Have you adopted a dog that is showing signs of separation anxiety when you leave her alone? If so, you’ll probably find these 7 ways to help your dog deal with separation anxiety helpful.
Some dogs will develop this panic even if they’ve lived with one family their whole life, but it’s most frequently seen in dogs adopted from shelters or ones that have been passed around from home to home.
Dogs are pack animals. And they have emotions and the need for security just like us.
If their pack keeps abandoning them, it creates fear and heightened anxiety. Unfortunately, we can’t explain to a dog that we’re coming back. They see us leave and start to panic, not wanting to be left behind again.
Signs of Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Some dogs will do whatever it takes to get out of the environment they’ve been left alone in, which can include chewing through doors and walls, chewing out of plastic crates, even jumping through plate glass windows. These are extreme cases.
Other dogs will
- bark incessantly
- pant excessively
- chew up furniture
- dig under fences or climb over if left outside
- poop or pee in the house even though they are house-broke
How to Reduce a Dog’s Separation Anxiety
It can take a long time to get a dog over separation anxiety and some dogs may never entirely overcome it.
There are some things you can do, though, to try and help your dog feel less anxious when you leave.
If you do these 7 things, you’ll be on the road to a happier, stress-free dog.
1. Don’t Make a Big Deal of Leaving OR Returning
Keep everything low-key. Don’t fuss over your dog as you’re leaving.
The same is true when you return home.
Your dog will be ecstatic to see you, but as hard as it is, just ignore her for a few minutes, like it’s no big deal that you actually did come back to her.
She thought you were gone for good, but you’re saying, “hey, it’s no big deal. I’ll always come back for you.”
Then, after she’s calmed down some, you can pet and reward her for being calm.
If you have some free time, you might want to try this in increments of just a few minutes at a time. Keep repeating the process – leave casually for a few minutes, return and ignore your dog. No big deal. Always coming back.
Then stretch the time a little longer that you’re away.
This can be a big factor in helping your dog’s separation anxiety lessen in intensity.
2. Provide a Toy or Special Treat As You Leave
You might try hiding a few treats or favorite toys around the house and tell your dog to “find it” as you calmly walk out the door.
This is a fun game to teach your dog and may help your dog with separation anxiety by giving her something to do while you’re away.
3. Say The Same Thing Every Time You Leave
Maybe say something like “see you later” or “I’ll be back” and then nonchalantly walk out the door. This is of course if you can leave your dog alone in the house without having to crate her. Actually, you can do this with your crated dog as well.
4. Change Up Your Routine Each Time You Leave
Personally, I prefer to have the same routine and say the same thing every time I leave my dog home alone.
But others say to change it up so your dog doesn’t get anxious when she hears “see you later” or sees you picking up your keys. This might be a good idea for dogs with extreme cases.
5. Crate Your Dog While You’re Away
Do this only if your dog sees it as a safe place.
Be sure to start crate training way before you have to leave her alone in a crate while you’re gone.
And be sure to use a crate that’s large enough that your dog will be able to stand and move around a little to stay comfortable.
Be sure to place a nice thick dog bed or padding in the crate as well.
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6. Teach Your Dog Obedience Training
Teaching your dog obedience makes you the leader and lets your dog know that you’re in charge and that you won’t let anything bad happen to her while you’re away.
She’ll learn to have confidence in you and trust that you know best.
Teaching commands such as “sit”, “stay”, “lay down”, “come” and “leave it” are important for many safety reasons but also to show strong leadership by you to your dog.
The more in control your dog sees you, the safer she’ll feel overall.
7. Make Sure Your Dog Gets Plenty of Exercise
This is really important and something a lot of us neglect to do because of busy schedules or just plain laziness on our part.
Taking your dog for a long walk does wonders for both you and your dog.
Or if the weather doesn’t permit going outside, maybe throw a ball for your dog in the house for awhile if you have a safe place to do that.
Getting some of that excess energy out of your dog before you leave the house will help her relax while you’re gone.
Dogs Read Our Body Language More Than We Know
Dogs are smart and they pay very close attention to our body language. I can leave my bedroom while my dog stays on the bed watching me and remains calm.
But if I grab my jacket off the clothes tree and leave the bedroom, she knows I’m going somewhere.
She’ll be right at my heels.
So if there’s something you do as you get ready to leave that seems to stress your dog out, do that one thing over and over, but don’t go anywhere. Get her so used to you doing that one thing that it’s no big deal anymore.
For example, if your dog starts to get anxious as you pick up your keys, pick them up and walk into another room of the house. Set your keys down. Wait a few minutes, then pick them up and again and set them down in another room.
Just remember where you left them, so you don’t actually lose them!
You could also do this with a jacket that you always put on just before you leave. Put it on, take it off. Do this several times a day. Then maybe put it on and go outside and come right back in.
This type of thing helps condition your dog so that when you do these things and actually leave, it isn’t going to trigger the anxiety attack that it used to trigger.
That’s the goal, anyway.
This could take several days or even months of work to finally see some positive results. Never give up. Changing any behavior can take time.
My dog, Maia, is a pit/lab mix and has had separation anxiety since I adopted her at the age of 2 1/2 years. It wasn’t extreme, but she would climb over the fence/gate if I left her alone.
She would get a terrified look in her eyes when she saw me getting ready to go somewhere, begging me to take her with me.
Be Patient With Your Anxious Dog
It has taken several years but I am now able to leave Maia alone in the house for several hours if necessary and she is fine. She is, however, 9 years old now and I think she finally realizes that I am always coming back to her.
I think what worked for me was mainly time, but I also extended my gate higher so she couldn’t climb over it. She has never been destructive so at least I didn’t have to worry about that.
And I always stayed calm leaving and returning. She is also very food driven, so I would give her a special treat when I left. That helped her relate my leaving with something good.
Below is a video of a rescue dog with separation anxiety and part of the process of helping him overcome it.
Treating Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Treating separation anxiety can be different than reducing it, if that makes any sense.
There are ways you can treat it that can lessen the severity, but aren’t actually changing the behavior. Changing the behavior itself takes time, consistency and a lot of patience.
Treating it, on the other hand, can mean giving medication or using such things as the Thunder Jacket.
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These can be quick fixes for those that don’t want to take the time to change the behavior.
But over time, they might even help with the behavior change if done in conjunction with some of the other 7 ways to help your dog deal with separation anxiety.
I hope you’ve found this helpful and I appreciate any comments or questions you might have about your dog’s separation anxiety.