April 10, 2020 4 min read

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When people suffer from anxiety, it can be difficult to focus on day-to-day tasks. The same can be said for dogs with anxiety, especially separation anxiety. Dogs with separation anxiety may resort to unwanted behaviors as coping mechanisms for their anxiety such as incessant barking or destroying items in your home. 

What are some other ways that separation anxiety manifests in dogs and what can you do to help your anxious furry friend?

What is dog separation anxiety?

Our dogs look to us for leadership and for affection. Much of what they learn about their environment is learned by observing how humans interact with their surroundings. This is how dogs learn that the refrigerator is the greatest thing in the world and that the couch is a fine place to take a nap.

When we’re not around to lead our dogs and assure them that new noises are no concern, this can make dogs very anxious and fearful. Some dogs may choose to lie in one place while waiting for us to come home, but other dogs may be “wired” for anxiety and have a great deal of trouble trying to cope with being alone which results in unhealthy behaviors.

This is what is known as separation anxiety, and it manifests in any number of the following problems:

  • Urinating and defecating in the house
  • Shaking or panting
  • Whining or barking
  • Chewing on furniture, doorways, walls, etc

Some dog trainers further distinguish a difference between simulated separation anxiety vs. true separation anxiety. Simulated anxiety occurs when your dog lacks leadership or self-control, all of which is a learned behavior. In this case, your dog will “act up” to get attention from you, and even negative attention is considered a reward because he is being acknowledged.

True separation anxiety occurs when a dog is not trained to be on his own, causing intense distress. Changes in routines can also cause this.

Training for dog separation anxiety

Dog trainers and veterinary behaviorists agree that behavior modification training is essential to the treatment of anxiety in dogs.

Calming products and anti-anxiety medications all have their place in treatment regimens, and these may be integral in the treatment process because dogs that are too anxious may not be in the right frame of mind to learn new things.

If possible, prevention is the best form of training. Crying puppies are not used to being left alone, and our instinct is to comfort them when they cry. By rewarding desired behavior (i.e. not crying but staying calm), you are training your pup that it is okay to be alone or okay to remain calm in the face of an anxiety-inducing stimulus.

Obedience training is key as a puppy because it helps your pup learn from you as well as establishes a strong relationship between the two of you.

For dogs that already have separation anxiety, training is key. It is important to identify visual cues, which are triggers that set off your dog’s anxiety. Examples of triggers include grabbing your car keys, putting on a coat, grabbing your shoes, or putting on makeup.

If your dog doesn’t become familiar and comfortable with these acts, try to eliminate them (e.g. don’t put your shoes on until you get into your car). Also, avoid making a fuss when you say goodbye or when you come home.

When you get your dog excited upon your arrival home, he will treat every arrival as if it were a party! If you crate-train, don’t let your dog out of his crate until he is quiet and calm. It makes your arrival seem commonplace, and your time spent away from him was something routine or no big deal.  

Training sessions should start out short and in small increments. For example, with out-of-sight training, you can start with being away from your pup for the duration of a trip to the bathroom or stepping outside briefly. Then, you can gradually increase the length of time each day until your dog is more comfortable with longer trips.

Crate training is useful for dogs of all sizes. Some dogs may feel more anxious about being alone in a large, empty house. They are made even more anxious thinking that they have all of that space to protect and monitor. By providing a smaller space for your dog, you are helping him remain calm and feel safe.

If these tactics don’t seem to be working, talk to your veterinarian about it. Dogs who are constantly fearful and anxious may need medication to help calm them. Some dogs will benefit from short-acting medications like trazodone or long-acting medications known as SSRIs.

There is a vast array of calming products like dog-appeasing pheromone (DAP) that comes in sprays, plug-ins, and collars. Calming treats can help with serotonin levels, and CBD oil can also help with anxiety in dogs. Calming probiotics are also effective because they provide a source of bacterial cultures that are typically found in calm dogs but are missing in anxious dogs.

If your dog still doesn’t favorably respond to training, contact a veterinary behaviorist. These are special veterinarians who are more familiar with anxiety medications used in combination with the best training methods.

Many veterinary behaviorists can come to your home to help you identify visual cues, triggers, etc. and can help you work through your dog’s anxiety problems. They provide a wealth of information and can help give your dog the one-on-one training that he really needs.


Separation anxiety can affect dogs and can be mild to severe behavioral disorders. Destructive behaviors are the most common manifestation of separation anxiety. With patience and the right training, you can help your dog learn to be calm without your presence.

Moderate to severe separation anxiety may require intervention from your veterinarian or from a veterinary behaviorist in order to help your pup learn and retain desired behaviors. Most importantly, be sure to give your furry friend enough time to learn! e


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Meet The Author

Dr. Erica Irish author of training a dog with seperation anxiety: what you need to know

Dr. Erica Irish

Erica has worked in the veterinary field since 2006, starting out as a veterinary technician before graduating from the UF College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. As a general practitioner in an animal hospital, she has many interests and is especially interested in dermatology, cardiology, internal and integrative medicine.

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