Does your dog shake or cry when you get ready to leave the house? Do they greet you as if you’ve been gone for 100 years when you’ve only been gone for 15 minutes? Does your dog destroy things, dig in the yard, or pee or poop in the house when you’re gone?
You may have a dog with separation anxiety.
Treating dog separation anxiety can be frustrating to deal with. You hate to see the stress it causes your dog, but you can’t take them everywhere with you, and you can’t stay home all day, every day. Luckily, there are many things you can to help.
Below we’ll discuss 10 ways to help your dog overcome separation anxiety.
But first, let’s cover a few basics.
What is Separation Anxiety in Dogs?
Canine separation anxiety is extreme stress that a dog may feel when they are separated from their guardians. This stress may lead to physical symptoms like drooling or shaking or behavioral problems like destroying things or barking.
Dog separation anxiety can not only be bothersome to your neighbors if your dog barks every time you leave your home, but it can also be deadly if your anxious dog eats something he shouldn’t or suffocates with his head in a chip bag while you’re gone. Your dog will also have a reduced quality of life if they feel this stress every time you leave, especially if you work a full-time job.
Symptoms of a Dog With Separation Anxiety
Some symptoms of separation anxiety may indicate other problems (for example, a dog who starts urinating in the house may have a bladder infection), but if your dog has more than one of these symptoms, they may have separation anxiety:
- Peeing or pooping in the house
- Trying to escape when left alone
- Barking or howling when left alone
- Chewing on inappropriate items
- Shaking or drooling when owners prepare to leave
- An overly enthusiastic greeting when owners return
- Pacing when left alone (you may notice a worn path in the backyard)
- Eating their own poop (only when left alone)
Is it Separation Anxiety or Something Else?
Since some of the symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs can indicate other problems, it’s important to look at your dog’s behavior as a whole. Some medical or behavioral problems that may have similar symptoms to separation anxiety may include:
- Incontinence as a result of medical problems or medications. If your dog’s only symptom is having accidents when you leave the house, they may be suffering from a medical condition or a medication side effect and should be taken to the vet as soon as possible.
- Improper house training. If your dog is young or newly adopted, they may be having accidents in the house because they don’t yet realize they must always go outside to do their business. Reinforce their potty training when you’re home and consider crate training.
- Boredom. Many high energy dog breeds can become destructive when they’re left home alone with nothing to keep them busy.
- Excessive barking or howling. If your dog barks a lot when you are home, barking when they’re left alone doesn’t necessarily signal separation anxiety. It’s more of a behavioral issue that should be addressed.
- Urine marking. Dogs who are insecure may mark certain areas of the home with small amounts of urine to claim the home as their territory.
- Juvenile destruction. Young dogs can have a lot of energy and haven’t yet learned what is and is not acceptable to chew on.
Which Large Dog Breeds Are More Susceptible to Separation Anxiety?
While any dog may suffer from separation anxiety, some breeds are more prone to it than others, often due to their social personalities. The large dog breeds most susceptible to separation anxiety include:
- Labrador Retrievers – Poor breeding to keep up with the demand for puppies along with their extremely social personality makes the most popular breed in America highly prone to separation anxiety.
- German Shepherds – Bred to work all day, the boredom German Shepherds may suffer from being left alone can lead to separation anxiety. An abundance of “backyard breeding” has also led to many German Shepherds with poor personalities.
- Border Collies – Border Collies are the most intelligent dog breed and one of the highest-energy dog breeds. Without something to keep their minds and bodies active all day, Border Collies can become bored or destructive, leading to separation anxiety.
- Australian Shepherds – Like German Shepherds, Aussies were bred to work all day long, and being cooped up in the home all day alone can cause them to develop separation anxiety.
- German Shorthaired Pointers – Bred to hunt and work closely with their owners all day long, GSPs can become anxious when their favorite human leaves them alone.
- Vizslas – Another dog that was bred to hunt all day, these social dogs have a ton of energy and don’t do well when they are trapped at home all day with nobody to give their affection to.
Why Do Dogs Develop Separation Anxiety?
While there isn’t always an obvious cause for a dog’s separation anxiety, it’s often triggered by one of the following events:
- Being rehomed/adopted
- The family moving to a new home
- A change in the family’s schedule or routine
- The death or absence of a family member (like a child moving away to college)
10 Ways to Help a Dog With Separation Anxiety
If your dog has severe separation anxiety (like you can’t even close the door to the bathroom without them losing their mind), your dog may benefit from medication to bring the anxiety down to a more manageable level. Luckily, most dogs have mild to moderate separation anxiety that can be helped with some changes on your part.
Here are 10 dog separation anxiety solutions you can try at home.
#1 – Don’t Make a Big Deal out of Coming or Going
Don’t fawn over your dog when you’re getting ready to leave by doing things like telling them repeatedly that they’ll be fine without you – it feels to them like you’re giving them reasons to be anxious. Also, if the thought of leaving your dog makes you feel anxious, your dog will pick up on that, so remain calm as you prepare to leave so your dog learns that it isn’t a big deal.
You should also ignore your dog for the first 15 minutes or so after you come home until they calm down; otherwise, you’re rewarding them for giving you an overenthusiastic greeting. If your comings and goings are met with minimal fanfare, your dog can learn to understand that you leaving just isn’t a big deal.
#2 – Try Pheromones
Pheromones are hormones that people can’t smell, but dogs can. Pheromones have a calming effect and can make a world of difference for dogs with mild separation anxiety. Pheromones, found here on Amazon, are available as sprays, plug-in devices, collars, and more.
#3 – Buy a ThunderShirt
The ThunderShirt applies constant gentle pressure to your dog’s body to help relieve anxiety. The makers claim it’s more than 80% successful at reducing anxiety. You should observe your dog with it on before leaving them home alone with it since some dogs may try to take it off and chew it up.
#4 – Leave Behind Clothing that Smells Like You
Dogs have an extremely strong sense of smell and can be calmed by the scent of you. Leave behind the shirt you wore yesterday or slept in last night to give your dog a sense of comfort. This can be especially handy for dogs who are crate trained.
#5 – Get a Treat-Dispensing Camera With 2-Way Audio
In this wonderful age of technology, there are devices that allow you to see your dog remotely, talk to them, and release treats on demand. Watching your dog on the camera allows you to see what they’re up to while you’re gone. With 2-way audio, you can talk to your dog and reassure them with your voice. Reward good behavior with treats that dispense from the cube on cue.
#6 – Use a Monthly Subscription Box to Make Sure They Have Plenty of Toys
Large dogs have a tendency to go through toys much more quickly than smaller breeds. Make sure your dog always has plenty of toys to keep them busy while you’re gone by signing up for a monthly subscription box.
Not sure which monthly subscription box is best? Check out our article on the 5 Best Monthly Subscription Boxes for Large Dogs!
While some subscription boxes allow you to pick a toys-only option, most subscription boxes also come with treats, which can help you with some of the following training techniques.
#7 – Give Your Dog Interactive Toys
Boredom can lead to separation anxiety, and interactive toys can help reduce boredom. Interactive toys that involve treats also give your dog something to look forward to if you only give them those treats when you leave home.
An interactive toy might be something as simple as a KONG filled with peanut butter and frozen or as complicated as a food puzzle toy where your dog must figure out how to get treats out of various compartments.
Read more about the best interactive dog toys for large dogs here!
#8 – Crate Train Your Dog
Crate training your puppy or older dog can serve multiple purposes. Not only does it keep them safe and prevent them from destroying your home while you’re gone, but your dog can learn that it is a safe place where they can be calm and feel protected while you’re away.
While some people believe that leaving dogs in crates all day is cruel, isn’t it preferable to your dog swallowing something they can’t digest and needing surgery or even passing away? Until you’ve found another method for controlling your dog’s separation anxiety, crate training can be a lifesaver.
Learn more about how to crate train an older dog with separation anxiety here.
#9 – Create a Desensitization and Counterconditioning Program
You may want to enlist the help of a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB), a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB), or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) to create a plan that will help your dog get used to being alone. These techniques are often required for dogs who have moderate to severe separation anxiety.
A few things that may be part of a desensitization and counterconditioning program include:
- Change your leaving routine. For example, if your dog associates you picking up your keys with you leaving and starts to get anxious with that cue, pick up your keys from time to time throughout the day, so your dog learns that you don’t leave every time you pick up your keys.
- Get your dog used to being alone very gradually. Start by teaching your dog how to stay, then ask them to stay as you go out of sight, like around a corner. Start making your dog stay out of sight for longer periods before moving on to leaving the house for a couple of minutes before returning and rewarding your dog for staying calm. Build slowly up to 40-minute-long absences.
- Never leave your dog alone for longer than they can handle. This is the most difficult part of the desensitization process. You may need to have friends, family members, or dog walkers stay with your dog every time you leave the house for several weeks or months. It makes no difference if your dog can handle being alone for 5 or 10 minutes if they’re still experiencing anxiety when you go to work every day.
#10 – Give Your Dog a Job
Since most large breeds were bred to do some type of work, training your dog to do a job or activity can help give them a purpose and an outlet for their energy, which may help them stay calm when they’re left alone. A few “jobs” you can train your dog for include:
- Agility competitions
- Being a therapy dog
- Freestyle dancing
- Obedience competitions
- Disc dogs
- Dock jumping
- Lure coursing
Final Words: Treating Dog Separation Anxiety
Dealing with a dog with separation anxiety can be frustrating for both of you, but using some of these techniques can help make a huge difference in your dog’s quality of life and help you know that your dog isn’t suffering every time you leave home.
With some time, experimenting, and patience, you can find the best combination of tools and techniques to relieve your dog’s separation anxiety.
You tell us: Have we missed anything? Do you have any additional tips for our readers on ways you’ve found to help your dog with separation anxiety? Let us know in the comments!