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Ep. 2 Transcript

Episode 2: Separation Anxiety

Jerri: [00:00:00] Welcome to Unpacked, an open minded podcast taking a clinical, not political approach to help pet parents around the world. I'm Sailor Jerry, certified dog trainer, virtual dog training revolutionary. Owner of Tulsa Pack Athletics and creator of the Open Minded approach.

Mattison: And I'm Mattison, her friend, certified dog trainer, and cynologist. Together we have nearly three decades of experience in behavioral dog training.

Jerri: This is Episode 2, Separation anxiety.

Mattison: In this episode, and every episode, we will fully unpack a real case. We've been working with real owners and their very real struggles behind the scenes for months to provide this learning opportunity for everyone else out there.

Jerri: We're giving you a peek into our world and minds following through with our promise of adding transparency in this industry.

Mattison: If you're along for the ride, this is how it's going to look. First, we'll introduce our incredible and dedicated owner and explain their intake [00:01:00] process while we describe their dog or dogs and the problems that they're dealing with.

Jerri: Then we'll walk you through our assessment and explain how we got there.

Mattison: Lastly, we'll break down the management and modification plan. This is something we do a little differently. We're delivering a high level end goal case plan to every single owner. We believe in their ability to process a lot of information with us as a team to ensure we're all working towards the same goal.

Jerri: And finally, it's time to introduce you to one of the sweetest women with one of the sweetest dogs ever. It's Christina and Penelope.

Mattison: And oh my. Gosh, you guys Penelope's to die for. She's just a little button.

Jerri: It's exciting to have a little dog on episode two. I was so happy when I saw her on the website and she had submitted because the little dogs need more representation, I think.

Mattison: And we mean little guys. She's 20 pounds. She is a mini [00:02:00] poodle, I think, mixed with a golden retriever.

Jerri: Which to me, is never makes sense. I'm like, how? But then there they are. Cute as could be.

Mattison: She looks like and acts quite like a mini poodle.

Jerri: Yeah, that was my take on it too.

And I had um, a mini poodle growing up. And it was very much that vibe.

Mattison: I actually love poodles. One, one of the dogs that I've worked with for the longest period of time was a standard, small, small for a standard, less than 50 pounds, maybe right around 50 pounds, but I worked with him three days a week for 18 months.

He was my Milo Milo poodle.

Jerri: What I think we should stop here and tell what we know the secret about the poodles. People, people don't know. Poodles are supposed to be the second smartest dogs.

Mattison: They're very smart.

Jerri: Poodles are way up there with the Border Collies, Aussies. They are highly [00:03:00] intelligent. And we all know that sometimes when you're really, really smart, that can lend itself to a bit of anxiety.

Mattison: And some problems when they aren't given, uh, you know, appropriate or full outlet for their mental capacity. Now that that's... at all what we have here. Um, but I just think that that's a common, a common thing with poodles is that they're seen as maybe a frou frou ritzy dog and They're not, they're water dogs and they love to run and jump and train.

And in my experience have just a really large capacity for learning verbal cues. Like they can have a huge vocabulary.

Jerri: I have seen that as well. I've known so many people over the years that own, you know, all the different sizes of poodles. Um, but I've really not ever met one that I didn't. Know to be quite intelligent and quite capable.

So I think that's something to know. [00:04:00] If you've got a poodle or a doodle, this episode may be for you, especially if you're experiencing separation anxiety with your dog,

Mattison: and you're going to hear us gush over Christina a bunch because she's kind of gold standard dog owner. She goes above and beyond for her girl. Every day.

We're going to talk through many of the different facets. That go into separation anxiety training, but it's important to note right off the rip that Christina has done a lot of work already. She is not at day 1 beginning her separation anxiety journey. Penelope is over 2 and a half years old, and she's been with Christina since she was a puppy.

So this is something that they've been working through and dealing with for a long period of time.

Jerri: If we start at the beginning of our intake, and if you're listening to these episodes, I want you to pay attention to what we're doing because these intakes follow a certain order. We're going to talk about these same things for each dog, but they're going to be different for each dog.

It's a way for you to kind of identify in your own dog. [00:05:00] What are these things I need to be thinking about instead of just focusing on problems?

Mattison: Just like in episode one, we start with medical. Penelope was not experiencing any immediate physical issues. Penelope has long term food allergies, but again, uh, Christina has done so much in terms of figuring out what medications will work well for Penelope, getting her on the right dose and balancing that with a ton of other things in her life.

So her allergies are already really well managed.

Jerri: We didn't really have a lot to talk about medically. Christina is a wonderful, wonderful little steward for Penelope and is taking care of all of those needs like Madison was just talking about. And so we moved on to training and what has Christina done with Penelope?

Mattison: She's done quite a bit. She started immediately online with some obedience puppy training when she got her. I think it was right during the pandemic. So that was a great solution to get immediate, you know, just obedience and puppy skills. She also did [00:06:00] some level two obedience work at her local pet co did a CGC prep class with another positive reinforcement trainer and currently goes to agility every single week.

Jerri: What I love about this example is that this is common, y'all. This is common. You can have a dog that has great obedience. I, is a rally dog. I mean, you can have a dog that does not struggle to learn new skills in terms of, um, agility and obedience and things like that. But then when it comes to behavior and having, um, a balance with what the owner's looking for and who that dog is a struggle.

And if that's you, you're not unique, and you're not a troll under the bridge. There are other people out there who have reached a point with their dog. They're doing all of these things, but there are still behavioral issues. I [00:07:00] want to really applaud Christina for just taking a step outside of where her perspective may have been.

And just saying, what am I missing? Because when you're putting that much work into a dog, I'll be the first to tell you, your pride can get in the way of you getting additional help. So it's just really cool to see somebody who's put so much effort and time into the training aspect, still be ready to learn more when they see their dog struggling.

Mattison: Yeah. Yeah. I think that Christina is probably one of the more humble people that we bump into in this world and in what we do. So I agree. I think that I think that you certainly can think that you've tried everything that's out there if you've been through a lot of different services already. And I'm just grateful that that's not something that that held her back at all from reaching out to us.

Jerri: It really can hold people back. So I agree. I'm I'm glad she's here.

Now that we've established what she has done in the past for training that got [00:08:00] her all the way up to, Oh my gosh, I want to be a part of Unpacked. That is where we get to talk about what's going on. What are you seeing? What's really happening?

And this is my secret favorite part. Because I was a vet tech for so long and Mattison, you do these amazing like intakes with them and then they write out a lot of this stuff. So, in the beginning, when they're doing their intake process, and they're giving us all of this information about the medical about the training about.

We can start to see this little red thread that kind of is this common denominator. It doesn't mean that every dog is the same or that we're generalizing or that each dog doesn't get a unique individual plan. That's not what that is. But when you see a lot of dogs, you start to be able to kind of collect data on that and you can see commonalities.

So this was, like, [00:09:00] my favorite part to get into and to start talking about the behavior and what she's really seeing and struggling with.

Mattison: For me, when, when we get to the, to the behavior section of intake, I usually walk away from this portion with a word kind of floating in my head that then sticks around as I work through the rest of the information.

And for Penelope, it was confidence. Lack of confidence, needing more confidence. Um, especially looking at, you know, the behavioral information. She had a tendency to occasionally, uh, urinate when a little bit nervous. Um, very, very sensitive to yelling, uh, harsh tones, things like that. Very unsure around new or novel items, anything that she's never encountered before. Her body language was just very unsure.

Jerri: That was what I took from it too, was this almost frantic insecurity, would be the way, I guess I'd add another word and have two words, I'd call it frantic insecurity. [00:10:00] Yeah, you could boil that down very simply to, you know, being unsure of literally everything.

Mattison: The lack of confidence, the insecurity are what really fed into the behaviors that we actually classify as, you know, separation anxiety, the behaviors that are what prompted Christina to want to reach out to us or to even give the label of separation anxiety.

Those to me. Come from that, that same source, that insecurity, that would be pacing, that would be vocalizing, that would be panting. That would be a complete inability to settle when, when gone. And I know Jerri that you and I have talked about that probably a fair few, and we're not saying this to scare anybody, but a fair few of us whose dogs suffer from separation anxiety. And we just don't know because we don't have that information. We haven't collected that data. I'm a crazy dog mom. Next level crazy dog mom. So I obsessively [00:11:00] watched the cameras. Um, when I first brought home my new dog and when I left to see what were his behaviors when I left and that's how Christina was able to find out that Penelope was in a big way not okay. Would not settle the entire time she was gone and you know, she has to be gone. She works and there's no reason that. We talked about this with Amy's episode. Just because you have a job doesn't mean it disqualifies you from having a dog. Not all of us get to work from home. Those were the behaviors that Penelope was displaying that was genuinely worrisome to Christina because she was feeling that my dog is not okay when I'm not home.

And how do we help and influence our dog when we're not there, right? That's the struggle.

Jerri: The term separation anxiety I think is pretty loaded for people. I, it reminds me of, uh, when people say the algorithm, you know, it's like this thing that comes onto your dog, like a cloud and rains over them, or this, this anvil that come and gets dropped on them [00:12:00] and it just comes out of nowhere and happens.

My dog has, you know, I'm doing air quotes here. My dog has separation anxiety. And really what it is, is a series of responses, behaviors, symptoms that are all grouped together. Then you would classify a dog as having separation anxiety. So just because your dog is a shadow around you in the home, if you could leave and then they're okay, I don't really know that your dog has full blown separation anxiety.

I think it's on a kind of a spectrum. No, you could have a little low level separation anxiety. Those people that think that your dog is protecting you when you go to the bathroom. No, they're not. That dog doesn't want to leave your side. And so they're just following you into the toilet. And that's cute.

A lot of people would look at that and say that that's separation anxiety. My dog is anxious and uncomfortable at the thought of me being away from them. I would look at that and classify the symptoms that I'm seeing from that [00:13:00] behavior. I would classify that as separation anxiety. But just singular things that dogs do, I just want to be careful that we're not, you know, making people think when my dog can't settle down now, he has separation anxiety.

It's, it's groups of behaviors that we're seeing together. Like what Mattison was explaining. It was a lot of stuff, just this overall lack of confidence, coupled with an inability to really ever calm down. That's definitely going to lead to separation anxiety, I would think, especially in a really smart dog.

Mattison: Yes, something that we drilled down on intentionally was how does Penelope react when left with somebody, another human, in her inner circle, which Christina lives alone, so this would be a family member, and Christina leaves. And Penelope is a wreck. So that tells us that we do not have an isolation panic.

We don't just have a dog that has confinement issues or an isolation issue. Um, it's really about being with Christina or [00:14:00] not being with Christina. And again, that's really tricky. How do I train my dog when I'm not there?

So let's look at all the different facets that go into separation anxiety training, because there is a ton.

The first, and something I would definitely consider a form of management, is determining a fulfilling and consistent routine. That is so important. Honestly, that's a gift you can give to Any dog, all dogs. However, when you have a dog that is suffering from this type of separation anxiety, it's critical. It's crucial. You can't even take your first step without it.

Jerri: The reason you can't take your first step without it is because without consistent routine, the dog has nothing to expect. There's nothing to expect and that within itself creates anxiety. For the listeners that have anxiety or have suffered from anxiety in the past, think about that.

The worst was not knowing, not knowing when, not knowing who, not knowing how. And then my brain starts to lottie dah and loop and, and tell myself all [00:15:00] these things and really smart dogs will pick up. I mean, all dogs will pick up on patterning and consistent routine, but it's such a joy to watch. These brilliant little dogs just pick right up on consistent routine.

Mattison: And her routine for Penelope is, again, gold standard. Penelope has a walk and playtime every morning before work and again in the evening. They go to agility training just for fun every week. Dog training on a Friday night, my kind of girl.

Jerri: That's exactly what I was just about to say. Like, ooh, she's one of us, dog nerd.

Mattison: Something that is frequently a part of separation anxiety is working on comfortable confinement, which is having your dog contained to a kennel, a pen, a room, something like that. In this case, Penelope hasn't been kenneled for about a year and isn't destructive even when she's having symptoms of her separation anxiety.

So we didn't actually see the need to reincorporate a kennel straight away. We are now still slowly conditioning her to a fabric [00:16:00] kennel just so we could maybe have that option in the future. And because it's a really good skill to have a dog that's comfortable in a kennel, especially if she wants to compete in any agility, she'll need to learn to be calm in a kennel ringside.

Jerri: Enzo lives that type of kennel life. He has one, it has an open door, he uses it, he's fully crate trained, but it's just not something that we integrate into our life a lot. But I do want him to know how to safely go in and out of a crate and be comfortable in one. Because he has to go to the vet and if he has anything happen and he has to stay there for any reason, it pains me in ways I cannot tell you to think about my dog being sick and freaked out because he doesn't know how to be in a kennel.

I just, as a person who was a vet tech for as long as I was and saw as many dogs as I was, I was so grateful for those owners that kennel train their dogs, even if they didn't use them at [00:17:00] home, because they made their dog's life so much easier for things like medical care.

Mattison: You know, I've worked in various parts of the pet care industry from grooming, training, boarding, daycare, and in emergency, your dog's going to be kenneled.

That's that's just what has to happen in any emergency grooming daycare. Your dog will be kenneled. It doesn't matter if it's a cage free facility emergencies happen.

The next facet of separation anxiety training is good enrichment and exercise. Again, check, check, check. Christina was checking every box, making sure Penelope was using her brain and using her nose and using her body and at an appropriate level, not overdoing it with the physical exercise to compensate for maybe giving her more mental stimulation, which I think I see some owners doing of just wanting to get their dog tired as opposed to fulfilled.

And I think that Christina just has found the perfect balance. And it really, gosh, guys, I can't even describe the relationship to you. It's, it's just so perfect for the two of them. [00:18:00] Their balance of enrichment, exercise, routine, all of it.

Jerri: I love how intuitive Christina is to just treating Penelope like her best friend. And thinking about her needs and thinking about not just looking at her like, Oh, this is my dog. And she's having these behaviors and she needs to stop, you know, which it's so easy to fall into that when you're struggling and when you're hurting and when things aren't going well, it's very easy to fall into that.

So if that's you, that's okay. It's okay to be there as well.

Mattison: I think it's the difference between being a dog owner and being a dog guardian. And there's not anything inherently wrong with looking at your dog as something that you own. But I also think that when you kicked off the episode and called her an amazing steward of Penelope, I think that that's exactly what this is.

And a lot of dogs I think would thrive regardless. Penelope would not.

Jerri: Christina and Penelope are very lucky to have each other.

I've seen a lot of people that have dogs like Penelope [00:19:00] that will weaponize that dog's behavior against them. You know, talk bad about the dog behind its back, like it's a little kid, like it's a little person or something.

You know, oh, she's such a brat. Oh, she's so extra. She's so dramatic.

Mattison: She's too much.

Jerri: She's too much. It's just too much, you know, and she doesn't do that. She doesn't do that. She's never done that. It's always been this is what's going on. What do I do to help her? I can tell that this is not right. There's something she could tell and a lot of people do not have that insight or knowledge to look at their dog and be like, you know what? That's actually not happy. That's you I think having some sort of weird meltdown that looks like happiness.

It takes a lot of time to investigate and to learn about body language. And I really just want to commend her for putting in the effort to treat Penelope like her buddy.

Mattison: Could not agree more. Um, the next facet of our separation anxiety [00:20:00] training is medication.

I shouldn't have sung that. That was weird.

Jerri: I liked it.

Mattison: We'll stick with it.

Jerri: Medication. Everyone step up to the line. Come get your cups.

Mattison: You know, I think we definitely are not going to suggest running and putting your dog on medication as an immediate solution for every behavioral situation. However, Many, maybe even most separation anxiety cases can really, really benefit from finding an effective medication at the right dose.

And again, Christina has really done the work here. So Penelope has her daily anxiety medication and her daily allergy medication that keeps her comfortable. And they have situational meds for extra stressful stuff.

Another facet of separation anxiety training and one that is actually not applicable here is sound masking.

Penelope has never really been sound triggered and doesn't seem to be affected by the ambient or even upticks in the sounds around her.

The next facet of [00:21:00] separation anxiety training, and one that we wanted to start working on right away, was decompression and self soothe skills. This is something that when we get down into our modification plan, we do it a little bit differently.

Most of what I've heard on separation anxiety training has encouraged owners to not use food in training. And I think that what we've seen is by removing that phenomenal and accurate reinforcer of food, we remove the ability to communicate. So clearly alternatives for our dogs and to give them really, really clear direction.

So one thing we gave Christina permission to do was to use food and training again, especially when it came to starting some stationing work and doing pre departure counter conditioning.

Jerri: Let's talk about decompression. If I were to break down explaining decompression really simply, what I would say is this, when you're really amped up, you need a way to calm down.

If you can't do that on your own, Something else has to come in and help you with that. That's a very simple way of explaining it. You can [00:22:00] think about it like when you are really anxious or ramped up. Or even, here's a really good example that a lot of people might, um, understand. When you come home from work, you still feel that energy from the work day and it takes you a little bit to, Decompress and get into your evening nighttime routine.

That's an example of what we're talking about. It's communicating to Christina how she can help Penelope decompress so that she's not always at level 10. That she helps her bring that down and that she has protocols to do that.

Mattison: And by building an easy to repeat protocol, a pattern, something that is just repeatable for Penelope, that gives her opportunities to self soothe, which she was not doing.

She was not finding ways to calm herself down when she was getting worked up. She would pace for a long time.

Jerri: I call that. Smearing their emotions all over the place. Human beings do it too. You don't [00:23:00] know what to do. The way you feel makes you have these certain behaviors. You keep practicing these behaviors over and over and you get into this loop and it's like, and until something comes in and goes, *deep breath* it's not going to happen.

It's going to keep up there at that level of anxiety, which we know is not healthy for the body. Yours or a dog's is releasing all of these different chemicals. And if that just keeps happening, it's super stressful to the body.

Mattison: So again, in Christina's case, she really had checked a lot of the boxes. She had made a ton of progress on her own. She just. Got stuck and wanted to push past.

Jerri: Pre departure cue counter conditioning. I love this. I accidentally, um, counter conditioned my dog into absolute [00:24:00] laziness because I forget so many things inside the house.

Mattison: Oh, I never leave the house once.

Jerri: He could predict that I might go back in a few times, but he could never predict when I, how far away from the door we get before I remember. It's too varied. And so I accidentally, by just being myself, made my dog not anxious around my departure because it was so varied and so chaotic and sporadic.

He couldn't anticipate when anything was happening. Now, do I recommend that being the way that people teach, uh, pre departure stuff? No, it's, that's a, it's not a very efficient way of teaching. Okay, I'm going to need you to leave your keys inside four to five times. Forget your phone out on top of the mailbox.

That, you know, it happened accidentally.

Mattison: And then forget your water and put your keys in the refrigerator while you grab your water.

Jerri: Exactly. Yeah, so they just learn that [00:25:00] their moms are, you know,

Mattison: a mess,

Jerri: a mess, a mess. For a dog like Penelope, who would get so anxious and wound up around, even just the thought of her mother leaving, it was important that we started counter conditioning around the whole time before she leaves. Not just her walking out the door, not just this, her putting her jacket on. There's all these things that happen that Penelope was picking up on that we needed to address because they within themselves were causing her to feel some type of way.

Mattison: And the way that we did that was through a lot of stationing exercises. And by that I mean, we had a mat that Penelope got lots of reinforcement for being on. This isn't training the place command. There's no consequence for Penelope stepping off the mat. That is information. She is allowed to [00:26:00] step off her station if she wants, but there will be reinforcements available on that station.

And then what we did was we used slow systematic desensitization to work on all of those pre departure cues, like reaching for the keys, like putting her coat on, like getting her coffee ready. Anything that could be a predictor that Christina was leaving needed to be completely counter conditioned. And we used food on a station.

Jerri: How many redeparture cues do you think that the average dog picks up on? I guess it depends on what your routine is, huh?

Mattison: Yes. I think that they probably react to like five or six and that there's probably a couple of even more subtle ones that we don't pick up on them noticing

Jerri: Those are the ones that Enzo picks up on because how would he know any different because I'm constantly making a mess of the departure Process then he knows she's got the sausages, you know She wouldn't get the sausages if she wasn't at least a little serious this time.

Mattison: It might be 15 minutes It might be [00:27:00] 45 minutes, but we are leaving. It's just something

Jerri: I want the listeners to be thinking about What are your pre departure habits? What is your dog picking up on? Do you need to write them down? Maybe you don't notice them.

Mattison: Using the stationing to promote self soothe and a little bit of independence and specifically using for our station, a squishy dog bed kind of around the corner from her front door worked in more ways than one for us, which was intentional. We wanted to build up reinforcement of Penelope being calm and self soothing in a location that was not directly in front of the door. That was one of the hardest things for Christina and for us to see was to check in on the camera and see her just plastered against the front door.

So by encouraging her and providing a ton of reinforcement. Even during some, you know, little baby stresses, little key grab, that encouraged her to go and self soothe. And we actually got a screen grab a couple days ago of Penelope sleeping on her [00:28:00] station during the day,

Jerri: which was like the cutest thing ever.

The relief that Christina must have felt when she pulled that camera up and saw that

Mattison: she wasn't like at the door. Yeah.

Jerri: Yeah. It was heartbreaking seeing her sitting at the door like that.

Mattison: For eight hours.

Jerri: And I know Christina just, ugh, did not care for that. It broke her heart.

Mattison: Right, right. This is not a dog that is so worked up that she's destroying things or tearing claws out, which that totally happens.

But that doesn't mean that Christina didn't want to step into something better, something different. Like, there are other ways. She realized it doesn't have to be like that.

To recap where Christina started when she came to us, she was already doing so much successfully with Penelope. Anxiety meds were in place and effective.

She had an amazing exercise of physical routine and play and enrichment. And there was no need for sound masking because Penelope isn't triggered by noises. New [00:29:00] skills that we wanted them to develop were scatters to help desensitize Penelope to novel and new items and stationing for decompression and a counter condition pre departure cues.

Jerri: A final thing that we reminded Christina is use other people to help build independence. Whoever's around you, if all that you have is the agility trainer, ask them to help. If all that you have is your sister to come over, you know, pull the people that are around you that, you know, want to see you and your dog do well.

Don't be afraid to ask.

Mattison: What an amazing episode. I'm so glad that we got to unpack separation anxiety and walk everyone through the incredible progress and relationship that we got to witness with Christina and Penelope. Head on over to unpacked. stream to see photos of Penelope and come back this summer to hear from Christina and other members.

of the unpack for exclusive access to behind the scenes content from the podcast and rescue work digital downloads to help every pet parent plus full training and [00:30:00] behavior courses. Join me at /freedbytraining. And if you're an owner or a rescue and you'd like to work with me, reach out at freed by training.


Jerri: If you are listening to this podcast, you obviously have some interest in. Your dog. Maybe it's somebody else's dog. I don't know. But if there's anything that I can help you with, I would love to see you over in the world of Tulsa pack athletics. There's a lot to look at on my website. So if you get over there and you're really confused and you don't know where to go, you can schedule a phone consult with me.

We can talk about what's going on with your dog and what steps that you might take next. To set you guys up for success, you can visit me at

Mattison: Unpacked was created by Jerry Sheriff and Madison Simpson. For your chance to be featured on unpacked, apply at and find us on Instagram @SailorJerritheDogTrainer, and @FreedbyTraining. See you next time.

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