If you ever had to deal with separation anxiety in dogs, you already know it’s a serious and an emotionally draining problem.
Well, you’re not alone. According to some sources, separation anxiety disorder accounts for 20-40% of all dog behavior cases seen by experts in the U.S. It’s huge, but thankfully today there is a range of safe and effective ways to treat this and grow closer to your best fur-friend.
This in-depth guide on how to deal with separation anxiety in dogs will teach you everything you need to know about this behavioral problem- including how to successfully treat it.
1. What Is Dog Separation Anxiety?
Learn what are symptoms of anxiety, common causes for this behavior and how to recognize false positives.
- 20 Signs of Anxiety in Dogs You Should Not Ignore
- Common False Positives
- Simulated Separation Anxiety in Dogs
- Causes of Dog Anxiety
- Dog Breeds with Separation Anxiety
2. What To Do If Your Dog Has Separation Anxiety (Tips, Training, Solutions)?
Find out what are the most effective strategies for treating separation anxiety in dogs.
- Treating Puppy Separation Anxiety
- How to Treat Separation Anxiety in Dogs
- 23 Tips for Managing Separation Anxiety
- Training Methods for Separation Anxiety in Dogs
- Natural Treatments
- How to Stop Separation Anxiety in Dogs Using Petcube Bites
- What Not to Do
- Final Thoughts
What Is Dog Separation Anxiety?
The name says it all. Whenever you’re not around, your dog is anxious, frightened or nervous. The severity of dog anxiety can vary, going from slight unease to full-blown anxiety attacks in more severe cases.
Each dog is different, but most furballs cope with separation anxiety by being destructive or present characteristic physical symptoms. This is why people often mistake the lack of proper training or even some medical issues for this dog behavioral issue.
Separation Anxiety Symptoms: How to Rule Out False Positives
There are many telltale dog separation anxiety signs. Some are really true dog anxiety symptoms, while others could be false positives - indications of different dog behavior problems, potentially medical in nature or different altogether. It’s important to understand what are symptoms of anxiety and what is just a false alarm. Let’s take a closer look.
20 Signs of Anxiety in Dogs You Should Not Ignore:
- Constant barking, howling, whining
- Intense pacing and restlessness
- Excessive salivation and panting
- Restlessness, scratching doors or windows, digging at doors
- Escaping a room or crate
- Destruction of property (pillows, sofas, and other furniture, eating plants)
- Urinating or defecating indoors
- Chewing stuff (especially things you touched recently)
- Dilated pupils
- Jumping through open and/or closed windows
- Eating through walls
- When you come home, the dog follows you around the house
- Hiding or crying when you take your keys or make other signs that you plan to leave the house
- Ignoring food
- Excited behavior or submissive dog body language when you come home
- Destroying doors and other points of entry
Common False Positives
Before jumping to the anxiety conclusion, make sure that your pet’s dog anxiety symptoms are not an indicator of a different problem, whether medical in nature or caused by a lack of exercise, training or simply boredom. Here are some common problems that can present as separation anxiety disorder.
This medical issue can be a symptom of kidney disease, UTIs, diabetes and a myriad of other illnesses. If your dog suddenly starts peeing in the house, check with your vet first to rule out any potential health issues.
If your pooch is on any medications, high anxiety symptoms like excessive salivation, lack of appetite, pooping or peeing inside, or even anxiety itself can simply be a side effect of the drug. Consult your vet to rule out medications as a cause.
Submissive or Excitement Urination
Some dogs may pee during greetings, play-time, during physical contact or when being reprimanded or punished. These dogs tend to display submissive postures, such as holding their tail low, flattening their ears back against their head, or rolling over and exposing their bellies. Dog body language is, in this case, an indicator of a personality type and not stress.
Some dogs famously urinate inside because they’re scent marking. Dog mark their scent by peeing a little on walls or other vertical surfaces. This is especially common with dogs who are not neutered or spayed.
Young dogs are known to be particularly destructive with their chewing or digging, even if you’re at home.
Dogs need mental stimulation, and some dogs act out when alone because they’re bored and looking for something to do. This type of attention-seeking behavior is not caused by distress and these dogs usually don’t appear anxious.
Incomplete House Training
Dogs that urinate inside might not be 100% house trained. The same goes for a dog pooping in the house (unless the dog poops in the house after being outside, in which case it might be anxiety pooping).
It’s also possible house training was an inconsistent or involved punishment that made them afraid to relieve themselves while their owner was watching or nearby.
Simulated Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Although it’s not a true anxiety disorder, simulated separation anxiety has exactly the same dog stress symptoms. So how do you tell the difference?
Unlike dogs, who suffer from separation anxiety disorder, canines who simulate this behavior are not motivated by fear or nervousness. It’s simply a learned, attention-seeking behavior.
For example, if your furball really wants to sleep in your bed but isn’t allowed to, he might start whining in front of your door or peeing in the hallway when they don’t get their way. This can lead you to mistake an attention-seeking behavior for a form of dog separation anxiety at night.
The most important thing you can remember is not to indulge your pooch when they’re exhibiting destructive behavior. When you reward them after they do something unwanted or forbidden, you’re actually encouraging them to misbehave.
Thankfully, simulated separation anxiety can be easily corrected. Simply stop paying attention to your pooch’s dramatics and when they see they won’t get their way by being destructive, they’ll be on their best behavior.
Causes of Dog Anxiety
Dogs are social animals and love to hang out and spend time with other dogs and people, especially if they grew up around them.
But, even though we might enjoy being the center of our pooch’s universe, it’s not always a good thing.
For some dogs, the bond they share with their human(s) becomes so strong that whenever you’re not with them, they become extremely distressed.
So, what causes high anxiety symptoms in dogs? Is it just that your dog obsessed with you?
Anxiety could be triggered by a life event for you, such as a new job or the start of school, but there are other things that might have laid the groundwork for your dog to be acting out now. It’s also generally accepted now that genetics and an early history of abandonment could also be key contributors.
Here’s what Cesar Millan, a renowned dog behaviorist, has to say about causes of separation anxiety in dogs:
Dog Breeds with Separation Anxiety
It’s important to note that some dog breeds are more prone to developing separation anxiety, such as:
- German Shepherd
- Australian Shepherd
- Cocker Spaniels
- Labrador Retriever
- Border Collies
- Bichon Frise
- King Charles Spaniel
- Toy breeds
If you’re looking up which dog breeds have separation anxiety hoping that a pooch’s pedigree is enough to indicate a behavior disorder, you won’t find an answer. Even though there are dogs whose breed makes them more easily affected by separation anxiety, it’s not the main indicator.
After all, not all German Shepherds have separation anxiety and it’s not like an adorable mutt is going to be immune to it!
What to Do If Your Dog Has Separation Anxiety (Tips, Training, Solutions)
The most basic issue is really how to help a dog with separation anxiety? We’ll get to preventative tips and training hints later in the article, but when you need to act now and are completely exasperated - what do you do?
Here are two things to remember when trying to treat and soothe your dog:
- Don’t get into a shouting match! Yelling back just stimulates your dog to bark more because they think you’re joining in. Be calm and firm, but don’t raise your voice.
- Stay consistent with your training. Most dogs won’t understand if you suddenly command them to “shut up.” Use the same keyword so that your dog will understand a word like “Quiet!” and respond.
Treating Puppy Separation Anxiety
New pet parents are often overwhelmed with excitement, responsibilities and general chaos that comes with having a new puppy in their home. Sure, most people start training their dogs while they are still young but overlook prevention. However, preventing separation anxiety disorder from developing during the puppy stage might be one of the best things you can do for your dog.
Here are some things to consider when you have a puppy:
- Teach your puppy to be alone
- Teach your puppy to feel comfortable in a crate
- Keep greetings and departures low-key
- Make sure your puppy has plenty of exercise
- Help your puppy associate your departure cues with good things
- Never reward or encourage attention-seeking behavior
Teaching them positive behaviors and how to properly deal with puppy separation anxiety early can save you a lot of hassle, effort and potentially money in the long run. As with many behavioral problems, it is much easier to prevent than to cure.
If you’re wondering if puppies grow out of separation anxiety, the answer is not that straightforward. In cases where dog stress symptoms in puppies are just caused by their young age, it’s possible. But, your puppy won’t kick their destructive or negative behaviors overnight, as much as you might want or pray. You’re both going to have to cope in the short term, so here are some key tips and tricks:
What to Do About Puppy Separation Anxiety
- Ask your veterinarian about medications that might help to reduce their overall anxiety
- Take them to a doggie day care facility or kennel when you have to be away for long periods of time
- Leave them with a friend, family member or neighbor
- Take your pup to work with you, if possible
How to Treat Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Let’s turn now to dog separation anxiety solutions for adult dogs. First of all, we don’t advocate punishment as a solution. There are other, more humane routes to go, thankfully. However, this doesn’t mean you can be too lax and indulgent if you plan on curing dog separation anxiety quickly. Even well-intentioned leniency can make things worse!
Here are some tried and true practices that, when applied correctly, have great results with dogs suffering from separation anxiety, chose which works best for you and your dog!
Teach your dog to be alone
Independence training is a great way to teach your dog boundaries and make them feel more comfortable when alone. If your pooch is clingy and never strays far from you, use commands like “stay” and “wait” to encourage self-sufficiency. Having a dog that follows you around loyally and lovingly can be adorable, but it’s not advisable to nurture this type of behavior. Even though you might think your dog will be sad if they’re not constantly with you, a little bit of independence can prevent obsessive dog behavior and separation anxiety.
When you’re at work, using a pet camera such as Petcube Play can help you ease your dog into being alone. Instead of feeling abandoned for hours (centuries in dog time!), hearing your reassuring voice will make your pooch get into the habit of spending time on their own - without stress!
Read more: How to Leave Your Dog Home Alone
This is one of the dog separation anxiety solutions that can be either a perfect solution or a complete miss. It all depends on your pooch!
The canine ancestors of our furballs found shelter and safety in dens, and, for some dogs, that instinct remains. Some, however, dislike being confined and spending time in a crate only makes their separation anxiety issues worse.
A crate can be a great way to provide your dog their own safe place, where they can relax and feel comfortable when alone. Of course, the crate should be large enough, with sufficient room for your dog to stand up, sit and walk around while inside.
Here are some basic tips for successful crate training:
- Make the crate a welcoming space by placing their favorite toys, treats or blanket inside
- Gradually increase crating periods, working your way up from meal time to a few hours (ideally, not more than 6-8 hours)
- Encourage your dog with a calm voice and don’t leave the room the first few times you crate them - your presence will make them feel more relaxed!
When it comes to crate training as a way to solve separation anxiety, it’s crucial to monitor your dog’s reactions. Moderate whining, reluctance, and wariness are normal at first, but if the behavior persists, don’t force them. Dogs have been known to urinate, defecate, howl or even injure themselves in an attempt to escape.
Crates are not the right fit for every dog, as each furball has their own personality. Some animal behaviorists claim that crating is inhumane and, in cases where it’s not done properly, it can be counterproductive and even abusive. This is why it’s important to follow your dog’s body language and their reactions to the crate. It’s up to you to make the best choice for your pooch and make sure that you follow best crating practices.
More often than not, people confuse separation anxiety with the destructiveness that comes from boredom. Dogs that lack mental and physical stimulation, as well as some quality time with their humans, tend to express their frustrations by chewing up your valuables or even peeing and pooping in the house.
If the cause for your dog’s destructive behavior is separation anxiety rather than boredom, exercise can help. Before you leave your dog alone, take them on a long walk or run. Tiring your pooch out will leave them with no energy for destroying your furniture or clawing at the door. In most cases, after some quality exercise, all your dog will have strength for is one loooong nap!
Ask a vet for help
Sometimes, separation anxiety can’t be treated without the help of a professional. Severe cases often need to be treated with medications, so consulting a veterinarian is a necessary step in the process.
Even if your dog doesn’t have severe separation anxiety, a checkup can help rule out medical causes for destructive behavior and your vet might have some useful advice for managing your dog’s condition.
We asked vets for their advice and thoughts on how to stop anxiety and here is what they had to say about dog separation anxiety solutions:
23 Tips for Managing Separation Anxiety
Apart from using tried and true strategies for breaking a dog’s separation anxiety, there are a number of useful tips and tricks that can help your dog. These small changes and practices can make a world of difference!
- Change up the “going away” signals (Use a different door, put on your coat and leave your bag in different places, etc.)
- Remain calm when coming home, don’t be overexcited
- Leave your TV or radio on. Consider a solution like DogTV
- Slowly increase the time you spend out of the home
- Sleep without your dog in your bed
- Keep comforting items (clothes, toys, etc.) with them at all times
- Don’t pay too much attention to any damage they do when you are away - your dog might equate this with the increased attention they have and they’ll have reached their goal
- Look into activities and interactive pet toys that keep them entertained, distracted, and their energy focused while you are away
- Take your dog on daily walks and outings along different routes and try to have them interact with other dogs
- Create positive associations for your dog when you leave the house (i.e. rather than leaving right after putting on your coat, give them a treat and play with them for a few minutes)
- If possible, take your dog to work with you!
- Try out the Calming Yo-Yo exercise. This is designed to teach your dog that being calm is the quickest, most reliable way to bring you back
- Give the 300 Peck Method a go to build up your dog’s ability to behave
- Get a pet sitter or dog walker or ask a family member or friend to watch your dog whenever you have to go
- If you have to leave your dog for a long time, take them to a doggy daycare service or dog hotel
- Make sure your dog gets at least 30 minutes to an hour of exercise or aerobic activity (swimming, running, etc.) every day
- Hire a dog trainer or behaviorist to help you understand and train your dog
- If you have more than one dog and are not sure which one of them is anxious – try a Petcube to spy on them and monitor their anxiety while you’re gone
- Vary your schedule – stagger the time you leave for work by up to 15 minutes one way or the other each day and come back at various times too. Pop in during your lunch break occasionally - anything to break up any bad habits and feelings
- Leave them something to chew on – i.e. a toy instead of your new shoes
- Leave the radio or TV turned on
- Ask your vet or friends with pets who have dealt with similar issues what has worked for them
And, in the end, maybe the most important tip anyone can give you is - be patient!
Training Methods for Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Unless your dog has a very light form of separation anxiety, you won’t be able to manage this dog behavior without training. Depending on what symptoms your dog has, your training approach will be different. Understanding how to calm an anxious dog is, after all, an individual matter, as not all dogs react the same to standard training methods.
Regardless of the method you choose, the one thing should remain the same: don’t use punishment and focus on positive reinforcements.
Take a look at how to treat separation anxiety in dogs with proper training and find what works for you!
How to Stop a Dog from Peeing and Pooping in The House
- When it comes to successful “potty training”, creating a routine is a must. Each time you leave your dog alone, take them outside to pee and poop before you go, and don’t bring them back inside until they’ve done their business.
- Whenever your pooch goes potty where they’re supposed to, encourage them with praise and treats. A little positive reinforcement goes a long way!
- Always thoroughly clean the spot in the house where your dog peed. Their urine contains an enzyme that stimulates them to repeat the deed, even when it’s completely dried! Use special cleaning products or baking soda for best results.
How to Stop a Dog from Chewing and Digging
- To be most effective, combine daily exercise, deterrent sprays, and stimulating toys. Even if the exercise doesn’t tire out your dog enough for him to leave your valuables alone, the specific smell of the deterrent will stop them in their tracks! Additionally, having an interesting toy to keep them occupied can’t hurt.
- Dog-proof your home or yard. Use a crate or a pet fence to keep them away from the places where they can make some damage.
- Puzzles, chew toys, and chewable treats will redirect your furball’s destructive behavior to an appropriate “victim”. Stock up on the right supplies and your shoes, carpets, and sofas will be safe!
Read more: How To Stop A Dog From Chewing
How to Stop a Dog from Barking When Left Alone
- Before you go, say “Quiet” in a calm, firm voice. Wait until they stop barking, even if it’s just to take a breath, then praise them and give them a treat. Never reward them while they’re barking, even if you think it will get them to stop.
- Try to take the opposite approach. Teach your dog to “speak.” Once they’re doing that reliably, then signal for them to stop barking with a different command, such as “quiet” or by holding your finger up to your lips. Be sure to practice these commands when they’re calm.
- Alternatively, use the Petcube Bites - pet treat camera with 2-way audio like to communicate with your dog when you’re away through your phone and tell them “quiet.”
Read more: How to Get Your Dog To Stop Barking For Good
How to Fix Dog Separation Anxiety At Night
- Even though you might be tempted to give in and let your pooch sleep with you, this is the last thing you should do. In the majority of cases, rewarding attention-seeking behavior is counterproductive.
- Teaching your pooch commands like “sit” and “stay” is a great way to keep them out of your room. When treated with a tasty snack for keeping their paws off your bed, dogs quickly lose interest in trying to sneak in under your covers.
- Separation anxiety in dogs at night is not always a light matter. If your pooch has severe anxiety attacks, consider getting a crate or a dog bed you could place in your bedroom.
Treating Separation Anxiety in Dogs
If your pooch’s high anxiety symptoms are getting worse, it might mean they need an additional boost in form of a medication, whether it’s a more traditional drug or homeopathic remedy.
In some cases, a combination of natural or medical treatment with training is what proves to be the most effective solution for destructive behavior. Before you decide on a course of treatment for severe separation anxiety, make sure to consult a veterinarian.
For dogs with severe separation anxiety, veterinarians often prescribe dog anxiety medicine that can keep the dog stress symptoms bearable and the condition more manageable. Anti-anxiety meds are either prescription or over-the-counter, but in each case, you should never give them to your dog without consulting a veterinarian first.
- Benzodiazepines: fast-acting, include alprazolam, clonazepam, and diazepam
- Tricyclic Antidepressants or TCA: used both for high anxiety and OCD behavior, include amitriptyline and clomipramine
- Azapirones: option for moderate separation anxiety, includes buspirone
- Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs): effective and with lasting results, include fluoxetine, sertraline, and paroxetine
All of these drugs have various side-effects and they are not suitable for all dogs. Choosing the right dog anxiety medicine will mean doing tests (bloodwork, general checkups, etc.) to determine the right dosage and combination of drugs for your pooch.
Remember, what works for some dogs, might not work for your four-legged companion, and only a vet can help you learn how to treat separation anxiety in dogs with medications.
If you’re wary of giving drugs to your dog, or they have a health condition that prevents them from taking it, holistic dog anxiety treatments might be the right choice for them.
For homeopathic remedies, look for a dog anxiety medicine based on soothing and safe herbs, such as chamomile, pasque flower or passion flower, to name a few. These natural remedies can come in the form of calming treats for dogs, pills, chewables, sprays or drops. Some popular choices include Ultra Soothe, K9 Calmer, and Bach Rescue Remedy.
Other natural dog anxiety treatments include:
- Thundershirt, a pet vest that offers your dog a sense of safety by tightly wrapping around their body
- Dog-calming music can soothe your dog and prevent anxiety attacks - check out this dog separation anxiety music mix for nervous furballs!
- Products containing dog appeasing pheromone or DAP, often in the form of diffusers and sprays
How To Stop Separation Anxiety In Dogs Using Petcube Bites
It’s not easy managing separation anxiety, especially since dog anxiety symptoms occur when you’re not at home. How are you supposed to manage your dog’s stress if you’re at work?
A pet camera like Petcube Bites or Petcube Play can be a lifesaver. Not only you’ll be able to monitor your dog via app, you can also communicate with them or dispense treats. Petcube HD pet cameras have motion detectors that can alert you when your dog begins making a mess out of your shoes or starts having an anxiety attack. This is particularly useful because, in most cases, you’re not able to interrupt the destructive behavior when you’re away. If your pooch starts misbehaving like this:
..you can use the two-way audio function to interrupt the unwanted behavior with a verbal command. This feature is a great way to soothe your pup (they’ll think you’re close when they hear your voice) and prevent destructive behavior before it even happens.
The dogs can hear me and they bark and get all crazy happy!
[…]With my Jack Russell terrier, he has anxiety issues when I am not there, so it’s nice to check up on him, and talk to him to let him know I will be home soon.”
Of course, we all know that you won’t be able to train a dog without some coaxing involved. And what better way to bribe them… than with treats?
Petcube Bites has a special feature that allows you to fling treats to your dog, which is particularly useful when you want to encourage them to be on their best behavior when alone. If you notice your four-legged baby’s training is having an effect and they’re not making a fuss while you’re away, make sure to reward their efforts with a tasty treat!
Before they reward themselves, that is.
What Not to Do
There are certain methods that definitely won’t work: just ask the numerous pet experts and fellow pet parents. These practices are not only ineffective, they might make things worse - both for you and your pet.
- Punishment. Most dog trainers agree: it isn't effective for treating separation anxiety and can even make the situation worse!
- Another dog. Getting your dog a companion isn’t a cure-all and might double your problems. Consult with a behaviorist or trainer before taking on responsibility for another dog.
- Yell or make a fuss. Negative attention is still attention- and the last thing you need to do is to make your dog believe that being destructive is what it takes to be in the spotlight.
- Obedience training. While formal training is typically always a good idea, your dog’s separation anxiety might not be the result of disobedience or a lack of training.
If none of the dog separation anxiety tips work the first time, it doesn’t mean they won’t work the second time around. Experiment and try out different techniques until one of them proves to be a match.
Anxious behavior is just behavior. It looks and sounds terrible, but it can't go on forever. Separation anxiety can be treated with the right method, and finding one is just a matter of trial and error. However, if your dog’s separation anxiety disorder is extreme, seek professional help sooner rather than later!