Pets with Problems

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separation anxiety

Separation Anxiety - Success Stories

Erik's Story

Separation Anxiety in Dogs

You CAN teach an old dog new tricks

Erik is our Cocker Spaniel – he joined our family when he was two and a half years old, way back in 2013. He’d previously been kept by his breeder both for show and for stud, but he was unhappy living in kennels with a group of other dogs. As she put it “he needs a proper home”. And so we became a proper home for Erik.

We thought everything was going well with Erik – settling in, getting used to the flat, lots of affection from both of us – until a neighbour complained that he was howling the building down when we were out. We were mortified, and from that day forward we barely left him alone. We received some advice from a dog trainer that we should try and train and discipline Erik over a remote camera, but this did little more than confuse Erik and amuse my colleagues at work as I shouted commands to him over my phone. We eventually gave up and resigned ourselves to never leaving Erik alone in the house.

However this became untenable after we became parents in 2019 and we suddenly had health visitor appointments and baby classes and nursery tours. As a last ditch effort, Steph got in contact with Ingrid to see if she could help. And, of course, Ingrid did help (I wouldn’t be writing this if she didn’t). But it was far from as simple as I’d hoped when we started.

Ingrid warned us that it would take some time. Also Erik was 9 years old, we were sceptical it would work at all. And it did take time – around 11 months in the end, encompassing a new job, my daughter’s first steps and first words, and the small distraction of a worldwide pandemic.

Erik did not get used to being left alone quickly. In fact, it was painfully slow. And laborious. Five days out of seven we’d perform “The Protocol” – a series of steps that Ingrid had tailored to help Erik become accustomed to being left in the house. “Pick up keys, open and close front door, wait 30 seconds, pick up coat and keys, go outside, wait 10 seconds, go back inside, wait 60 seconds…”. At each step we’d observe and note Erik’s behaviour. Every day we’d try to remember to find the time to do The Protocol, work out how to fit it in around work and Veronica and everything else going on in our lives. Sometimes we’d forget, or run out of time, and we’d be kicking ourselves. And every week Ingrid would drop by on a Zoom call to do observe Erik during the steps herself. She would monitor to check that he was never getting too distressed – baby steps each week.

Erik began to get better. Slowly, painfully slowly – a few minutes a week. But better. Ingrid liaised with our vet to get Erik prescribed some anti-anxiety medications to help him get over the initial hump of the change. That helped too.

But then we felt like we reached some sort of plateau. We could leave Erik for around 15 to 20 minutes but… no more. He didn’t truly relaxed – he wasn’t so anxious, but he wasn’t relaxed either. This was incredibly frustrating. By this point Steph and I had got doing The Protocol down to a fine art – she’d take the notes, I’d look at the camera, she’d read the steps, I’d do the timings. But it still meant having to spend half an hour to forty-five minutes getting up and down and hanging around outside the house. We had precious little spare time and wasting it on training this dog that wasn’t going anywhere was depressing. And trying to do all of this with a baby at the same time…

It had been about 8 months, and Erik seemed like he’d been at the 20 minute mark for months. Ingrid changed the mix of Erik’s medication, and also noted he was scratching a lot and might be suffering from allergies so she also suggested the vet put him on some anti-allergy meds. And, within a more few weeks, things started to really quickly move in the right direction. Soon we were standing outside for forty, fifty minutes. Then longer. Sure, it wasn’t the most fun, but Erik was making genuine progress. We could now actually plan to do things while leaving him at home. Ingrid was asking us what our goal was, Steph optimistically said 3 hours.

And just like that it was all over. 5 hours we were out and Erik barely moved from his slumber on the sofa. Ingrid declared that Erik was happy enough being left alone, and we just had to make sure that we were still leaving him alone enough for him not to get into bad habits – easier said than done when the government is telling you to stay home, but hey-ho.

Erik is now ten years old – far from a spring chicken for a Cocker Spaniel. Retraining him to be comfortable with being left alone was hard work: boring, repetitive and seemingly endless at the time. But I’m glad that we didn’t give up on him, or us, or Ingrid for that matter. We all got there in the end, and suddenly it is not anxiety inducing for us or him to pop out to a toddler class or go for lunch at a cafe or go shopping – things are so much better for us all.

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Ingrid Haskal

I am passionate about helping dogs and their owners get over this terrible condition. So much so that I have made treating separation cases my speciality and am a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer. Using modern, scientific and up to date methods I get true insight into how you and your dog are progressing and can keep you motivated and on track throughout the training process until the problem has been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

I got my life back

Above all thank you for being there for us when we were experiencing very difficult times with Reggie and thank you for cheering us on and giving us hope to persevere and not to give up

Andrea

home alone and happy

I really thought this would never happen and its true that it took time and hard work but Ingrid’s enthusiasm, support and expertise kept us going. It was like having my own personal trainer! She was with us every step of the way until finally our little Alfie can be left at home and our new sofa is safe from being ripped to shreds.

Trina
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