and Separation Anxiety
Dogs with separation anxiety cannot bear to be parted from their owners, and often exhibit problem behavior
when left alone. Putting your relationship on a more independent footing is the first step towards a more confident
and happy dog.
There are many reasons why dogs exhibit problem behavior when left alone. Boredom may be a factor in puppies or
young dogs that may not have learned that it is unacceptable to bark, dig or chew. Others may behave in an
unacceptable fashion because they cannot cope with being separated from their owners and become anxious. The
following advice and recommendations are meant to provide help for dogs that suffer from anxieties and insecurities
when left alone.
Which Dogs are Most Likely to Develop Separation Anxieties?
Adopted dogs seem to be especially prone to separation problems, particularly during the first few weeks in their
new home or if they are shy, sensitive and submissive. Such dogs are usually described as having a "wonderful
temperament" and being "loving and affectionate." They tend to be the ones that bond with a new owner quickly and
Separation anxieties are more likely to occur if dogs have been re-homed before they were one year old, and
especially if they have had many different homes.
- Your dog follows you from room to room, unwilling to let you out of sight even for a moment.
- A strong bond is formed with just one person in the household to the exclusion of others.
- Problem behavior begins as soon as you leave. The first 15 minutes are the worst, during which time the dog
becomes extremely upset. All the physiological signs of fear may be present, an increase in heart and breathing
rate, panting, salivating, increased activity and, sometimes, a need to go to the toilet. The dog may try to
follow you, scratching at doors, chewing at door frames, scratching at carpets or jumping up at windowsills to
look for a way out. Alternatively your dog may bark, whine or howl to try and persuade you to come back.
- After this frantic period, your dog may settle down to chew something that you have recently touched that
still carries your scent. Dogs will often chew scented items into small pieces and curl up in the debris so
that your dog forms a ‘barrier’ of your scent around them for protection
Teach your dog or puppy to get used to short, planned absences. Leave your dog in
the room where they will normally be left, close the door and walk away. After a short time (less than five
minutes), go back in without greeting. Do this several times in one session and repeat the sessions throughout the
day. Gradually extend the period of time that your dog is isolated.
If your pet becomes distressed, begins to bark, scratch at the door, or has chewed anything when you return, leave
for a shorter period next time and progress more slowly.
Continue until absences of 30 minutes can be tolerated without a problem and then begin to go through the normal
leaving preparations, such as putting on your coat and picking up your keys before leaving the dog alone in the
- Exercise your dog, with a walk and by playing games, well in advance of leaving so that your dog has time
to settle down. When you go out, do not say goodbye or make a big deal out of leaving, just walk out.
- Provide a small meal a short time before departure so that your dog is more likely to be sleepy.
- Leave your dog somewhere where any damage done will be minimized, preferably in the house, where they will
feel most secure.
- Leave the animal with something special to chew, a Kong or toy stuffed with treats will keep your dog
occupied and distracted during the first few minutes of your departure. It is in the first few minutes that
your dog feels most distressed so this helps the animal cope and become accustomed to being alone.
- Give your dog a 'security blanket.' Having something with your scent on it can be very comforting to a dog,
a t-shirt or sweatshirt. You need to renew your scent on this garment each time you leave the house.
- Some dogs are comforted by the familiar sound of a radio playing or you could record 30 minutes of your
family’s conversation and play this as you leave.
- When you return, greeting rituals should be kept short and without great excitement.
- Do not, on any account, punish, scold or be angry with your dog. Consider it your fault if something has
gone wrong and work on the training.
Punishment; Ineffective and Damaging
It is natural for owners to be angry if they return to
find damage to their home, mess in the house or annoyed neighbors. Sensing this anger, dogs show submission in an
attempt to appease the owner and reduce any punishment they might otherwise be subjected to. Unfortunately, a
submissive posture (ears flat, head lowered, crouching, tail between legs) is often misinterpreted by owners as
guilt. They often say, "See, he knows he has done wrong."
Punishment given on returning home is not only ineffective, it can be damaging. Dogs associate punishment with what
they are doing at the instant they are punished. Your dog will not associate the punishment with their earlier
behavior so in addition to being anxious about being left, the animal is also worried about the owner
Fixing the Problem
First, you must work to get your dog comfortable without constant
reassurance from you at home. The following tips will help to create a more independent relationship and prevent
some of the overdependence that is the basis for separation problems.
- Ignore any approaches made to you. Do not speak, touch or look at your dog. When you decide to give
attention, call your dog to you and make as much fuss as you like. Do this as often as possible so your dog is
learning that quiet, detached behavior brings lots of attention.
- Don’t allow your dog to follow you from room to room. If you have adopted an adult dog, begin training as
soon as you bring your dog home. Close the door behind you when you go into another room so the dog is isolated
for a few minutes until you return. Acknowledge the pet's presence when you go back in but do not make a big
- Keep departure cues, such as looking for car keys and putting on coats, to a minimum.
- With a new dog, arrange for your dog to sleep away from you at night rather than in the bedroom so that the
animal is not with you constantly for such a long period.
- Steadily build your dog's confidence by using only 'reward' based methods of training.
On a Final Note
Acquiring another dog or cat to keep the 'problem' dog company is not
necessarily the answer. Another pet will be no substitute for you and the separation problems are likely to
persist. Consider taking on a second dog only if you would like another dog anyway, not just because you want to
solve a problem with your existing dog.