How to Assess and Manage Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Separation anxiety is one of those terms thrown around all the time when it comes to dogs and dog training.

Misdiagnosis of Separation Anxiety

The truth is, I believe that 90+ percent of people who are convinced that their dog(s) have separation anxiety are actually WRONG.

The majority of those people have dogs that lack impulse control, don’t like being alone, have been given too many privileges, and are excessively spoiled.

Lack Of Impulse Control

What is impulse control?

Impulse control is the ability to control your desires to take everything that you want.

I mean, just because I want a pair of shoes at the mall, doesn’t mean I get to just snatch them and take them.

And, likewise, just because your dog wants what you are eating, or what you are playing with, doesn’t mean that he should be able to just snatch it and take it.

It used to be that impulse control was one of those basic “manners” things that all puppies were taught from the beginning.

However, lately, it seems that no one is actually working on impulse control and basic manners.

And, as you could assume, if your dog can’t even control his basic impulses for things he wants, how is he going to be able to function alone in an environment when his people leave and there is no one to cater to him?

Chances are, he is going to destroy things… because it is fun to shred and destroy (if you are a dog), and getting your way is what you do!

Doggy ADHD is not separation anxiety!

Hates Being Alone

How many dogs have owners that actually foster independence?

I mean, have you ever taught your dog to enjoy being alone?

And, how many people understand that crating their dog while they are home is even more important than crating them while they are away?

First

The first thing in helping avoid and resolve separation anxiety issues is to recognize that crate training is crucial.

Crate training gives your dog a safe place, and it keeps your things safe from his teeth and nails.

It also prevents your dog from killing himself while you are away.

Dogs chew on electrical cords and swallow inedible items when they are left to their own devices, and both things can cause death.how to assess and manage separation anxiety in dogs

I like knowing that my dog is safe when I am gone from home.

I also like knowing that I will come home from work and still have a couch, a bed, my computer will be right where I left it, and my dog will be alive.

But, you can’t just put him in his crate and leave all of the time!

You owe it to him to give him shorter sessions in his crate and to condition him to the idea that you might be home.

If you always leave, of course he is more likely to panic.

If crating equals 4+ hours in the crate and his friend leaving, he isn’t going to like it.

If crating equals him being left in his crate for 15 minutes to lick some peanut butter out of a Kong while he can hear you shuffling around the house, he is much less likely to panic!

The last thing you want the crate to equal is your leaving or him being left for hours overnight…that isn’t very positive.

That’s right, being home overnight while you all sleep does not count!

Ironically, as I write this my dog has crated herself and is taking a nap with the door open. 😉

If you do it right, your dog will love his crate.

Then

Once he is comfortable being in his crate, and you are crating him while you are home each day, it is time to foster independence in other places.

My dogs aren’t especially fond of being outside for long periods of time.

However, my dogs need some time without ME.

So, both of my dogs have times during the day where I will send them outside for an hour or more with an elk antler, or a stuffed bone, or something else that will entertain them.

Once they begin to enjoy some time outside alone, just the act of laying in the sun, or chilling outside, is rewarding for them.

I don’t want my dog to think he is going to DIE without my company.

If you don’t teach this, you are inadvertently fostering separation anxiety!

Any healthy relationship should have some alone time!

And, yes, you owe it to your dog to foster a healthy relationship.

I am always a little surprised at how many owners actually set their dog up for separation anxiety because they want to be loved, or they want to spend every waking moment with their dog.

That isn’t a healthy thought process, and you are doing more harm than good!

Too Many Privileges

Dogs should earn their privileges!

I wouldn’t leave a 3 year old toddler at home alone.how to assess and manage separation anxiety in dogs

I am not going to leave my dog at home alone and out in the house if he hasn’t earned that privilege.

I am flabbergasted at the amount of destruction a dog can do in a short period of time.

Not only can they ruin thousands of dollars worth of things, as mentioned earlier, they can eat things that will kill them.

You could quite literally lose thousands of dollars and your best friend!

Again, I am a huge proponent of crate training.

If my dog is ruining my things, or suffering from separation anxiety, I would prefer to confine him to a smaller space where he can’t hurt himself.

They make crates, typically made for police K9s, that are nearly impossible to break out of.  They can be expensive, but so is buying multiple crates, or having to replace carpet, furniture, or walls!

Your Dog is Excessively Spoiled

Okay, I have a slight addendum here. My dogs are excessively spoiled by some people’s assessment; the difference being, that my dogs have rules and are obedient.

I don’t care if you get your dog a golden dog bed, as long as you are teaching him obedience and spending time with him.

The Problem

The problem is that people today think that buying their dog (or their kid) “stuff” and not giving them rules is a way of showing them love.

They don’t spend time with them, but the house is littered with “stuff”.

Rules and attention are somehow seen as a “bad thing”.

But what your dog really wants is your time and your willingness to teach him new things.

There is only so much that mindless toys can do to entertain your dog.

how to assess and manage separation anxiety in dogsYour dog can’t read, he can’t play on his new iPhone, he can’t watch TV, or build a following on social media.

All your dog has is YOU.

It is your responsibility to entertain his mind and his body!

I think the happiest dogs on earth are “working dogs”; police dogs, guide dogs, and service dogs all have the best lives because they are working and learning, and are constantly mentally stimulated.

Take a hint from those dogs, and understand that teaching him and setting up rules is something that he yearns for in his life.

Although, he might balk at the idea of rules at first.

Rules are critical to his higher thinking.

Imagine if you had no rules and no school when you were a kid? It would be like being completely feral.

Your dog’s life will change once you give him what he needs!

How to Manage True Separation Anxiety

Dogs with “true” separation anxiety can’t function without their person.

These dogs will self-harm trying to chew out of crates, hurl themselves out of windows, and chew through walls.

There are ways to figure out if your dog truly has separation anxiety. The dog can be tested by a boarded veterinary behaviorist and bloodwork can be run to rule out that and other conditions.

After diagnosis, behavior modification can be used to help the dog find some comfort.

  1. Exercise your dog before you leave. I am talking about REAL exercise, not a stroll around the block! An exhausted dog is less likely to be bothered by you coming and going.
  2. A few minutes before you leave, give him an extra good snack, like an elk antler, Kong stuffed with peanut butter (frozen lasts longer), or anything that will keep the dog engaged for several minutes or longer.
  3. Defuse the stress that your dog feels when you grab your keys or put your shoes on (i.e. examples of rituals that denote to the dog that you are leaving). If you do them all of the time, they begin to lose meaning and then the stress that your dog feels can dissolve.
  4. Make your departures neutral and without any emotion. No hugging, kissing, or baby talk. Just put him in his crate with his chewy and ignore him.
  5. Leave music on when you leave. So many people don’t realize that the average dog isn’t used to complete silence. Households are busy, noisy places, so by leaving him all alone and in silence, his panic can be worse. Leave the TV on, or some music, to help him feel more normal and to keep him from hearing every sound that goes on outside.
  6. Try a plug-in pheromone. Pheromones have been proven to help relieve anxiety and stress. These can also be sprayed on your dog’s collar and in his crate to help relieve stress.
  7. Get a dog walker. Sometimes having someone come in mid-day will help your dog feel better and less alone for long periods of time.
  8. Take him to doggy day care. Even if you only take him two to three times a week, it can help him be more tired on his days home!
  9. Consider working with a boarded veterinary behaviorist that can give you specific work for your dog.
  10. Try a natural supplement to aid in calming your dog. Using a natural calming supplement, along with proper training, can be effective in managing separation anxiety symptoms in your dog.

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Comments

  1. Carole Pagels says:

    Wow, that was wonderful and yes my dog (mini Dachshund) is so spoiled and it’s my fault because I love her so much. When I try to get a snack from the closet, her head pops up because she knows she will get some of it. She stares at me until I do share with her. If not, I feel guilty so I’m going to change that and she will lose some weight, which will be good.

    Yes, I have to crate her when I leave but I am aware of the time when I’m away and try not to be gone more than 2 hours.

    I’m going to do some training with her because she is very smart and will love it…you showed me that.

    Thank you again,
    Carole

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  2. My dog is 9 and it keeps getting worse she will not leave my side she has to be touching me constantly wanting me to pay attention to her she wants to lay on me and this is a lab mix how do I stop it

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  3. Carol giles says:

    My one year old Cockapoo suffers from SA and has done since the first day we collected her at 10weeks.
    She is happy in the cage with the door open, she is happy with the door closed if we are in the room, but the minute she is left alone in the cage she goes mad. She tears the blankets, has managed to rip the hard plastic floor.
    We have tried the kongs, dog chews but nothing will calm her when we leave, she just howls.

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  4. Nancy says:

    My dog only gets stressed or excited when he is in the car. I don’t know which it is. He whines all the way to the park. Once there and out of the car he is calm. We walk a mile and he chases the ball until he is almost too tired to walk back to the car. But as soon as the car starts and we leave, when whining starts again. Suggestions? We have tried giving him treats if he stops whining, making him stay in the car until he stops whining, praising good behavior, etc. nothing works for long.

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  5. Karen Sharp says:

    Hi I have a specific problem with my Cleo. She is 9 and we rescued her from spca where she was for one month and the only dog there when we saw her. We are apparently the 3rd owner and have had her 4 years. My issue is when we have tried to leave her at our daughters house overnight who she loves and there is even another dog there. She whines all the time and gets stress diarrhea and poops all over. She never has accidents at home. Also when we take her to friends houses for a visit she will not settle down and must follow us everywhere. Do you have any training for this issue

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  6. Tina says:

    Thank you Minette! I agree with everything you’ve said here. We have a rescue dog that we got as a companion to me while I recovered from a serious illness. She was with me constantly. Needless to say, she went crazy whenever I left. Because of this website and the good advice I get here, I have been using some of these ideas for helping to relieve her anxiety. I didn’t think that crate training was possible with an older dog, but decided to try it. She really likes her crate now. When I am home, she will even go lay somewhere else in the house and not have to be everywhere I am (she used to follow me everywhere.) We have a ways to go, but am so thankful for you and Chet and the help I get in making having this dog a pleasure for her and for us! (PS, I agree with the discipline thing in dogs and children, they both need rules and boundaries to be happy and well adjusted!)

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  7. Natalie says:

    Thor suffers fear aggression towards other dogs as he was attacked by a few threw owners saying there’s was fine until it takes a bite then there.. It’s his size(Great dane x bull mastiff) 1 year old now and is with me nearly all the time plus my 12 year old Japanese akita is fine but my big 1 year old will destroy not anything but if there is anything belongs to me he can get he takes it, clothes, shoes, socks, bags ect even my jacket then my bed is completely stripped and other times I come home and nothing has been touched by him and I have a trainer for the fear aggression but because of his size all dogs look small to him plus I live in the city and it’s streets and roads as he can’t go back to the park with all the other dogs and those off leash dogs so we’re practically together but I have boundaries with him as he can get in your face until you tell him to go and he will unless he has a tantrum… He’s exercise is a must and so are out the back with my other dog and I play find where I hide treats and he’s to sniff them out then after that it’s a game of chase then throwing his favourite toy and my akita is getting to old so he just wanders about or sits also I know that I’m spending far too much time with him but with the training it can be very demanding so I can’t win either way

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  8. Viv says:

    Is barking a sign of separation anxiety? My Puppy is 14 weeks old. She is teething and I bought her 7 Kong toys. Trouble is she still thinks our hands are teething toys and it’s ok to chew on us. Well it’s not. When she bites us she is not being vicious she just doesn’t know that is wrong. Our way of letting her know it is wrong is to do what her mother would have done is to pinch a bit of the back of her neck and a little shake saying NO at the same time. I don’t know any other way to discipline a dog especially one so small. She still does it so it’s not working. What would you suggest?
    The other problem is barking. She is my daughters pet but is loved by us all. She has a crate in my daughters bedroom and will go in it during the day if she wants to and we put toys in for her the door is left open except for night time. We live in a climate where the sun is bright at 4-30am. If her crate door isn’t shut at night she will think it play time at 1 or 2 am.
    As soon as my daughter leaves her for just a few minutes it is non stop barking. There is an ensuite so my daughter doesn’t have to leave the room but Sandy just barks until she sees my daughter. When they are in the house Sandy does not bark. It is only when they are separated for a few minutes. Now we have worked out as long as my husband is home my daughter and myself can leave her. So far we have never left her alone in the house. She also does a lot of things we have put down to being a puppy. The only thing we really can’t cope with is she runs at us over excited and throws her whole body up at us like a rugby tackle!!! Jumping up is a pain but we calmly turn our back on her when she starts running towards one of us. She also picks up her water bowl after having a drink and tips the water out! The poop was a worry as she would eat it. She did this in the house and it did worry us but she doesn’t do that outside. However she is fully House trained now and almost tells us when she needs to go outside. She has a big run outside. We live on a property 2 acres and tropical
    climate so snakes could be a worry she is safe in her enclosure and one of us is usually sitting outside anyway. So we have two problems. One possibly separation anxiety and
    So keep her safe until she is a lot bigger.we are fully fenced.
    Sorry it is so long

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  9. Caz Hailstone says:

    I think it is often the human who suffers separation anxiety when away from their dog, so they indulge in psychological mirror imaging to deflect from their own dependence on their animal. Often dogs relish a bit of space & quiet time. A noisy household can be stressy for dogs! .

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  10. Minette,Thanks for this article and the many others that you write. You mentioned leaving music on. Is there any specific genre of music that has been found to be more beneficial than another.? Somewhere along the line I’ve heard that dogs respond to Reggae.
    Thank you

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    Minette Reply:

    I think dogs respond to whatever you listen to and they are familiar with, my dogs love Bon Jovi because I listen to it so frequently 😉 Just depends on your choices.

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  11. Of course! That makes perfect sense, I should’ve thought of that. Thank you. Happy Holidays and New Year to you and Your family!

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