heavy emotional rollercoaster of a journey for the humans, and often a break is helpful.
This is a graph of Lenny’s progress during this period (unfortunately I don’t have any videos now from that period which is such a shame!):
We ended up having a break for a couple of years for a number of reasons, and then this brings us onto Part 2!
Lenny – Part 2
In July 2023 Lenny’s humans reached out to me and were in a position to start working on his separation anxiety again. Here is a slightly older, but still very cute, Lenny!
For the first couple of months Lenny was hovering around the 2 – 5 minute mark, progressing to fidgeting and whining after this time period, and then for the next month or so started hitting the 10 minute mark, on and off. But until about October 2023, Lenny never settled…..he was either sitting upright, or went and sat on the stairs and gradually changed which step he sat on. The signs he was getting uncomfortable changed over time, and included shifting position a lot, and moving up and down the stairs.
In October 2023 he started to be able to remain settled and relaxed on the sofa for short periods of time, albeit this was not consistent, but this was a good sign that he was starting to feel more comfortable about alone time.
In November 2023 Lenny started to show that he was able to remain more relaxed for slightly longer periods of alone time, but at this stage it is safe to say that Lenny’s lovely human mum felt that they would never be able to get above 10-15 minutes, ever, because he did plateau around this time range (plateaus, as with regressions, are very common, but nonetheless incredible frustrating when you come across them!).
The holy grail of the resettle!!
In mid November 2023 Lenny started to be able to resettle himself for the first time ever! Up until this time, if he had remained relaxed when his people left the house, if he got up and off the sofa and went to the stairs or to sit in front of the door, that was that, he wasnt able to settle back down again…..but this changed and that was a HUGE milestone for him! This marked a turning point for Mr. Lenny and in mid-November 2023 he started to reach the half an hour mark, comfortably!
Onwards and upwards….with a small set back along the way!
From then on in Lenny has improved pretty consistently through December and January, with each of our weekly reassessments being better week on week! On 3rd January 2024 he managed a very comfortable 44 MINUTES…..then as is the case with separation anxiety, there are the inevitable dips….and the following week he found it harder to remain settled, moving around a lot and starting to become very fidgety and do small low level whines, so we ended the absence at 15 minutes.
However, I have done this long enough to know that one bad day does not necessarily mean anything other than just that – a day where the dog has a wobble and an ‘off day’, and sure enough, when Lenny’s humans did his next sessions 2 days later, he was much more relaxed again!
On 16th January in our reassessment he aced a 38 minute absence, the week later on 23rd January he smashed a whopping 1 HOUR 2 MINUTE absence, very very comfortably…on 30th January he was alone for 1 HOUR 25 MINUTES, and on our reassessment on 6th February 2024, he hit an amazing new high of a 1 HOUR 40 MINUTE absence, very comfortably! Below is a short clip taken from this latter absence of 1 hour 40 (yes, not the most exciting viewing unless you have had a dog you have not been able to leave!):
2 HOUR Milestone smashed!
On 13th February Lenny remained home alone, comfortably, for 2 HOURS, 1 MINUTE, 47 SECONDS! And could have done longer, but we had to end it because I had dinner plans!!! Absolutely amazing…..the tears and stress that Lenny’s humans have encountered are totally worth it (their words!)!
Below is a graph showing Lenny’s progress for the past 7 months (the dips between the long absences are not due to Lenny not coping as well, but due to ensuring we add ‘easy wins’ and don’t always push for long absences!):
Medication – NOT a last resort
I always say to people medication should not be seen as a last resort – it can be an absolute game changer for so many dogs when given alongside a separation anxiety protocol. Lenny was on one medication from early on, as previously mentioned, and in early January 2024 he was put on an additional medication, which I believe has helped considerably.
I am beyond happy for Lenny and his humans……I work closely with all my clients, and I have grown very fond of these guys! They could not have been any more dedicated than they have been, and despite the fact we have had many tears (as often is the case because separation anxiety is not easy to work through) they trusted the process, stuck with it and are now reaping the rewards.
So please know that while yes, separation anxiety is generally a long journey because we are working on changing emotions, it is absolutely something that can be addressed….it just takes time, patience and dedication….as well as potentially several visits back to the vet!
Here is what Lenny’s humans had to say:-
“I’ll start by saying this – I’m due to have a baby any day now despite 5 years of infertility, and if a year ago you’d told me that would be the case AND Lenny would be able to be left for two hours I would’ve been exponentially more shocked about Lenny.
I honestly believed that Lenny was going to spend his whole life unable to be left alone, that even though the training worked for other dogs he’d be the exception to the rule and it just wouldn’t work.
Angela has been our saviour. Not only is she amazing at what she does being a fountain of knowledge on separation anxiety, dog behaviour and body language, she also helped us navigate getting Lenny on medication, became a regular therapist for me on the days I couldn’t cope and was always only a WhatsApp away with any worries or questions I had – more often than not unrelated to separation anxiety.
There is no way we could have done this without her. Our beautiful boy has gone from being unable to cope with us even putting the bin out to being able to cope alone for a couple of hours. Our whole family now has the life they deserve, him feeling safe at home alone, and us able to do what we need to do without organisational gymnastics to make it happen!
Having a dog with separation anxiety is harder than many people can understand and working through it is so hard but so worth it.
Thank you will never feel like enough Angela, but thank you. The Taylers“
If you would like help working through your dog’s separation anxiety please get in touch! If you complete the form on the page linked below, I will be in touch to arrange an initial call to have a chat: Remote Online Separation Anxiety Dog Training (politepawsdogtraining.co.uk)