About your dog separation anxiety specialist

About your dog separation anxiety specialist


My name is River and I am a separation anxiety specialist based in Scotland. I am also a Certificated Clinical Animal Behaviourist with an MSc in Applied Animal Behaviour, and I’d like to tell you a little bit more about why I am so dedicated to helping you understand your separation anxiety dog.

Separation anxiety is a really tough problem. Not just for your dog but for you too. It is a problem that can break your heart as well as your bank balance, and for many people it is frustrating, infuriating, devastating, and isolating too. I’d like to help, not only because I know I am one of the best qualified people to do so, but because I don’t feel like anyone – human or dog – should have to live with such an immense worry.

What makes me passionate about treating separation anxiety? Well, for starters I am, of course, a lifelong dog lover. I was born into a kennel business, and legend has it (if you’d asked my “Ganny” while she was still with us) that my first word was “woof”. Dogs were my first friends and remain my best ones. They taught me about love, loss and the joy of living in the moment. And even after over 24 years of working with dogs they are still teaching me every day; such is their immense patience.

But I also have first hand experience of trauma too. As a result of a personal drive to look for answers and improve my own quality of life I became increasingly interested in both the biological and emotional effects of trauma. As sentient beings, humans and dogs are wired to experience not only positive emotional states, but negative ones too. Fear, anxiety, stress and panic are strong, unpleasant emotions that affect not only our psychological wellbeing but our health and they even alter ways our brains and bodies work.

Despite being unpleasant, I learned that these emotions are functional too. In the case of dog separation anxiety I was fascinated to discover how a lot of the “problem” behaviours we see in separation anxiety dogs – the chewing, the destruction, the barking, the urinating and defecating – are actually normal survival responses.

These behaviours become problematic when triggered in the “wrong” situation or when the dog isn’t able to resolve the situation he finds distressing. When I started to understand these responses more thoroughly, the path to fixing separation anxiety became much more obvious to me, and the dog’s response to treatment more predictable. And so I made it my mission to share it with dog owners in distress!

What makes a separation anxiety specialist?

Before we talk about what makes me a specialist, let’s look at what makes someone a behaviourist. Believe it or not, the title of Animal Behaviourist is not protected by law in most countries. Anyone can start calling themself a behaviourist, so it is important when dealing with a problem as severe as separation anxiety to ensure you are selecting a professional with the academic, ethical, legal and professional  standards to ensure you and your dog will receive the highest level of care.

Here’s what makes me a trusted dog behaviour expert:

  • I have a Masters in Applied Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare from the University of Edinburgh and a Bachelors in Zoology from the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne.
  • I have over 20 years experience working with and training dogs.
  • I worked for 5 years to go through the rigorous assessment process with the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour, earning certification as a Clinical Animal Behaviourist.
  • As a full member of the APBC I adhere to their code of conduct which lays out the highest standards for knowledge, ethics and professionalism.
  • I have public liability and professional indemnity insurance.
  • I have undertaken over £1000 worth of extra training every year, a list of which you can find on my dog training company’s website.

As I worked through hundreds of cases and spent thousands of hours thinking about and working with behaviour problems in dogs, I came to realise that few professionals wanted to work with separation anxiety dogs. I am a sucker for the desperate cases – and I hate to think of people not being able to find help and support when they need it, so I took these cases on, using the skills and knowledge I had at the time to approach treatment through “traditional” behaviour consults.

I’d turn up at people’s houses and we’d talk. I would take a look at the problem – getting owners to leave the house and standing in all weathers outside watching on video. I’d leave them with a long report trying to teach them all the tools they needed to fix their dog’s separation anxiety once and for all. I’d talk to vets about medications to fix the problem too. And we had reasonable success, but not every case was a victory and a realised that trying to make every client into a behaviourist was not realistic, so for a while, I will be honest, I took a swerve on separation work.

Then, early in 2020 I heard about an opportunity to undertake training with Julie Naismith – a separation anxiety expert and I jumped at the chance to take part in her 10 week separation anxiety specialist course. And so my passion for supporting dog owners looking to fix their dog’s separation anxiety was re-ignited, and I am now a proud certified SA Pro Trainer and member of a wonderful community of separation anxiety specialist.

So, if you are looking for a behaviour expert to help you cure your dog’s separation anxiety – I’m with you all the way!