page header image

Your Happy Pet: Help your dog overcome separation anxiety

Original Publication Date: July 7, 2014
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

There is no one factor that triggers separation anxiety in dogs. A traumatic experience or a change in schedule or residence might cause a pup to fear being alone.

The majority of older dogs suffering from separation anxiety are shelter dogs, according to the ASPCA. The consensus is that being alone stresses these dogs, because they have lost a significant person.

Dogs express their anxiety in different ways. An anxious dog may pace, bark or howl. Another might chew to relieve stress. Unfortunately, a chosen chew toy might be an owner's shoe or perhaps the living room couch.

Some well house-trained dogs have bladder or bowel "accidents" when experiencing separation anxiety. Others attempt to escape from the area where they have been left alone.

There are several approaches to helping a dog with separation anxiety. Give your dog at least 30 minutes of exercise each day. This can include going on walks, running, swimming or playing interactive games like tug-of-war or fetch. Taking your dog on a brisk walk or engaging him or her in some other form of exercise just before you leave may help him or her relax and rest while you are away.

Give your dog a job that he or she finds pleasant while you are gone. Provide a puzzle toy filled with tasty dog cookies or a Kong packed with a favorite treat like peanut butter, low-fat cream cheese or a banana. Put the Kong in the freezer so getting the food occupies more of your dog's time.

Exercise and games may be adequate to help dogs with mild separation anxiety, but many require more serious forms of desensitization. It is important to teach the dog to be quiet and settled for increasing periods of time. Start slowly. Ask the dog to sit or lie down and leave his or her sight for a few minutes. When you return, ply him or her with treats and praise so he or she learns to accept your absence and return as good things. Gradually increase the time you are gone, continuing with treats and praise upon your return.

To work properly, the dog should only be alone during your planned gradually increasing absences. At other times, take the dog to work with you or to doggie day care. Otherwise, have a friend stay with him or her. Most dogs do not experience separation anxiety as long as they are with a human.

A dog suffering from separation anxiety is not misbehaving and should never be scolded. He or she is truly experiencing fear and stress at being separated from the person(s) he or she trusts and depends upon.

Treating a dog with separation anxiety requires time, kindness, patience and dedication to help him overcome his or her fears.

Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at