Separation Anxiety in Dogs: What Dog Parents Need To Know

Separation anxiety is, unfortunately, a common problem with dogs, especially pandemic puppies who grew up with their favorite humans staying at home most of the time. With more people returning to the office, dogs that got to be with their favorite humans all day now find them missing for the better part of the day. 


In addition to causing plenty of stress, separation anxiety could be the reason behind behavioral issues you might notice. Here’s a guide to separation anxiety in dogs, what you should know about the changes in their behavior, and how you can improve how they react to being separated from you.


dog training

What Is Dog Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety in dogs develops when their reaction to you or anyone in the household leaving is more intense than what should be expected. Consider a child’s first day in Kindergarten when their parents leave them on their own for the first time, and they feel overwhelmed being in an unfamiliar place surrounded by people they don’t know. This is similar to separation anxiety in dogs. 


Dogs are social animals, so it’s normal for them to be sad to see you leave. However, it becomes a disorder when they show extreme fear of being alone and are displaying negative behaviors despite their training. Additionally, the stress of separation anxiety and the behaviors they show can take a toll on their health. 


Separation Anxiety in Dogs vs. Regular Dog Behavior

There are big differences between a well-adjusted dog and a dog with separation anxiety. Dogs with a healthy attachment to their human will be sad to see them leave, so actions like whimpering before you go are typical. However, they will find something else to do after you leave and wait for you to return. They may act a bit naughty when you’re gone, but if they’re well-trained, they’re unlikely to be destructive. 


On the other hand, dogs with separation anxiety see your departure as a highly stressful event. While you’re gone, they fear being alone and may start acting out. When you return, you could continue to see signs that show their fear that you will abandon them again sooner or later. This can cause unwanted negative behavior, which, left unchecked, can cause problems down the line. This can also cause dogs to manifest symptoms similar to panic attacks.


What Causes Separation Anxiety in Dogs?

How separation anxiety develops can vary between dogs. However, it’s often linked to traumatic or highly upsetting events or a drastic environmental change. Some instances include:


  • Family Dynamic: Sudden changes in the family, such as the death of one family member, divorce, or someone leaving the household. 


  • Lifestyle: Rehoming a dog, abandoning a dog, relocating to a different type of residence, and other changes to their lifestyle can lead to separation anxiety.
  • Routine Changes: Instances such as changing from a remote work setup to working in the office, working longer hours at the office, or leaving the house more often can affect your dog.
  • Training: Actions such as how you act before leaving for work can impact how your dog sees your temporary departure. They can develop fear and panic if they aren’t trained to understand that you will return. 


Signs of Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Dogs can manifest separation anxiety differently. Most dogs can recognize actions you take before you leave, such as putting on your work clothes, preparing your lunch, or getting your bags ready. You can spot signs of separation anxiety as soon as you perform these cues, and their behavioral differences can continue after you leave. Some of the more common signs include:


  • Pacing: They may be unable to settle down and relax and will often be walking back and forth with no clear goal.
  • Vocalization: Dogs will bark and howl to get your attention and will continue to do that while you’re gone. If a neighbor or another person in your household notices your dog barking while you’re gone, it may be a sign of their anxiety.
  • Loss of Appetite: Your dog will ignore treats and may eat less during their scheduled meal times.
  • Destructive Behavior: Your dog may scratch furniture, walls, and doors – this is their attempt to try to escape your home. They may also break any small object it can find.
  • Bathroom Incidents: Even if your dog is house-trained, they may begin to have accidents indoors.
  • Drooling: Your dog is noticeably drooling more often than usual. They may also be panting frequently, even when at rest. 


Unfortunately, dog owners unaware of their dog’s separation anxiety see these as their dog acting out. As a result, many dogs are sent to shelters for these signs. However, it is possible to train your dog against separation anxiety. 


Best Practices for Dog Separation Anxiety Training

Here are some of the ways you can train your dog to not feel anxious or stressed when you leave them at home. 


Leave for Short Periods

Separation anxiety in dogs comes from being unsure your person will return. The longer you are gone, the more time your dog has to panic and convince itself that you will never return. You must begin teaching your dog that you will come back while at the same time reducing their anxiety while you’re gone.


Start by leaving for short periods. Leave their sight by going into another room and shutting the door. Do this for a few minutes, gradually increasing the time you are out of sight. Eventually, progress to leaving the house for up to 30 minutes at a time.


Leave and Return Without Reacting

When you make a big deal about saying goodbye and coming back home, it gives your pet the idea that there’s a chance that they’re never going to see you again. Instead, practice leaving and coming home as though it’s no big deal, and then reward your dog for following suit. 


When you leave, a simple goodbye as you head out the door should be enough. Upon your return, don’t make a special event out of it by focusing all your attention on your dog. Instead, go with your routine of settling down after work. Only once you’ve completed all these tasks can you show them attention as a reward for staying calm. 


This practice teaches dogs that leaving and returning isn’t something to be stressed about. When you return and act calmly and reward them after they’ve been calm, you’re creating positive reinforcement that focuses less on your return and more on their ability to stay calm.


Leave Treats When You Go Out

Give them a treat in a toy, such as a Kong, that will keep them busy for a long time after you leave. You can put some of their favorite foods in the Kong, such as peanut butter, cream cheese, or whatever your dog loves. You can even put the Kong in the freezer to extend your dog’s time to extract the treat.


It’s also essential to give your dog this treat only when you go out. You want your dog to associate this particular pleasure with your going out. This also gives them something to look forward to while you’re out and reduces the risk of them finding other destructive activities to keep themselves occupied. 


Independence Training

Even if you’re not leaving your home, some practices can reinforce that it’s OK for you and your dog to be physically apart. Some practices include:


  • Closing the door while you’re using the bathroom
  • Keeping your dog away from the kitchen while you’re cooking
  • For those with home offices, keeping your dog out with the door closed during your work hours
  • Going out to take out the trash, bring in the mail, or mow the lawn without bringing your dog with you


Eventually, your dog will feel more comfortable with you leaving as they notice a pattern. Though they might be anxious while you’re getting ready to go, it’s important to stay calm. 


Crate Training

Crate training is a popular practice for dog parents who want to properly house-train their dogs. When it comes to separation anxiety, crate training can help your dog stay calm and relaxed. Your dog has to associate their crate with a comfortable and relaxing environment, so keeping them in their crate while you’re out can help them relax. 


A good way to start crate training is to give them a treat only when they’re in their crate. This is to positively reinforce their crate as a good place to stay where they can ease up. Avoid using their crate as punishment, as this could negatively reinforce how they perceive being in their crate. 


Try a Thunder Jacket

Thunder jackets are like weighted blankets for dogs. Intended for dogs with anxiety, thunder jackets are snug-fitting garments that squeeze your dog gently, like a hug, which helps calm them. While thunder jackets don’t work on 100% of dogs, they bring noticeable improvement to many. Plus, these jackets can help with other fears such as fear of fireworks and — you guessed it — thunder.



When Is It Time To See a Professional?

For many dogs, simple training at home may be enough to reinforce independence and prevent separation anxiety. However, other dogs may need professional assistance. Pet owners can go to a veterinarian for medication to help with separation anxiety in dogs who manifest the following:


  • A tendency to injure themselves due to their negative behavior
  • Aggression towards other pets and other animals
  • Repeated instances of damaging household items, furniture, and property
  • Dog owners have exhausted all other efforts


Additionally, you may need assistance properly training your dog to be independent. If you’re unsure of how to enforce dog separation anxiety training, have professional dog trainers perform dog behavior modification that changes their needy and dependent behavior. 



Help from the Dog Trainers at Unleash Fido

If these methods of helping your dog with separation anxiety don’t work as well as you had hoped, call the dog trainers at Unleash Fido. We can get to the root of your dog’s separation anxiety and find a way to help them remain calm while you are at work. Contact us today.