Separation Anxiety Training for Dogs

Posted by Dr. Roth on

Separation Anxiety Training for Dogs

Pet parents love coming home to their dogs. Unfortunately, that excitement is quickly diminished when they discover their dog has destroyed their home. Dogs can destroy furniture and items in the home when left alone. It’s a sign of distress when a dog urinates, poops, chews, or digs while their parent is gone.

Understanding Dog Anxiety 

‌Dogs can feel stress just like humans do. It is common for prior trauma like abuse or neglect to lead to anxiety in dogs. Reasons for anxiety in dogs include persistent stress factors like:

  • Not having enough food and water
  • Living in a small space
  • Too many other animals in the home
  • Lack of training
  • Not receiving enough affection
  • Boredom
  • Change in routine

‌Signs of Anxiety in Dogs

‌It can be challenging to tell the difference between “normal” dog behavior and anxiety. Pet parents often wonder how to help a dog with anxiety. Be aware of signs that a pet dog is experiencing anxiety:

  • Trying to communicate: Dogs may persistently bark, yowl, whine, or growl.
  • Aggressiveness: Dogs may show their teeth, bite, or lash out frequently. There may not always be an obvious reason for the aggressive behavior.
  • Withdrawing: Dogs may begin to hide, isolating themselves from family and other pets. When they are with their parents, dogs may cower and act fearful.
  • Eating less: The dog may begin to show less interest in food and treats.
  • Self-harm: A dog might excessively lick, chew, or scratch themselves. 
  • Destructive habits: When left alone, dogs may destroy furniture, shoes, blinds, or curtains.

How to Help a Dog with Anxiety

‌As frustrating as anxiety is for a dog, it is equally frustrating for pet parents. The good news is, separation anxiety in dogs can be managed with patience and consistency. Dogs want to feel better just as much as pet parents want to improve negative behaviors.

‌The goal of treatment and coping mechanisms is to help dogs feel less anxious. Implementing this three-step process can help dogs with anxiety feel safer and calmer, which can reduce destructive and aggressive behaviors.

‌Phase One: Training and Environment

Practicing exercises like sit, lay down, stay, and rollover may help pet parents bond with their dogs. Even 10 minutes a day of these exercises will help dogs trust their parents more. If a dog trusts his pet parent and feels comfortable, he is less likely to experience separation anxiety.

‌Pet parents can integrate these exercises into the welcome routine upon coming home after being gone for a while. For example, if a dog is overly excited, pet parents should ignore the behavior until their dog calms down.

By rewarding calm behavior, pet parents help to discourage destructive and aggressive behaviors. Over time, dogs are more comfortable with the idea that their pet parents come and go from the home. 

‌Pet parents can also make changes around the home to facilitate an environment that makes dogs feel safe and comfortable. For example, some dogs like to have a place they feel like they can hide in when feeling anxious.

‌If there isn’t an area that is easy to retreat to, dogs may turn to destruction. Crates are often helpful for both pet parents and their dogs. At first, dogs may be trained to stay in the crate when pet parents are away. Over time, a dog may be allowed to roam a single room or the entire home with the crate door open for easy access.

‌Make sure to leave out treats and toys so dogs can occupy their time by chewing a licking appropriately. Toys like stuffed Kongs are excellent stress relief for dogs, as they can safely destroy them. Pet parents can also use pheromone diffusers or items like Adaptil collars to help pet dogs feel calmer. 


Phase Two: Supplements

‌Some dogs still have separation anxiety after introducing training and improving the home environment. Pet parents can incorporate composure chews like Vetriscience to lessen dog anxiety. Vets recommend composure chews as a complement to training. In some cases, vets may recommend anti-anxiety medications for dogs. Pet parents can also ask about over-the-counter anti-anxiety medications for dogs.

Phase Three: Medication

‌Pet parents should talk to their dog’s veterinarian if they still have separation anxiety. Some dogs need a low dose of dog anxiety medication, whether over-the-counter or prescription. Try to allow a few months for training, environment changes, and supplements to work before turning to anti-anxiety medication for dogs. Some dogs need a more extended adjustment period to overcome anxiety.

‌As a last resort, pet parents may look at rehoming a dog. Local animal rescue groups may be able to connect pet parents with suitable homes where a dog can thrive in a different environment. 

‌Pet parents should not dismiss negative behavior in a dog in the hope that it will improve over time. Pet parents should take these steps early and address the problematic behaviors of their dog before the behavior becomes out of control. Then, there will be a better chance of helping their pet overcome separation anxiety. 

Fuzzy is here to help 24/7 via Live Vet Chat and can answer any questions or concerns pet parents have about dog separation anxiety. 

Stress and Anxiety Wellness Care