You need to help your clients master the skill of reading canine body language.Part of the desensitization process entails you helping them set criteria, which, as every trainer knows, is crucial if the owners are ever going to work on their own.Can the owners tell the difference between a fully relaxed down and a tight, anxious down where the dog is ready to spring up and follow them in an instant?If the owners walk a few feet away into the kitchen for a glass of water, does the dog follow them, and if so, with what type of tail carriage?How do the dog’s eyes look if the owners pick up their keys versus if they pick up the leash?Help your clients to become aware of the different types of body cues and to understand that many of these cues are indicators of stress they need to be familiar with so they can recognize when they are pushing their dog past the point where he is too anxious.In no time at all, they will be masters.The best thing you can do for your clients is to teach them so well that you are out of a job.Training go to mat 101Teaching a placement cue as part of a separation anxiety protocol is useful for two reasons.Use whichever method you think will be least overwhelming for the owners.If they have already attended a few training classes and understand clicker training and shaping exercises, then why not make it a fun shaping exercise?Always adapt your training technique to your clients’ strengths.As soon as you see that the clients understand the concept and process, let them do it.Get the treats out of your hand and into theirs.Confidence on the part of the owner is fundamental to training in general, and crucial to separation anxiety training.If the clients feel overwhelmed the moment you walk out the door, they are doomed.You are not there to train the dog, you are there to train the owners.By the end of Phase One, they should be able to succeed in asking the dog to go to his mat from a distance of at least two to three feet.Here is an example of Ollie being cued to go to his mat.Notice that at the end he is lying on his mat in a very relaxed manner rather than in a stiff obedience down.One important thing to remember when working with the three D’s is to never mix criteria, so distance should never be trained while working on duration or distraction.Once all of them are learned well, you can put them together slowly.You can manipulate distance very gradually as you work on the stay behavior.Always remember that you should include going to the right and to the left, straight back from the dog and even behind the dog.If you are having difficulty increasing the distance from one foot to two feet, think in inches instead of feet.You can always split things up when necessary.This refers to the amount of time that you are asking the dog to remain in his stay position.You will start with very little duration, just a few seconds, and then gradually build up to several minutes in small increments.Remember to stay right in front of the dog as you begin to build duration initially.You will find over time that you can jump in larger increments, but be mindful that you will likely also hit sticky points wherein you may have to back up and split criteria again.The degree of distraction that you will encounter during your indoor stays is not as concerning as when you practice outdoor stays, however distractions exist in both locations.The various distractions that you think might affect your dog’s stay should be incorporated gradually into your stay protocol so that he can learn to stay relaxed when they occur.Once he can stay with just distractions alone, you can combine those distractions with distance and duration.What matters is that it’s a relaxed down.The dog’s hip rolled to one side is great if that’s the position the dog normally chooses, curled up on a mat or bed is even better.It’s also not important for the dog to orient to where the owner is.In fact, it’s better if he doesn’t.Use a special bed or blanket for this exercise.Put it where it will be placed in the future during real absences as you begin building positive associations with the bed now.Encourage the owners to get into the habit of noticing and reinforcing the dog when he is lying comfortably on his bed.Whenever the dog chooses to go to his bed of his own accord and relaxes there, the owners should reward him with a treat or with special cuddle time.All the best stuff should happen on that bed.The more positive experiences the dog can associate with his bed, the better.This will give him a place that acts as a security blanket when he is eventually left alone.His bed will become the place he wants to go when Mom and Dad are away, because it’s the place he feels most connected to them.Think of Linus in Peanuts.That is the kind of connection you want the dog to feel to his bed when his owners aren’t around.When working on relax/stay exercises, increase the distance and duration criteria separately.And because this is a separation anxiety dog, you need to move along gradually, keeping it light and fun the entire time.There are detailed outlines of relax/stay exercises in Appendix 3 if you need to refer to them.However, I suggest you adjust the steps to suit the owners, the house and the dog.One thing to note about the steps is that they include varying degrees of difficulty of distance, duration and distractions.You will also notice easy exercises are mixed in with more difficult ones.All dogs are masters of discrimination and pay attention to every detail, but separation anxiety dogs can be even more vigilant than most, so you should never increase criteria in a straight line.During the relax/stay training, show your clients how you are raising criteria slowly and tell them why you are doing so.Point out body language cues and how those cues help you to raise, lower, or maintain the criteria level.In other words, start building their proficiency at criteria setting right away.The better they become at it, the better they will be able to help their dog.Here you can see Ollie understands the relax portion of the stay cue.Phase One recapPhase One requires a bit of work, probably a few days to a week’s worth, depending on the owners’ level of understanding and consistency.As soon as you have generated a house layout and have determined with the owners where the confinement area will be, start the exercises.Also have the owners jump into their assigned reading immediately.While they wait for the baby gate and other supplies to arrive, they can practice the relax/stay and go to mat exercises.At this early point, grab every opportunity to point out body language and to highlight to the owners how you constantly set criteria as you train.How do you know you are at the end of Phase One?Then it’s time to forge ahead.Remember that the dog should be happily and calmly adjusted to the exercises in Phase One before you begin Phase Two.Setting the owners up to understand the desensitization process.Priming the dog to enjoy and relax with an interactive food toy.Here the focus is on getting the dog to enjoy interactive food toys so you can benefit from the positive association they will yield.Introducing barrier training.During this phase, you will slowly introduce the vital step of barrier training.Working the dog gradually up to 30 minutes on the other side of a barrier while in view of the owners is a key goal in Phase Two.The dog learning to love his toys and a fun new game in the form of an impulse control exercise.Studying body language further.They should also be getting a beginning grasp of criteria setting.This is a good time in the program to let them practice this skill under your direction.During this phase of the treatment plan, you are having the owners work on both these exercises to the point that they are fluent on at least a hand signal, preferably the verbal cue as well, and you will increase the distance and duration considerably.The learning that takes place during these relatively short absences is paramount.Later, it’s precisely the relax/stay and go to mat cues you will use to teach the dog not to follow his owners everywhere.In time, you will have the owners redirect the dog to go to his bed and stay each time he would normally choose to follow them from room to room.As this behavior is practiced and rewarded regularly, and the game of it becomes enjoyable, the dog will incorporate it into his own repertoire and choose to not follow his owners.In Phase One, the dog had achieved a relax/stay of ten to twenty seconds.In Phase Two, you will have the owners build that duration up to at least one minute.However, be careful.Make sure your clients use a stopwatch made for sports versus a kitchen timer.Kitchen timers generally make a loud, obnoxious beep, and most dogs quickly learn the beep means the end of the relax/stay.That’s no disaster, but the owners really should initiate the end of the relax/stay, not the beeping noise from the other room.In this phase, work with the owners to build the distance related to the relax/stay up from five to ten paces away to at least twenty or more.The relax/stay should be enough paces away that the owners can be in view or out of view in another room if the dog can tolerate it.Remember, this is not an obedience exercise.This is about teaching the dog to relax while staying on his mat for one minute while the owners are doing something in the next room, either in or just out of view.The dog has no barriers, no imposed need to stay on his bed, but will learn to stay relaxed and stay in place.Increasing distance and duration gradually is important.Most dogs can jump from 20 to 25 feet away fairly quickly, but taking an extra step in between not only makes the behavior stronger, it keeps the anxiety at bay and ups the level of relaxation.Always increase distance and duration criteria separately.And vice versa if you are working on increasing distance.Find itThe type of clients you see when working on separation anxiety varies infinitely.Others have been through multiple dog training classes over the years and understand many training concepts well.This means that some of your clients will already have taught their dog some impulse control.If they haven’t, it’s important they do so now.Teaching the find it game is simple, and the owners and dog usually come to love the game if you show them how to do it in a fun way.Gradually, the owners should build up to longer distances and more complicated hiding places using multiple treats and possibly their interactive feeding toys.Remember, you are teaching the dog how to be okay with solitude, not just to eat a Kong or keep busy with his interactive toys when his owners are absent.Eventually, the Kong is going to be empty, the Treat & Train will run out of kibble or the bully stick will be consumed.You need to teach those skills now, at the beginning of the program.Initially the owners will learn to desensitize the dog to being placed inside the baby gate within the designated area.During this phase, the owners shouldn’t interact with the dog at all.That means no eye contact, no consoling, just maybe a few dropped treats as a reward for calm if desired.Does the dog come to the gate and sit rigidly as they move farther away, and relax as they get closer again?Does the dog notice at all?Does the dog bark within moments of the owners leaving his immediate vicinity?Make sure it’s one that will take a little bit of time to consume.Next, have the owners move away from the dog but remain in view in the same casual manner and then return, but increase the time they are gone by five seconds.