Dealing with Separation Anxiety in Dogs

  • By: Mick Whitefield
  • Time to read: 18 min.

Dogs can suffer from a range of different issues, and this often depends on their breed, size, and parentage amongst other things. However, one thing that many dogs suffer from regardless of their breed is separation anxiety. This is not something that affects all dogs, but those that are affected can cause a lot of issues from soiling around the house to annoying the neighbours with their howling.

How do you deal with separation anxiety in dogs? The Door Stepping Method along with the Crate Method is a very effective system If Done Correctly. Here at Top Lap Dogs I have used it twice for dogs at different levels of anxiety, one of them was very severe. For those with mild separation anxiety there is a host of other methods, such as toys and chews, balms, diffusers and tablets to help calm the nerves. If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, you may have to try out several solutions in order to tackle the problem. It can be a long and arduous task but if you persevere, it is possible to deal with separation anxiety in dogs using one of methods below:-

  • The Doorstep Method (See below)
  • The Crate Method (See below)
  • • Dog Treat Dispensers
  • • Chew Toys
  • • Music
  • • Radio
  • • Balms
  • • Diffusers
  • • Tablets

It is important to recognise the symptoms of Separation Anxiety, and also try to ensure that the symptoms your dog is displaying are not down to some other problem.

While it can be a challenge to try and deal with a pet that suffers from separation anxiety, I do take issue with those that maintain you should never cage a dog. This is about giving your dog its own space where it can feel safe when you are not there for whatever reason. There are also various tips, products, and solutions that can help but all depend on what level of separation anxiety you are dealing with.

Doganxiouswindow Orig
Dogs get anxious when they have no confidence in their owner

If you are unsure about whether your dog has separation anxiety consult a veterinary or professional dog trainer

In this article, we will learn more about
• separation anxiety in dogs,
• what causes it,
• what the symptoms are,
• and some possible solutions to help both you and your pet.

Despite the fact that some online informers take the view that a crate should never be used for separation anxiety, I cannot agree, particularly as I have used the method twice with two very different dogs at very different levels of separation anxiety, the cases of which were both assessed by the vet and our natural dog trainer.

Separation anxiety can often be caused by the owner and their actions as they leave the dog, and this is the easiest part to change generally by Door Stepping.

I am going to start this method as if we were dealing with the worst of cases. This is a serious condition and can get worse if not handled correctly so I am going to be quite specific in my instructions.

Also bear in mind that this process can be very lengthy.

How to use The Crate Method for Separation Anxiety

The crate can be a safe haven, or it can cause stress for your furry friend. In the case of Separation Anxiety it can be a very useful tool but only if done sympathetically and slowly. A very important step when you have a dog that is suffering with Separation Anxiety is to use the Doorstep Method FIRST.

Door Stepping

Part 1/ Initially we are NOT going to use the crate, we are going to DOORSTEP.

The first thing to do is to look as though you are leaving the house in the normal way, so pick up your keys and put on your coat, go to the door as if you were going to leave.

Hat Coat Keys 1
Pick up your hat, coat, keys etc and head for the door.

(At this point your dog will have noticed your movements and may already be pacing around following you with tail between the legs and possibly whining.)

Part 2/ Without leaving the house, you must now behave as if you were coming back into the house. Remove your coat, put your keys away. Carry on the rest of the day.

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat.

You must now repeat this action several times a day until it is possible for you to get to the door without your dog following you. When you can do this without being followed you have now normalised your behaviour and it should not disturb your dog too much.

In a severe case this may take a few days, repeating the process every couple of hours.

At no time do you step out of the door.

When you have achieved this stage with your dog seemingly aware but ignoring your personal movement you now have to repeat the procedure, but this time, we are going to put the dog into the crate.

Crating With Separation Anxiety

We are now going to normalise the behaviour of putting your dog into the crate just as we normalised going to the door.

Important – Understand This

The separation may seem the same to you but putting the dog into the cage may, for the dog, be quite traumatic so short timing is a must, do not lengthen the period of internment too quickly.

A Good Tip here is to cover the cage with a blanket if your dogs behaviour is extremely vigorous in its nature such as clawing or whimpering.

Large Dog In Cage Rotated
Put a blanket over the whole crate as you leave

After the trauma of being placed in the crate and having you walk away only to return again, the memory of your to and fro actions to the door will kick in and the dog will associate the action of being in the crate with the security of knowing that you will return, just as you did when you walked to the front door with your coat on.

Part 3/ Place your dog in the crate and walk away into a different room. Regardless of any howling do not return.

Part 4/ After 2 to 3 Minutes return and let your dog out of the cage.

Depending upon the severity of their anxiety the reaction from your dog could be anything from ears down and tail wagging to desperate bouncing. Either way congratulate and make a fuss of your dog but not in an exaggerated way. Once you have made a fuss of them (possibly given a small treat, See The Caveat Rule) then continue about your normal daytime regime.

Repeat Repeat Repeat

Return to Part 3/ Put your dog back into the cage (You must repeat this exercise every couple of hours.) Now is the point where you have to make a judgement about the timing of how long to leave your dog in the cage. You need to extend the length of time you leave your dog in the cage, but without causing them major stress.

To give you some help I have made up a timescale below to help you, remember this scale is only for very anxious dogs if your dog is not anxious you can ramp up the timescale very quickly, but whatever nervous state your dog is in you MUST start at part 1 and 2 with the DOORSTEP until this action becomes normalised.

Do not crate your dog until you have succeeded with the Door Stepping.

Times scale For Day 1

 For Distressed Anxious DogsFor Anxious DogsFor Mildly Anxious Dogs 
1st Time in Cage1 to 3 Minutes2 to 3 Minutes4 to 5 Minutes 
2nd Hour1 to 3 Minutes2 to 3 Minutes4 to 5 Minutes 
3rd Hour1 to 3 Minutes2 to 3 MinutesExtend 4 to 7 Minutes 
4th HourExtend 3 to 6 MinutesExtend 3 to 6 Minutes4 to 7 Minutes 
5th Hour3 to 6 Minutes3 to 6 MinutesExtend 8 to 10 Minutes 
6th Hour3 to 6 MinutesExtend 6 to 8 Minutes8 to 10 Minutes
7th HourExtend 6 to 8 Minutes6 to 8 Minutes8 to 10 Minutes
8th Hour6 to 8 MinutesExtend 8 to 10 MinutesExtend 12 to 15 Minutes
9th Hour6 to 8 Minutes8 to 10 Minutes12 to 15 Minutes
10th Hour6 to 8 Minutes8 to 10 Minutes12 to 15 minutes
Try to determine how anxious your dog is and extend the timing in stages

Once again, we are trying to normalise the behaviour, just as we did with the door stepping, so be mindful that this process may have to be repeated over several hours and possibly several days. It will be up to you to work out the length of timescale required over the next few days, but as you can see it is a lengthy process.

If you persist with this process, you will succeed in being able to leave your dog for lengthy periods when necessary. Here at Top Lap Dogs I have used this method very successfully and ALL of our dogs are from rescue situations. As such these are often the most difficult of dogs to deal with in this particular situation.

It really is about normalising the fact that there will be times when you have to leave your dogs on their own. Using this slow process will avoid the damage to property or even damage to themselves for those times when you have no choice but to leave them on their own.

Once again repetition of this process may take some time.

The Caveat Rule – as below
Caveat Rule – If your dog has remained quiet for any of the last minutes of their separation make a fuss of them and give them a treat.
Do not treat if they have been constantly barking or they will think that the reward is for barking and will then continue to do this.

Addition – You can leave them something in the cage to chew, (toys/bones) particularly as chewing helps many dogs to relax, however do not give them the chew as a reward but simply leave in place in the cage for when they are placed in it.

Tip – If your dog is very frantic when you leave it in the cage, cover the cage in a blanket.

Large Dog In Cage 1 Rotated
Cover the cage to help with calming

By the end of the first day even if your dog howls or barks when you first leave them alone you should be having some quiet time.
The more you practice this method the easier it should be to leave them and not have them create a fuss.
If you are NOT getting any quiet time then start again but try using some of the calming medications or toys as listed further below.

What Causes Separation Anxiety in Dogs?

One thing that many dog owners are keen to know is why some dogs suffer from separation anxiety while others do not, and what causes it.

Separation anxiety is basically what it says on the tin – anxiety caused due to separation.

Some dogs experience separation anxiety when they are separated from other animals such as their parents or siblings. However, many dogs experience separation anxiety when they are left alone, without their beloved human owner.

These are dogs that become very anxious, frightened, and nervous when you are not around, and it can start from the minute your dog senses that you are getting ready to leave. It is literally anxiety and panic that causes the symptoms of separation anxiety in some dogs.

If you follow a set routine each day before leaving your house, your dog will become familiar with it. Eventually, the panicking may begin as soon as your alarm clock goes off or as soon as you reach for your coat rather than after you have left the house.

It is important to remember that, sometimes, adult dogs can develop separation in adulthood whereas for others it begins during puppyhood.
Many experts believe that this condition is closely linked to some sort of abandonment trauma or issues in the past.

Often, the condition is one that affects rescue dogs who have been abandoned or have lost their owners previously for one reason or another.

One thing you do need to do is to be able to differentiate between separation anxiety and other issues, as some of the symptoms can be similar but the resolution can differ.

For instance, many dogs will show some of the symptoms of separation anxiety when they are bored. The steps you take to relieve the boredom for your pet are different from the steps you would take for separation anxiety.

Recognising Separation Anxiety Symptoms in Dogs

The first thing to do is to make yourself familiar with the various symptoms and signs that your dog may be experiencing separation anxiety. As mentioned above, you need to remember that some of these symptoms can be indicative of other problems ranging from simple boredom through to lack of training or even medical conditions. So, this is something you need to be mindful of.

Some of the symptoms that are linked with separation anxiety in dogs include: –

  • Constant whining, barking and howling
  • Being destructive
  • Pacing or circling intensely
  • Urinating or defecating indoors
  • Panting and drooling to excess
  • Attempting to escape from a crate or room
  • Hiding or panicking when you get ready to go out

Constant whining, barking and howling

One of the most common symptoms associated with separation anxiety in dogs is excessive whining, barking, and howling. Often, you may not realise that your dog is actually exhibiting these symptoms, as they can begin a short while after you leave and may stop by the time you get back home.
However, there is a good chance that close neighbours may hear them, so you may get to find out about the problem that way.

Having said that, you must remember that howling and whining could be due to another reason, which includes medical problems that are causing pain and discomfort.
However, if this is the reason behind the whining and howling, your dog will generally do it while you are there as well as when you are not. With separation anxiety, the dog tends to do it either once it realises you are about to leave or once you have already left the house.

Being Destructive

Another sign that your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety is that it may become destructive while you are out of the house.

Even if it is well-behaved and as good as good while you are around, the separation anxiety could have a serious impact on destruction levels while you are away. You may find damage to furniture, papers torn up, things that have been chewed through, and if the dog is outside, there may be holes all over the ground.

Rubbish On Floor Rotated
Destructive behaviour can be stress related or simply boredom

This is not your dog’s way of being spiteful, but is actually a sign of anxiety, which is why being destructive is a symptom associated with separation anxiety.

However, it is also important to remember that this type of destructive behaviour can stem from boredom, so make sure you check to see whether your dog is displaying other signs of separation anxiety before you come to any final conclusions.

Destructive Dog
Boredom or Anxiety?

Pacing or Circling Intensely

This is another common sign of separation anxiety in dogs. You may find that your pet starts to pace and circle as it notices you getting ready to leave. It may wait until you have left before starting its intense circling and pacing. Either way, it can be a sure sign of separation anxiety and is, therefore, one of the signs to look out for.

Many humans tend to pace when they feel anxious about something, so you can see why this is something that dogs will also do. This is a symptom that is particularly noticeable with dogs that are left in smaller spaces such as crates or small rooms while their owner is away.

Urinating or Defecating Indoors

Your pooch may be housetrained and might never do its business in the house while you are around. However, some dogs with separation anxiety seem to forget all about their housetraining when you walk out of the door.

The result? You come back home to find your dog has left a variety of surprises around the room or house by urinating and defecating wherever it sees fit.

As with destructive behaviour, this is not your dog’s way of being spiteful and getting you back for not being around. It is actually a common sign of anxiety in our canine companions and it is something that they cannot help themselves from doing.

Panting and drooling to excess

Another rare sign of separation anxiety in dogs is excessive panting and drooling. You may find that your pet rarely drools and doesn’t pant excessively when you are around. However, this may change when you are preparing to leave the house as part of your usual routine or once you have left the house.

Some dogs are prone to excessive panting and drooling due to their separation anxiety. They may also salivate excessively, and you may notice some foaming at the mouth. This is part and parcel of the separation anxiety symptoms some dogs display.

Attempting to escape from a crate or room

If you put your dog into a small room or a crate before you leave the house, it may try everything in its means to escape while you are away from home. Again, this results in destruction, as it could mean carpets ripped up, doors chewed at, scratches all over the walls and doors, and other signs of destruction.

Like the other symptoms, this is purely down to sheer panic and/or distress for dogs that suffer from separation anxiety. It is not your dog’s way of being petty or trying to get attention. To them, it feels as though you have shut them in a prison alone for hours, and this is something that many will feel very stressed about.

Hiding or panicking when you get ready to go out

One more sign you may notice is that your dog starts to panic or hides away when it notices you are getting ready to go out. If you follow the same routine every day, your dog will soon learn that the sound of your alarm clock, the jingle of your car keys, or the rustle of you putting your coat on means that it is about to be left alone for hours on end.

Eyesinbox 720

It may then start to display signs of separation anxiety and panic before you have even left the house because it knows what is coming.

If this is your problem go back to the Doorstep Method as above.

If you are able to, it is a good idea to try and vary the routine a little, so your dog doesn’t learn to make such solid associations.
For instance, you can start popping out at random times just for short periods, so your dog never knows whether you are just popping out for a few minutes or whether you are going to be away for hours.
Also, don’t make a big fuss of your dog before you leave, as this can make matters worse.

Things to Help Relieve Separation Anxiety in Your Dog

Separation Anxiety Toys for Dogs

Chewing is one of those things that some consider to be destructive, however I want you to realise that for most dogs Chewing is a Relaxing Habit. The fact that they chewed your furniture may simply be that YOU did not give them anything that was sufficient to chew, and no you can’t just say that they still have the chew you bought them 2 years ago, and any way why is it that you are still allowing them to chew something so old.

One of the things you can use if you want to help your dog to overcome separation anxiety is a special toy or toys, which can be purchased from pet stores as well as online.
There are various toys you can choose from, so finding ones that are ideal for your pet and fit with your budget shouldn’t be a problem.

There are various dog toys that can help to relieve anxiety and keep your dog distracted while you are away. Some of the common ones include:

 Dog treat dispenser toys and puzzles: You will find a wide range of treat dispenser toys to choose from. These toys can provide a great distraction for anxious pets, which makes them ideal if your dog suffers from separation anxiety. Your dog can spend hours working out how to get the delicious treats out of the toy, which will enable your pet to stay stimulated as well as keeping it busy while you’re not there.

• Ruff Dawg Om Stress Reduction System: This is a great system and one that is truly unique. With the stress reduction system, you get a CD that is packed with sounds that are relaxing for your dog due to the special vibrations that are used.

Ruff Dawg Om
Ruff Dawg Om

It also comes with a high-quality rubber ball, which means your dog can enjoy chewing while chilling out to the relaxing sounds. If you decide to use this, make sure you put the CD on around an hour or so prior to leaving, otherwise, your dog may start to link it to you leaving the house.

• Put the Radio on: This costs you next to nothing and once again I take issue with those that say Do Not Put The Radio On. Leaving a radio on can achieve several good things. Background music can cover those distracting noises from outside that can make some dogs anxious (traffic, other dogs barking etc.). If you use a radio station that has some talking on it the dogs can often be calmed simply because they can hear human voices near them, otherwise choose a smooth music channel to help relax them.

• Smart Pet Love Care Bear Snuggle Puppy: This is another unique toy that is great for helping to relieve separation anxiety in dogs. The bear has a pulsing heartbeat sound and rhythm along with heat. This helps to calm your pooch down and provides a soothing sensation and security for the dog.

Smartpetlove Carebear

You can purchase these products along with a variety of other toys online via sites such as Amazon. This makes it easy and convenient for you to browse the various separation anxiety toy options and decide which of them is right for your pet.

The affordability of these toys means you can try out more than one to help keep your pet calm, relaxed, and entertained while you are away.

Separation Anxiety Medications and Treatments

Another thing you can look at is the range of separation anxiety medications and treatments that are available for dogs. Again, you will find that these are easy to find and purchase online. However, when it comes to medication, you should check suitability with your veterinarian, particularly if your pet has any pre-existing health problems or is on other regular medications.

Some of the products you may want to consider include:

• Calm Balm: This unique product from Wild Dog Balm is very easy to use and can help to have a calming effect on your pet. This is a natural product that can help to relieve stress and worry, which makes it ideal for use on dogs with separation anxiety. In addition, you can also use it to help your dog to get to sleep at night. Often this is made from 100 percent natural ingredients.

• ADAPTIL Diffuser: Another option you can go for is the ADAPTIL diffuser, which simply needs to be plugged into the power outlet. Available from almost any Pet Store instore or online this is a scientifically proven product that contains a pheromone designed to calm your dog down. You should plug this into the room where your dog will be spending its time while you are out, and the pheromones will help to reduce stress and anxiety.

• Calming Tablets: There are various calming tablets you can choose from many online Pet stores, and these can naturally calm your pet with ingredients that are designed to stabilise mood and calm your dog down. Tablets such as SERENE-UM Xtra are non-sedating ones that are recommended by veterinarians.

All of these are potentially effective solutions to help dogs with separation anxiety. Of course, there are various other treatments and products such as calming collars and therapeutic coats. You simply need to research the options and decide which of them is right for you.

Conclusion for Separation Anxiety

Dealing with your dog’s separation anxiety can be very challenging. However, with the tools, resources, and products available to you these days, you should find it much easier to tackle this problem.

You can work on the problem yourself as we have proven with the Doorstep and Crate Methods.

Once you have found a product that works well for your dog, you can start relaxing when you leave the house, as you can enjoy the reassurance that your pet will also be more relaxed.

Of course, if you are unsure about which type of product you should choose for your pet, you can seek advice from your veterinarian. Similarly if you are unsure that your dog has separation anxiety and is not just being naughty then get the help of a qualified vet or professional dog trainer.

Dog With Cut
If you are unsure take your dog to the vet to be checked out

This will help to ensure you find the ideal product to help your dog come to terms with being left alone whenever you have to go out.

Above all have patience and some understanding of the condition that you are trying to solve and when you have been successful at solving the problem you and your furry friend can relax in the confidence created between you. Good Luck

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