Dogs with separation
anxiety exhibit behavior problems when they’re
left alone. Typically,
they’ll have a dramatic anxiety response within a
short time (20–45 minutes)
after their owners leave them. The most
common of these behaviors
Digging, chewing, and
scratching at doors or windows in an attempt to
escape and reunite with
Howling, barking, and
crying in an attempt to get their owners to return
Urination and defecation
(even with housetrained dogs) as a result of
What to Do If Your Dog Has
For a minor separation
anxiety problem, the following techniques may
be helpful by themselves.
For more severe problems, these techniques
should be used along with
the desensitization process.
Keep arrivals and
departures low-key. For example, when you arrive
home, ignore your dog for
the first few minutes, then calmly pet him.
This may be hard for you to
do, but it’s important!
Leave your dog with an
article of clothing that smells like you—such as
an old t-shirt that you’ve
slept in recently.
Establish a “safety cue”—a
word or action that you use every time you
leave that tells your dog
you’ll be back. Dogs usually learn to associate
certain cues with short
absences by their owners. For example, when
you take out the garbage,
your dog knows you come right back and
doesn’t become anxious.
Therefore, it’s helpful to associate a safety
cue with your
short-duration absences. Some examples of safety cues
are a playing radio, a
playing television, or a toy (one that doesn’t have
dangerous fillings and
can’t be torn into pieces). Use your safety cue
during practice sessions
with your dog. Be sure to avoid presenting
your dog with the safety
cue when you leave for a period of time longer
than he can tolerate; if
you do, the value of the safety cue will be lost.
Leaving a radio on to
provide company for your dog isn’t particularly
useful by itself, but a
playing radio may work if you’ve used it
consistently as a safety
cue in your practice sessions.
If your dog engages in
destructive chewing as part of his separation
distress, offering him a
chewing item as a safety cue is a good idea.
Very hard rubber toys that
can be stuffed with treats and
Nylabone®-like products are
Teaching the Sit-Stay and
Another technique for
reducing separation anxiety in your dog is
practicing the common
“sit-stay” or “down-stay” training exercises
reinforcement. Your goal is to be able to move briefly
out of your dog’s sight
while he remains in the “stay” position and
thereby teach your dog that
he can remain calmly and happily in one
place while you go to
another. To do this, you gradually increase the
distance you move away from
your dog. As you progress, you can do
this during the course of
your normal daily activities. For example, if
you’re watching television
with your dog by your side and you get up
for a snack, tell him to
stay, and leave the room. When you come back,
give him a treat or praise
him quietly. Never punish your dog during
these training sessions.
Because the treatments
described above can take a while, and
because a dog with
separation anxiety can do serious damage to
himself or your home in the
interim, consider these suggestions to
help you and your dog cope
in the short term.
Consult your veterinarian
about the possibility of drug therapy. A good
anti-anxiety drug should
not sedate your dog, but simply reduce his
anxiety while you’re gone.
Such medication is a temporary measure
and should be used in
conjunction with behavior modification techniques.
Take your dog to a dog day
care facility or boarding kennel.
Leave your dog with a
friend, family member, or neighbor.
Take your dog to work with
you, even for half a day, if possible.
What Won’t Help a
Separation Anxiety Problem
Punishing your dog.
Punishment is not an effective way to treat
separation anxiety. In
fact, punishing your dog after you return home
may actually increase his
Getting another pet as a
companion for your dog. This usually doesn’t
help an anxious dog because
his anxiety is the result of his separation
from you, his person, not
merely the result of being alone.
Crating your dog. Your dog
will still engage in anxiety responses in the
crate. He may urinate,
defecate, howl, or even injure himself in an
attempt to escape from the
Leaving the radio on
(unless the radio is used as a “safety cue,” as
Training your dog. While
formal training is always a good idea, it won’t
directly help a separation
Separation anxiety is not
the result of disobedience or lack of training;
it’s a panic response.