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How to Help a Dog With Separation Anxiety: 8 Vet-Verified Tips & Steps

Written by: Genevieve Dugal

Last Updated on April 25, 2024 by Dogster Team

dog waiting for its owner at the door

How to Help a Dog With Separation Anxiety: 8 Vet-Verified Tips & Steps


Dr. Amanda Charles Photo


Dr. Amanda Charles

BVSc MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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For a dog parent, going to work each morning and having to leave their beloved furry friend home alone can be a heart-wrenching experience. But for a dog suffering from separation anxiety, the absence of their owner can be truly agonizing. This often manifests in destructive behavior, excessive barking, and other signs of distress. Fortunately, with patience and the right strategies, you can help your dear furry friend overcome separation anxiety. Here are eight tips to guide you through the process.

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What Is Separation Anxiety in Dogs?

Separation anxiety in dogs refers to a stress reaction when a dog is apart from their bonded person or people. Signs include excessive barking, whining or howling, destructive behavior, pacing, trembling, indoor accidents, and attempts to escape. Reactions vary from mild distress to extreme anxiety, leading to self-injury. If you are unsure if your dog is suffering from separation anxiety then you may want to consider using a pet monitoring camera to video them in your absence, dogs with separation anxiety usually show signs of distress in the first 10 minutes or so of being alone. Many different factors can contribute to a dog developing separation-related problems including genetics, past experiences, and changes in family dynamics, lifestyle, or routine.

dog waiting by the window
Image Credit: dramitkarkare, Pixabay

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The 8 Steps for Helping Your Dog Cope With Separation Anxiety

When it comes to helping your dog overcome separation anxiety, the aim is to change the way your dog feels about being left alone by reducing their reliance on you and promoting relaxation when you’re away. Unfortunately, there’s no instant solution for stress-related behaviors; it takes time and patience. Given the complexity of treating separation anxiety, you should seek assistance from your vet and often a veterinary behaviorist who can tailor a behavioral modification program specific to them and prescribe medication if necessary.

In the meantime, here are a few things to consider and tips that you can implement at home to help.

1. Exercise Your Dog

Dogs are social animals and need adequate physical exercise. Making sure your dog’s needs are met by engaging them in physical and mental activities can set them up for success before you leave them and help them settle in your absence. Challenging games that stimulate their minds, such as finding treats hidden in puzzle toys, or scenting games like, “find the toy,” can prepare your dog to relax when you’re away.

Additionally, easy trick training, such as teaching them to “spin” or “high five,” beyond just being cute and fun, provides mental exhaustion that leaves your dog ready for rest. Complete these activities about 30 minutes before you leave the house to make it easier for your dog to adjust to your absence.

2. Keep Your Pup Busy While You’re Gone

For dogs with mild separation intolerance, giving them a treat-stuffed toy as part of your departure ritual can be helpful. However, you’ll need to be cautious with interactive food toys for dogs experiencing severe separation anxiety as repeatedly giving them the toy before you leave your home can inadvertently signal to your dog that something negative is imminent.

dog playing with its toys
Image Credit: TeamDAF, Shutterstock

3. Consider Using Medication

Anxiety interferes with learning so sometimes your veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist may suggest that prescription medications will be useful in conjunction with a behavioral therapy programme. The decision to use medication will be based on the severity of the behaviors your dog is showing and considerations about their welfare and quality of life. Medication can often be stopped once dog’s have learnt to cope on their own.

4. Create a Safe Space

Designate a cozy, safe space for your pup to retreat to when you’re not around. This could be a cozy corner with their bed, toys, and water bowl. Make sure this space is associated with positive experiences, like treats and your dog’s favorite toys!

dalmatian at home
Image Credit: Pixel-Shot, Shutterstock

5. Practice Short Absences

Gradually accustom your dog to your absence by practicing short departures. Start by leaving the house, or even just the room, for just a few minutes, and gradually increase the duration over time. This helps desensitize your dog to your leaving and returning.

6. Use Desensitization and Counterconditioning Techniques

Use desensitization and counterconditioning techniques to help your dog become less anxious about being alone. A behaviorist will help you with this but essentially desensitization involves gradually exposing your dog to triggers of anxiety, such as picking up your keys or putting on your coat, without actually leaving so that any emotional reaction is minimal. Over time you gradually build up to leaving them for short, then longer periods of time. Counterconditioning involves pairing the negative stimulus with something known to create a positive emotional response such as treats.

dog enjoying belly rub from owner
Image Credit: Evelyn Chou, Shutterstock

7. Avoid Punishment

Punishment can worsen separation anxiety by increasing your dog’s fear and stress. Instead of scolding or punishing your dog for anxious behavior, focus on positive reinforcement techniques like treats, praise, and rewards for calm behavior.

8. Be Patient and Consistent

Helping a dog overcome separation anxiety takes time, patience, and consistency. Be patient with your furry friend and celebrate small victories along the way. Consistency is essential for reinforcing positive behaviors and building your dog’s confidence.

owner petting happy dog
Image Credit: Bachkova Natalia, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

Dealing with separation anxiety in your dog can be tough, but by using the right methods, you can help your furry friend feel better when you’re away. Look out for and recognize the signs, create a cozy space, practice short departures, stick to a routine, keep them mentally stimulated, exercise regularly, avoid punishment, and be patient and consistent. Seek professional help as soon as possible as an early treatment plan developed specifically for your individual dog has the greatest chance of success. Your love and support mean everything in helping your dog feel safe and happy, even when you’re apart.

Featured Image Credit: Lori Jaeski, Shutterstock

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