APDT Conference: Day 3.2

Still got a day and a bit to cover in the APDT Conference, so here is the next instalment, a further session with Malena DeMartini-Price, this session titled “Separation Anxiety. Don’t Run, it can be Done!”

Another excellent session that followed up on her previous and unfortunately, not enough time to cover everything. Malena had excellent video, which in my view outclassed the Robert Holmes’ NDTF sessions on separation anxiety (or canine separation anxiety disorder).

She started with how she classifies the level of anxiety into Mild, Moderate or Severe. Moderate is the most common form she sees.

Mild = panting, whining, intermittent barking, mild chewing (eg. bedding), excessive greeting (calming down quickly), mild depression, some shadowing (following), no key owner attachment

Moderate = anorexia, constant barking, howling, moderate destruction, elimination, excessive greeting (10-45 mins), panting, sweaty paws, moderate depression, wild door dashing (or blocking), frequent shadowing, pre-departure anxiety

Severe = self-mutilation, escapism, salivation/drooling, severe destruction, excessive water consumption, excessive shadowing, severe depression, aggression, diarrhoea / vomiting

Following from the previous session she summarised the plan she uses. The question everyone asks is how long does it take? There is no one-size fits all answer; however, it is dependent on the dog’s learning curve, the owner’s ability to suspend absences (she states the plan cannot work well if the owner is not prepared to work on the program, i.e. suspend being away so you can work on the plan), there can be no guarantees, and that mild does not mean quick (as an example, Malena provides the following as a guide: mild = 6-12wks, moderate/severe = 4-6 months and up).

Why can’t the owner continue with their usual routine of going out everyday to work? Well, for the following reasons: the plan is difficult to execute and makes it muddy for the dog, the dog suffers daily, constant anxiety inhibits learning, departure cues very salient/in constant use, owners take advantage of ability to leave dog alone, owners practice safe absences less over time, plan takes more time to complete, and as we have seen so many times in dog training – the owner gives up.

However, what does work (suspending absences): reduced stress for the dog, departure cues no longer salient, owners highly motivated to practice, plan completed more quickly, better case resolution.

When the owner says they can’t suspend their absences, then as a trainer, work together to find some solutions. Malena listed some of these such as doggy-daycare or dog minders but the list is really endless.

Another question that gets asked a lot is whether to crate the dog or not. Malena rarely uses crating unless there is an affinity to the crate. She prefers confining the dog with baby gates or similar. The point in the program is not to confine the dog but to desensitise it in a gradual manner to lower the dog’s threshold. The program is based on using the baby-gate area as an area for desensitising but the end goal is the dog will be free to go anywhere. The confinement permits the intermittent absences otherwise the dog will continue to shadow, etc.

She effectively has a two phase program:

Phase one = non-follow routine (stay and mat); establish the non-confinement area; introduce interactive feedings toys; regarding departure cues, the only one that is needed in phase one is the keys, the rest can come later. With the food interactive toys it is also important that the dog runs out of food, which teaches the dog to relax when left alone not just eat.

Phase two = there is no set number to how many repetitions (this is where the intermittent departure commences – see later for a summary); pause between repetitions so the repetition does not become a pattern as this is not ‘usual’ behaviour to the dog.

In Malina’s first session she provided a case study of Lucy the border collie x. Without going into intimate detail she always commences on a four week plan then reassesses. During this time there is feedback and communication between owner and trainer and expectations on the owner. Initially there should be 2 x 30 minute training sessions a day, building on duration increases.

Exercises include an increase on the use of ‘stay’ and ‘bed’ as this has three benefits: breaking shadowing, mini-absences, the dog gains confidence and sees it as a game. There is also a need for enrichment exercises with interactive feeding and games. And the desensitisation process using the baby-gate.

The area behind the the baby-gate needs to be seen by the dog to be a Disneyland – this obviously requires desensitisation, which is day 1.

Day 2 hang-out in the gated area, then step out and return (remember the earlier advice on the keys). Do this every few minutes (remember trying not to establish a pattern) and keep below the threshold.

Day 3 exit the gated area for 30 seconds but in view of the gate

Day 4 exit the gated area for 2 minutes but in view of the gate

Day 5 exit the gated area for 5 minutes stepping briefly into a partially obstructed view.

And you can see how it progresses. Week two built up to out of sight, then touch the door, then open the front door.

Week 3 progressed to open the door then exit for 2, 5, 10 seconds and progressing. And as the weeks progressed the desensitisation built up to eventually driving away in the car. After the four week program Lucy had stopped her shadowing, was happy to sleep in areas other than the owner’s bedroom, lost interest in the food but happily slept during absences. The owners indicated that when they both left, this was more difficult on the dog so those exercises were doubled.

As you can see through this it takes a lot of time and patience on the owners behalf but if they want to succeed they can reach the goal, although there are no guarantees. I can’t remember if I mentioned it previously but Lucy could remain by herself for the day after about five months and to make it easier a dog-walker came in also.

I probably found this (and Malena’s case studies) to be two of the best sessions with practical advice based on real-life scenarios and not the my-dog stories. Other highlights were the scientific studies, which I will touch on later so there is more to come.

Here are a few slides rom Malena’s lecture …

Home » APDT Conference: Day 3.2 » Separation Anxiety


APDT Conference: Day 2.1

Ken Ramirez followed by another Ken – Ken McCort. Ken McCort is an experienced dog trainer, lecturer and advisor and has also been involved with training and working with the wolves at Wolf Park in Indiana. For my dog training buddies back home, Ken’s dog training business is “Four Paws” – he must be good.

Anyways, Ken’s session was part of a series from four speakers on Behaviour Problems and the Companion Dog with Ken’s talk on “Prey drive”.

This was quite interesting and as with the other speakers, it was based on a real-case scenario. Ken’s was on a wolf-hybrid (he is an expert on wolf-hybrids) and he said that this was one of the actual wolf-hybrids he had come across. The scenario was based on predatory behaviour targeted at the children in the household with an end result that the dog was re-homed. He walked us through a plan (primarily based on incompatible behaviours) and how it was working but the predatory behaviour is always going to be there and on the day the wolf started stalking the children in the backyard enough was enough. I enjoyed this session and followed it on Day 3 with another session from Ken on aggression (another blog coming on that – great session).

This was followed by Malena DeMartini-Price a behaviourist who specialises in separation anxiety. This was captivating and I wrote pages and pages of what she did in the scenario of a 3 year old adopted female border collie called Lucy. When left-alone, Lucy had severe destructive behaviours, anorexia, howling, panting, drooling, pacing and shadowing. The owners recently moved house and the behaviours intensified. Lucy went to obedience classes and was 80% reliable on key behaviours of “Stay” and “Bed”. The owners had never sought help for the SA and Lucy had regular exercise and was on a high-quality diet. When crated, the behaviours were the same as when not crated.

There were two goals to the plan: short term of 1-2 hours absence so the handlers could go to the shops or out for dinner, etc; long-term they wanted 8 hour absences with a dog walker coming in during the day.

And then Malina stepped us through the plan – a four week initial period where everything was re-assessed followed up to week 12. At a little over 5 months the long-term goal was achieved. Malina stressed that any SA plan will take time and there is nothing that can be done about that, you can try medication to make it easier but it won’t reduce the time. There were a lot of key points but I will put them in another blog as I also saw Malina again (and that was an even better session than this one).

This was followed by Colleen Pelar (remember from Day 1) whose session was on “Human-directed Aggression”. Colleen didn’t have any specific case-study of her own but she did have some key points based on others’ experience.

Again, a lot of problems come from the owner – so often it matters who has the end of the leash. Too often people get the wrong dog. And no matter what, you can never promise that a dog is not going to bite (again) – but you can try and manage the circumstances when it may occur.

She had a venn diagram of where aggression comes from with the intersecting circles being: genes, environment and individual character. And for the success of the training plan, well it depends on compliance and non-compliance. And no denial of the seriousness.

This was followed by the three speakers and Ken Ramirez in a panel discussion. These are the points I wrote down:

On problem behaviours: What is the context of where the dog is going to be raised determines whether something may be a problem or not – e.g. killing squeaky toys vs. killing cats.

On handling dogs: It is not about strength, it’s not about power – it’s about being smart.

On diet: We are trainers, not nutritionists; however, a good dog = a healthy dog = a better dog to train (although it was acknowledged some studies have indicated a correlation between poor diet and aggression).

And that was it for the day, as the trade-show opened ($5 Kongs – woo-hoo)

And the doors are open ...

And the doors are open …