5 Sure-Fire Ways To Treat Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety

Written by Katie Melynn
Published: May 11, 2022
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Separation anxiety can cause healthy, well-adjusted dogs to experience distress when their owner has to leave. Whining, accidents and other unwanted behaviors are all signs of separation anxiety. But many dog owners still have to go to work, school, or other places that don’t allow pups to tag along.

Fortunately, there are ways to help treat separation anxiety before you leave and once you are away. Some dogs have mild cases, so their solutions are pretty simple and easy. Other dogs have stronger reactions that can really improve with a prepared plan of treatment. We’ve compiled a list of five strategies to implement to help your dog with separation anxiety.

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Give a Special Treat

Separation anxiety occurs because your dog associates you leaving with something unpleasant. In extreme cases, your dog may even think that they are unsafe when you leave, even if you have left out plenty of food, water, and a safe place for them. To get past this association, you can try counterconditioning.

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Counterconditioning creates a positive association with you leaving. This is often done by giving a special treat or food that is only given when you do have to leave. You can also use a special toy. The key is to only bring this item out when you have to leave, to create a direct association between the unwanted thing (you leaving) and the desirable thing (the treat or toy). This strategy also works for other behaviors, although you should avoid trying to train your dog to learn too many things at one time. Let them get over their separation anxiety and then move on to another goal.

Try an Anxiety Vest

A dog anxiety vest is a fantastic tool to help with mild separation anxiety. These vests wrap around your dog and provide a snug fit to make them feel calm. Some options have sleeves for your dog’s legs for an even more enveloping feel. For dogs with nutrition concerns that can’t have rich treats, a calming vest is a great option.

It’s best to introduce the vest to your dog when you are still there. This will help you know how well it fits, if any adjustments need to be made, and if your dog actually likes it. Many dogs feel comforted by the tight fit and really look forward to wearing their vest. Anxiety vests can also be used in other potentially stressful situations, such as holidays with fireworks or during loud thunderstorms.

Not all dogs like anxiety vests (or vests in general). Get to know your pup and their preferences before investing a lot in a high-end vest. There are plenty of budget-friendly options on the market that work great and will help you and your dog decide if this is a helpful tool. Once you are ready to find one that will last for a long time, we recommend the Thundershirt, one of the top-selling anxiety vests on the market and our testers’ favorite.

Create a Calming Space

Sometimes just having a known, safe place to retreat can do wonders to calm a dog’s anxiety. You can create a calming space in your home by setting up a dog bed or blankets that they love and putting plenty of beloved toys nearby. Toy baskets are great for making the most of your space and keeping your dog’s area tidy.

We love the dog toys that mimic a warm, comforting presence like a mother dog. Some toys have calming vibrations and sounds that act as a warm heartbeat. You can also look for raised dog beds to create that same sense of calm.

You may also want to try a pheromone diffuser in your home or your dog’s safe space. These diffusers introduce the pheromones of a nursing mother dog to the environment. While they don’t smell like anything, your dog can sense these calming pheromones and benefit from them.

Create a Routine

One of the most important things to do to help your dog with separation anxiety, even if you try other strategies alongside, is to create and stick with a predictable routine. If you are always leaving and returning at unpredictable times, your dog will have a hard time adjusting to your absence. Because they never know how long you will be gone, their anxiety may become more heightened over time without a good routine.

This won’t cure your dog’s separation anxiety right away. But implementing a routine while you also create positive associations and calm their anxiety through environmental changes can work wonders.

Consider Medication or Supplements

For dogs with severe separation anxiety, your vet may recommend medication or supplements to help them remain calm. This is often the case with dogs who experienced trauma earlier in their lives. They might need medication to help them feel safe enough for other strategies to be effective.

Talk to your vet about this option before trying any over-the-counter supplements. They can make recommendations as well as help you find options that are both effective and affordable. Your vet can also help you develop a plan to eventually wean your dog off the medication as other strategies start to work.

What Are The Symptoms of Separation Anxiety in Dogs?

Separation anxiety can look different in different dogs, but there are a few symptoms that appear often. If your dog does these things consistently every time you leave the house, it may be suffering from separation anxiety.

Bathroom Accidents

Urinating and defecating in unwanted places can be your dog’s way of communicating their unhappiness with you. It may also be an involuntary response to their anxiety and stress response.

Barking, Howling, or Whining

Dogs make noises to communicate with their owners and to get attention for a problem they are experiencing. Barking, howling, and whining are common sounds associated with separation anxiety. These can occur when you leave and last throughout your absence.

Chewing

If you’ve ever come home to find your favorite pair of shoes chewed to bits, you may be wondering what is up with your dog. This could be a distress response and a way for your dog to attempt to soothe himself when you are away.

Escape Artists

Some dogs are so determined to find you that they will dig, jump, or find another way out of their space. This can be common for dogs who are kept outside or who have a doggy door to access the outdoors. Not only can this cause you anxiety, it can also be quite dangerous for your dog if they do get out.

Why Does My Dog Have Separation Anxiety?

Not all separation anxiety in dogs can be traced back to a specific incident or reason. Sometimes it just comes down to your dog’s personality. Some breeds can also be more high-strung than others and require greater attention from their owners in general.

When you adopt a dog with an unknown history, separation anxiety may come up more often. Whether it is because the dog was separated from a loving family or experienced a lot of separation as a puppy, these experiences can make them more sensitive to separation from a trusted owner later.

For dog owners who know that their pup experienced trauma, the road to calming separation anxiety may be rockier and take more time. This doesn’t mean that your dog can’t improve and many dogs go on to develop strong and healthy bonds with loving owners. If you are concerned about adopting a dog from an unhealthy situation, talk to your vet about ways to help your dog adjust.

Why Your Dog Suddenly Develops Separation Anxiety

Sometimes a dog that never had trouble with separation anxiety suddenly starts to whine, chew, or have accidents when its owner has to leave. Why the sudden change in behavior? It often comes down to other changes in the dog’s environment.

A Big Move. Dogs can experience separation anxiety after moving to a new home, even if they are with the same family. Give your dog time to adjust and reinforce the positive association by using treats or toys.

Change in Immediate Family. The absence of a family member, such as a death of an older parent or a child going away to college, can trigger separation anxiety in dogs. This is especially true if the dog was very attached to that person. Adding family members, such as a new baby, can also trigger these behaviors.

Medical Problems. If your dog suddenly displays symptoms of separation anxiety without a known cause, it might actually be due to physical discomfort or a medical issue. Talk to your vet to rule out any other conditions that can and should be treated.

When Should I Talk To A Vet About My Dog’s Separation Anxiety?

If your dog’s separation anxiety is so severe that you aren’t able to perform required tasks in your life without putting your dog in an extremely distressing situation, it’s time to talk to the vet about medication and other options to help.

Also, remember that many of the symptoms of separation anxiety can also be seen in other situations and conditions. Even if you are treating your dog’s separation anxiety using treats, toys, a vest, or other means, you should still mention it to your vet at their annual check-up. Your vet may see another reason for their symptoms and want to check it out.

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The Featured Image

Dog waiting at the window
It's important to address your dog's separation anxiety so they don't become distressed or destructive.
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About the Author

Katie is a freelance writer and teaching artist specializing in home, lifestyle, and family topics. Her work has appeared in At Ease Magazine, PEOPLE, and The Spruce, among others. When she is not writing, Katie is a Teaching Artist with The APEX Arts Magnet Program in Anne Arundel County, Maryland and was awarded an Author Fellowship to Martha's Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. She also enjoys spending time with her three kids and cat.

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