Why does my dog have separation anxiety?

Dogs are social animals and it is unnatural for them to be separated from their social groups. Although many dogs are able to be left alone for longer periods of time, there are some who suffer from separation anxiety.

What is Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety is a feeling of distress that your dog feels when you, his person, leaves him. It can present itself in many ways, like acting depressed when you are about to leave or attempting to escape when you are gone. There is no one determinable cause, but there are some steps you can take to help your dog through it.

Avoid Worsening Separation Anxiety

It is important to keep in mind unwanted behaviors like chewing, eliminating, barking, and more are not a result of your dog being “bad.” These are results of anxiety, so they should never be punished as this will only make your dog more anxious.

Solutions for Separation Anxiety

Aerobic Exercise

Allowing your dog time to exercise will calm him. If you get your dog running for at least 30 minutes a day, such as toy retrieval or food tossing games, his brain will release calming neurochemicals.

Crate Training

This can keep your dog from practicing any naughty behavior while you are away, but may not be the best option for anxious dogs. If you can habituate your dog to the crate to where she feels safe and calm in it, use it. But if your dog injures herself trying to escape the crate, move on to other methods.

Rewarding and Ignoring

When your dog is whining, pawing at you, or following you around the house, these are behaviors you ignore. When she is calm and relaxed, reward her with a high value treat or praise. 


There are supplements that can help. Composure Chews™ or Composure Pro™ are natural stress relievers made to help calm your dog. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian before using these. ADAPTIL™, a calming pheromone, can come as a spray, plug in diffuser, or as a collar. ThunderShirts put constant pressure on your dog’s sensory receptors when worn. Be sure to desensitize your dog to the shirt by pairing it with treats and affection. 

Calming Space

Play classical music at a low volume during your departure. Be sure to provide a comfortable space for him to relax. This can be his own bed, your bed, or wherever he feels most comfortable.


Work with your dog on basic commands or clicker training to offer your dog a chance to boost her confidence.

Coming and Going

Keep hellos and goodbyes controlled and short. When you reassure your dog and try to comfort his anxiety, you are feeding into it and making him more excited when you leave and come home, magnifying your absence.

Habituating Cues

Your dog may pick up on certain actions you do as you prepare to leave and will start to feel anxious when he sees you do them. Make sure to recognize these signs so you know what actions you can habituate. If he trembles when you pick up your keys, be sure to pick up your keys multiple times throughout the day. Repeat this with all of his triggers until you do not see those signs anymore.

Independence Training

If your dog is a “velcro dog”, meaning he never leaves your side when you are at home, you cannot expect him to be comfortable being home when you are gone. Follow this plan to help him to be more independent.

Before starting, be sure to habituate your dog to any social cues that indicate you are leaving.  When you begin this training, the most important thing is to go at your dog’s pace. Never do this exercise to be able to leave or it will become another trigger.

  1. Teach your dog “down” and “stay.” Learn more about clicker training here. 
  2. Once your dog can stay for at least 30 seconds with you a few feet away, add distance. Continue this training, increasing duration and distance. 
  3. Fill a Kong with a yummy treat, like peanut butter or whipped cream, and give this to him during your training session. Let him eat and play calming music while you put more distance between you two, until you are able to be outside of the room, but he can still see you. 
  4. Be sure to always put the Kong away and turn off the music before the dog is finished with the treat. 
  5. If your dog gets up during a session you are moving too fast and/or you need a tastier treat in the Kong. 
  6. After you are able to leave the room for at least 15 minutes and go about your daily activities, you can begin to leave the house. This desensitizes your dog to major social cues of you leaving. 
  7. Try to exit out different doors only for a few seconds. Come back inside, put the Kong away and turn off the music. 
  8. Make sure to leave for different durations of time so he cannot predict when you will be back. You may also establish a social cue during this training like “be right back” so he knows you will only be gone for a minute.
  9.  Once you feel he is comfortable with you leaving, you can start going to your car and opening and closing the door. The next step is to go in your car, drive around the block and come back.
  10. Be sure you are going slowly during this process. If you see any signs that he is upset during the process, leave for shorter periods of time. 
  11. If you are able to leave your house for 30 minutes, your dog should now be comfortable enough with you leaving. At this point, you are able to play calming music and give the stuffed Kong to him. Make sure to give them a safety cue that you trained him with, like “be right back” each time you leave. 

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