Separation Anxiety in Dogs – Causes and Cures

There are multiple reasons dogs can develop separation anxiety. Two of the most common are:

1) A dog is not allowed to learn “alone time.” This is usually the result of a member of the family constantly being with the dog or taking the dog with them whenever they leave. Dogs need to learn how to be alone. This alone time training should begin immediately when you get your dog or puppy. Most people get a new dog or puppy and plan to spend an entire weekend or a week’s vacation consumed with making the dog feel “part of the family”. This is all well and good, but you must allow the dog to be alone. Start out by crating the dog and leaving the room for 5 minutes. Do not return unless the dog/puppy is quiet. If you return when the dog or puppy is barking, whining or crying you have just told the dog that behavior works – it gets you back in its sight. The dog is now controlling your goings and comings.

Begin extending his alone time, incorporating actually leaving the house for extended periods of time. Do NOT make a big fuss when you either exit the house or return home. Departures and arrivals needs to be low key so you dog does not attach any “special” meaning to them.

2) Another factor in dogs having separation anxiety is lack of structure in the home. Dogs are very much like children, they do very well when they know what is expected of them, the rules never change and they need to say “please” for the things they want that have high value. Basic obedience such as simple sits and downs can work wonders in adding structure and leadership role into your relationship with your dog.


Curing Separation Anxiety Can Take A While, But It’s Worth It.

Major separation anxiety  was the focus of a private lesson with a client today.  While there are many reasons why dogs develop separation anxiety, this particular case started because a client was home bound for an extended period of time due to medical issues.  She had just adopted her dog Woody, a 5 month old mix breed from the shelter about 4 weeks prior to her illness.  She adored this dog “to the max” because of his soft gentle nature.  He seemed like the perfect dog.  Further evaluation revealed she was very nurturing with the dog and home life with Woody lacked structure or training on a regular daily basis, because he just didn’t “seem to need it.”

The first change and first sign of separation anxiety in Woody was noticed when she recently returned to work and upon arriving back home the first day, she noticed the damage Woody had done to the moldings around the door and windows next to the back door leading to the garage.  Lack of structure in the home PLUS spending 24/7 with Woody while recovering had caused him to become seemingly inseparable from his owner.

Rx Treatment for Woody:

  • Putting structure into Woody’s life by requiring him to earn everything he wants, is the first step to building confidence in this insecure dog.  Having Woody perform sits and downs for everything from food and attention, to walks and potty breaks is just the beginning.
  • We began to revisit obedience training on regularly scheduled training sessions for these “sits and downs” so that we could begin to put structure and expectations into his life.  This will cause him to look at her in a different light – a strong leader.
  • At the same time, we began a program of desensitization to her departure ques such as picking up her car keys, purse, coat etc.

Perhaps the most difficult part of all is the implementation of the plan and consistency by the owner to cure the separation anxiety.  If she is so motivated, she will change and eventually Woody will change – all for the better.  And, depending on the dog, it could be weeks or months before meaningful progress is seen.

The interesting thing, is that it could all have been prevented had she begun to put structure in the life with the dog when he first came into her home.

Be as comfortable with the trainer of your dog as you are the teacher of your children, and remember:

“Opportunity Barks!”