Ask Steve: Anxiety

Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Dogs are wonderful additions to the family. Whether you have just brought a new puppy home or your furry friend has been in the family for years, we know that you love spending time with them and want to be with them as much as possible. And your pup feels the same way about you. They want to be with you all the time and love being able to do things with you. While almost every dog misses their owner when they leave, there are some that have serious problems when separated from their owner. 

Separation anxiety can be quite common in dogs and is typically found in working dog breeds, such as shepherds, retrievers, and terriers. When your dog has separation anxiety, they are likely to tear your house to shreds, try to escape, and misbehave while you are away from them. Luckily, there are things you can do to help keep your dog calm and unteach the behavior of getting anxious during separation from you. 

Steve Lankfer, founder of Speak Dog!™, can help you learn how to deal with separation anxiety in your pup, as well as teach you how to become the leader your dog wants and needs. Subscribe to Speak Dog!™, to learn the best dog training tips and how to become a leader to your furry friend. 

In this blog, we are going to talk about separation anxiety, what it is, why it happens, and how to train your pup out of these behaviors. Read on to learn more and be sure to subscribe to Speak Dog!™,  by joining the free Dog Park community today. 

What Is Anxiety in Dogs?

You may think that your dog’s bad behavior is separation anxiety, but this condition is more than just being a little mischievous or whining while you are away. Having a dog with separation anxiety can be extremely frustrating. In fact, this is one of the main reasons owners give their dogs up. 

Getting anxiety from being left alone is often a learned behavior. For many dogs, especially working dog breeds, you are their entire world and they may view you as their “job.” So when their entire world walks out the door and leaves them again, it makes sense that a dog may feel stressed or anxious. Your dog learns your routine. They know that when you pick up your keys, for example, you are about to leave. 

While working dogs may get anxious because you are their world and their job, there are many other reasons why a dog may develop separation anxiety. These include:

  • Being moved from a shelter to a home. 
  • Change of ownership.
  • Being left alone for the first time.
  • A change in routine or schedule.
  • Loss of a family member. 


These changes in a dog’s life can cause them to get anxious and act out in these undesirable behaviors. While these are some factors that may cause a dog to be more likely to have separation anxiety, there is really not a clear reason why some dogs get anxious and others don’t. 

Signs of Separation Anxiety

When a dog has separation anxiety, they will act out in a variety of ways when left alone. You may come home to a torn-up house, destroyed furniture, and complaints from neighbors. While your dog may be a little mischievous when they are left alone, that could be just normal dog behavior. Remember, dogs will to dog things. Separation anxiety though can include more dramatic behaviors such as:

  • Howling, barking, or whining excessively.
  • Indoor “accidents” even though your dog is house trained.
  • Chewing items and furniture.
  • Scratching at windows and doors.
  • Pacing in obsessive patterns.
  • Attempt to escape confinement, to the point of potentially harming themselves.
  • Excessive drooling, panting, and salivating.

While you may read this list and think “my dog does that sometimes, maybe they have separation anxiety,” there is a huge difference between a dog that behaves this way every once in a while and one that does so every time you leave. When a dog has anxiety about separating from you, they will typically act this way whenever you leave or put space between you and them. Remember, this is a learned behavior. So, what are you supposed to do about it? Luckily, there is a reliable solution!

How to Help Your Dog

Your dog’s feelings of anxiety when separated from you are a learned behavior that you can help them unlearn by having them refocus their energy on a different behavior. To do this, you need to establish yourself as their leader, not their friend or buddy. By establishing yourself as their leader, your dog will be able to understand that this is the way it is going to be and if you are happy, they should be happy. Depending on the severity of your dog’s separation anxiety, there are different things you can do to help reduce these behaviors and allow them to get more comfortable being home alone. 

Mild Separation Anxiety

If your dog only has mild separation anxiety, there are specific things that you can do to help your pup. A few methods include:

  • Have your dog go to a specific spot or location in your home. And giving your dog a special treat or toy, such as a puzzle toy stuffed with treats or peanut butter. Give this toy to you dog when you are gone and take it away when you get back. 
  • Leave some recently worn clothes that smell like you in a specific spot or location in your home. Try to pick something that is casual wear since your dog will likely sleep on it, carry it around, and/or play with it while you are gone.
  • Make your comings and goings as low-key as possible. When you arrive home, provide your pup with a calm and stable greeting.

These methods will work with dogs that are not overly anxious, but dogs with severe anxiety will need something a little more to help them get through this anxiety.

Severe Separation Anxiety

Work with your dog to help them slowly get more comfortable with being left alone when you leave. There are specific things that likely trigger anxiety in your dog. These include dressing a certain way (i.e. shoes, clothes, etc.), smelling a certain way (i.e. cologne, perfume, etc.) and other morning routines (i.e. brushing your teeth, grabbing your keys, etc.) which are unique to Monday through Friday. Get them used to, and comfortable with, these actions by praising your dog for keeping a calm demeanor. If your dog begins to panic at any point in your morning routine, then correct your dog for displaying an anxious demeanor. Eventually, your dog will follow your lead emotionally and will feel less anxious throughout your morning process.

Once they are less anxious about these activities, you must praise your dog for remaining calm. You will find that you can begin to leave for a few moments or a few hours without creating a stressed or anxious state of mind in your dog. Practice providing this leadership to your dog every day of the week, not just Monday through Friday. You will see that you can slowly increase the amount of time that you are gone regardless of what shoes you are wearing or how and when you grab your keys.

Slowly your dog will get used to this and may even find your routine and leadership to be calming. Slowly you will be able to stay away for longer and longer, but always make sure to stay calm when you leave and when you return. 

For All Dogs With Separation Anxiety

Exercise is extremely important for all dogs, and giving your pup enough exercise every day can help them feel less anxious when you leave. This can not be over emphasized, and it is especially important for dogs (breeds) prone to separation anxiety. One-dog homes are where most separation anxiety cases are found. They will be tired and happy, which means they will be a lot less stressed when you leave. Play with them, take them on a long walk, and make sure they get a lot of exercise every day before you head out. This is a great way to help reduce the damage that they may cause in your home. Be sure to also keep them mentally stimulated with puzzle toys and other toys that keep your pup busy.

There are many ways to help reduce your dog’s separation anxiety. Following these tips can help you get started and work with your dog to reduce these behaviors. If you want to learn more about how to train your dog to ditch bad behaviors, be sure to subscribe to Speak Dog!™ today. Steve Lankfer will give you further guidance on how to train your pup and become the leader they want and need

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