Separation Anxiety in Dogs

This article was published by Mark Vet, Animal Behaviourist. You can follow him on Facebook and on his Website.

Separation anxiety is a seriously distressing issue, and dogs that suffer with it can become incredibly destructive in their bid to escape the house. I have seen dogs chew through solid wooden doors, scratch walls away to practically nothing and even break door handles off. Obviously, none of which would be appealing to a potential landlord!

Working on your dog’s separation anxiety is by far the kindest thing you can do for them. This is a highly distressing condition and your dog will be a lot more relaxed if they’re able to overcome this. It’s also a lot easier on you, knowing you don’t have to worry about your dog when you need to go out!

Here are some practical tips to help you work through this.

  1. Consider where you are leaving your dog
    Most dogs will be more settled if they have access to a social area of the home as well as outdoor space, so consider a dog door so your dog can get inside (or create a restricted space inside they can access e.g. a play pen or crate off a dog door in the lounge or kitchen). A restricted area is a good idea if your dog is prone to destructive behaviour! You can buy inserts for sliding doors from Bunnings Warehouse that give you a rental-friendly dog door. It can be as simple as a crate inside the dog door that allows them in to sleep and rest inside, and get outside to play.
  2. Create a safe set up
    Give them a covered crate to settle in as a safe space, and leave something smelling of you in there (like a worn t-shirt). Making it small and dark will help your dog feel safer and more comfortable. It’s ok to close them in a crate for an hour or two but not much longer than that.
  3. Keep departures low key
    Avoid making a big fuss when leaving or returning home, as it can create anxiety for your dog. Keep your departures and arrivals low-key and calm to minimise stress. The differential between when you’re there or not should be minimised.
  4. Distraction
    Give your dog a stuffed Kong, food puzzle or bone when you’re leaving to help them initially settle. Ensure your dog has plenty of chew toys to distract them when you’re gone. Try leaving the TV or radio on to provide comforting background noise.
  5. Practice alone time
    Practise leaving your dog alone for short periods of time, even when you’re at home (a crate or a clip station is a great way to do this). This can help them learn that being alone is okay, start with short periods of time (5 minutes or less) and give your dog a stuffed Kong or chew bone to distract them, then gradually work up to longer stretches. Even just having your dog clipped up or in a crate as you come and go from the room doing chores is a good way to practise separation.
  6. Company
    Many dogs will be happier in the company of another dog. Do you have a nearby friend or neighbour with a dog your dog gets along great with? If so, consider if you can leave them together some days – at the other person’s place if it hasn’t been agreed with your landlord. Alternatively, doggy daycare or a dog walker can break up a long day away from your dog.
  7. Relaxation Aids
    Rescue Remedy and Thunder Jackets help some dogs relax. In the case of severe anxiety, your vet may be able to prescribe an anti-anxiety medication.
  8. Treat the Issue
    Treating separation anxiety will require a technique called Graduated Departure. This is where you slowly and systematically teaching your dog to adjust to not having you there. We cover it in this blog:
  9. Treat-Dispensing Pet Cameras
    A two-way camera that can dispense treats to your pet when you’re not there is an awesome tool to help with treating separation distress. You can help keep your dog calm from a distance! We have a blog here on how to incorporate this tool into your separation training:

If your dog has severe separation distress and does not cope when you need to leave the house, they may need more comprehensive treatment. In this case, join our Dog Zen Virtual Dog School as we cover this training in detail with videos to guide you through exactly what to do. I’ll also be on hand to help you through it.

There’s more info here if you’d like to check it out: