Table of Contents
1. What is dog separation anxiety?
2. Signs of separation anxiety in dogs
3. How to diagnose dog separation anxiety and other issues
4. Causes of dog separation anxiety
5. How to stop separation anxiety in dogs
6. How to prevent separation anxiety in dogs
7. How to deal with separation anxiety in dogs
8. Taking care of yourself during dog separation anxiety
9. Top 10 dog separation anxiety dos and don’ts
10. Dog separation anxiety FAQs
To sum it all up…
Being away from your dog can leave them (and you) feeling anxious, especially in the beginning. But if your dog’s struggling to settle at home alone, don’t worry! There are plenty of things you can do to make sure they’re happy and secure by themselves. In this blog, we have lots of tips to help you set your dog up for success when staying home alone.
It’s not unusual for dogs to have some separation issues, and it’s often a major source of worry for pet parents. First off, we don’t like knowing our dogs are unhappy and secondly, it takes time and patience to resolve. If you’re going through separation issues with your dog, try to remember they’re quite common, many people have successfully worked through them and there’s plenty of help out there.
This blog will help you spot the signs of dog separation anxiety and understand the difference between true separation anxiety and other issues, like boredom and isolation distress. We’ll walk you through how to stop separation anxiety in dogs, including training, monitoring and when to ask for expert help. Let’s get started…
Strictly speaking, separation anxiety refers to dogs who feel distress when they’re away from their main caretaker – usually a specific person. However, the term is often used as shorthand for a range of unwanted behaviours dogs display when they’re left alone. It’s possibly more accurate to call this separation-related behaviour (SRB).
Signs of separation anxiety in dogs can include destructive chewing and digging, your dog barking and howling, toilet accidents, and more. Separation anxiety in dogs can range from mild to severe, and dealing with it can be very difficult for pups and pet parents alike, requiring plenty of time and patience. That said, don’t be discouraged. Regular separation anxiety dog training and confidence-boosting exercises will almost always help your dog overcome their fear of being alone.
First things first, it’s important to know what’s causing your dog’s behaviour before jumping to the conclusion that they have separation anxiety. Many dogs don’t like being alone but might not actually have separation anxiety.
For example, if your dog calms down in the presence of other people, even if they’re not you, they could have isolation distress. And dogs might act up when you’re away out of boredom, not anxiety. If you believe your dog has true separation anxiety, it’s important to talk to a professional behaviourist so you can put a separation anxiety dog training programme in place that will stop the problem from getting worse.
Understanding the root cause of your dog’s behaviour is the first step to finding a solution and the good news is that we’ve put together lots of practical tips designed to help with all types of separation-related behaviour – from boredom to dog separation anxiety and everything in between.
Most signs of separation anxiety in dogs you’ll see are behavioural. These include:
If your dog behaves this way when you’re out of the house, it’s a sign that something isn’t right.
Other dog separation anxiety symptoms can be physical. Keep an eye out for:
These can all be signs of an underlying health condition or severe separation anxiety in dogs. If it’s separation anxiety, they should subside soon after you return. Even so, if you spot them, it’s important to speak to your vet.
It’s important to realise that other issues can cause behaviour that looks like separation anxiety in dogs. Some of these are:
Before assuming your dog has separation anxiety, we recommend first ruling out all other possible causes of their stressed behaviour.
Some dogs really don’t like being left alone at night. This is normal and particularly common with puppies! We recommend getting your dog used to it gradually, by sleeping near them at first, then further and further away. If you provide a soft bed and regular night-time routine for your dog, they should be happy sleeping by themselves eventually. In fact, it’s a great first step to teaching them that alone time is good!
To figure out if your dog has separation anxiety or something else, we recommend you follow these three steps:
Each pup is unique, and you know yours best. Brush up on your dog body language and note how they react to your comings and goings. Write down anything unusual so you can share it with your vet.
Many dog owners find this very useful. For example, if your dog naps while you’re away, then wakes up and chews up their bed, they’re unlikely to have separation anxiety. This would more likely be a case of dog boredom.
To properly diagnose and treat separation anxiety, you’ll need to speak to your vet, who'll recommend a course of action and possibly a behaviourist.
If you and your vet believe your dog has true separation anxiety, remember it’s not your fault. The truth is, we don’t always know why some dogs have separation-related behaviour and others don’t. Various factors can play a part, including:
Ultimately, no matter how well you care for your dog, you can’t shield them from everything life throws at them. That’s why building their resilience and confidence is the first and best line of defense against dog separation anxiety. And if, despite your love, attention and best efforts, they still develop separation anxiety, what matters isn’t where it came from- it’s how you manage it.
Successfully leaving our dogs alone doesn’t start the moment we leave the house. It starts with exercise, communication, training, and even proper nutrition. These foundations are key to stopping separation issues from forming in the first place or developing into full-blown separation anxiety. They also may also help dogs who are already struggling with it.
When we leave our dogs alone, we want to set them up for success. They need time to adjust to being left by themselves. If yours hasn’t spent much time alone or isn’t used to being in a different room to you, even for a short period of time, you can’t expect them to thrive on their own right away. They’ll need to build up to it.
Treating dog separation anxiety is one thing, but preventing it before it starts is even better. Here are some activities you can try to help develop your dog’s resilience.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic way of curing dog separation anxiety quickly. It’s a condition that’s all about consistent, gentle training over time. That journey can range from easy to very challenging, and sometimes requires expert help from a dog behaviourist. In the short-term, you may need to put a pause on leaving your dog alone, for their safety and your neighbours’ sanity at least until you’re confident their destructive and noisy behaviours are under control.
At the same time, it’s important to have time away from your dog as you reduce their anxiety. Many pet parents stop doing normal day-to-day tasks and don’t feel they can leave the house at all. This isn't healthy for you or your dog. If you can, we’d recommend asking your friends and family to support you by watching them. You could also use the services of an experienced dog walker or doggy daycare service (always check they're insured first). At home, carefully observe your dog and note any triggers that seem to set them off: time of day, actions like picking up your coat, or noises like the sound of your wake-up alarm, etc. This will allow you to target areas for training.
Then, slowly train them to reduce the severity of their reactions to triggers and being left alone. Follow the tips we’ve already shared, remembering that every dog’s response to training is different. You may need to start with a few seconds at a time, working up to minutes and then hours. Progress may seem slow at first, but eventually it will improve more quickly. Some dog owners find it really helpful to keep a diary so they can keep track of the gains their dog makes. The important thing is to train every day consistently, and if needed ask for help from your vet and possibly a behaviourist.
Realise that, no matter what you do, some dogs might always have some degree of separation anxiety. Make it your aim to reduce their anxiety and separation-related behaviours to a manageable level, so both you and your dog can lead healthy, happy lives and spend time apart.
Severe separation anxiety in dogs can present risks to their health. If your dog is showing high levels of stress, such as causing themselves harm like self-chewing or over-grooming, then it’s time to consult a professional. Again, investing in a pet-camera can really help you to understand if there are any potential triggers causing your dog’s behaviour. For example, did your dog destroy a cushion because your neighbour started drilling into the wall next to where their dog bed is? Capturing video examples can also be really helpful if you feel you do need the help of a behaviourist as they will then be able to assess your dog straight away and help provide a tailored training plan.
Many dog parents say that separation-related behaviour is one of the hardest things they’ve had to tackle with their dogs. While it’s very common, it can still feel overwhelming. Remember you’re not alone and acknowledge the hard work you’re doing. Dogs are also very intuitive, so it’s important for you to stay as calm and stress-free as possible, so they can be too.
Remember: dog separation anxiety isn’t your fault. As we’ve outlined above, many dogs experience separation anxiety, for a variety of reasons. In fact, the RSPCA estimates that up to 8 out of 10 dogs have some difficulty being alone. As you work through separation anxiety with your dog, try to get support from other people. Consider extra help, like a dog walker or behaviourist, and keep in touch with your vet.
Happy dogs need happy owners, so schedule in time for yourself so you get a break. Tracking the progress you’ve made allows you to look back on where you started. Sometimes the hardest part is the very start- most pet parents find if they start small and build up, over time their dogs come on in leaps and bounds.
Invest in a pet camera which you can monitor on your mobile phone. You don’t have to go too fancy and get a treat-releasing one, just a basic camera is fine to start. Try not to use the speaker option to talk to your dog as this may cause unnecessary stress.
Speak with neighbours and ask them to let you know about any vocalisation they may hear – explain that you’re training your dog and their input can really help.
Only leave them for very short periods at first, to make sure they’re comfortable being left. Even stepping out of the front door and counting to 10 is enough to begin with for some dogs. If you go out to the garden for a short period, make sure you don’t always allow them to come with you. This reinforces that even if they are alone everything is fine.
There can be many symptoms of dogs not being comfortable when left alone but here are some more common ones:
It's always a good idea to talk to your vet about stressed behaviour, first to rule out an underlying health issue, but also to make sure you’re taking the right steps for your dog. If your dog’s behaviour escalates in such a way that presents a danger to themselves, contact your vet straight away. They may be able to recommend a behaviourist or, in severe cases, dog separation anxiety medication.