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5 Ways to Ease Separation Anxiety in Your Dog

The big eyes, the hysterical barking, the whining, the destruction of property–separation anxiety in our canine companions can be as stressful and emotionally draining for us as it is for them. Unfortunately, what works for humankind isn’t exactly what works for our dogs, therefore in our attempts to repeatedly comfort and assure our dogs, we often unintentionally reinforce that time away from each other is the worst possible thing in the world, and that anxiety can build into a never-ending cycle.

Luckily, by being cognizant of our behaviors and creating a comforting routine, we can reduce our dog’s fears and live a happier, healthier life. Here are five steps to get you there.

#1 — Routine

The anxious dog needs a routine he can trust and rely on. Provide this to the best of your ability by scheduling his feedings, walks, and playtimes as regularly as you can. Most importantly, develop a routine when you exit and enter the home. This way, your dog can begin to anticipate when you leave the home–and know you will return.

#2 — Hold The Emotions

Sometimes it’s difficult not to lavish our dogs with goodbye kisses and hello hugs, but this display of affection is a major trigger of anxiety for them. The big to-do of a dramatic exit and entrance signals to our dogs that when we leave, it is a very big deal, and when we return, it is a very big deal, and all this drama makes every separation an anxiety-ridden nightmare. Practice your routine before you exit–whether it’s a quick walk, a chew toy, going into the crate, or turning on the radio–and then say a simple, calm goodbye. When you reenter the home, enter with that same calm energy. Do not respond to his excited greeting–you want to reinforce your reunion is just another expected, normal part of daily life. After he calms, then give him a cuddle. Don’t feel guilty–you won’t hurt his feelings. These calm, strong responses are telling him you are in charge and everything is ok.

#3 — Exercise

A dog of any age needs exercise to calm the mind, distress the nerves, and tire the body. Whether it’s swimming, dog parks, agility classes, or jogging, make exercise a priority and an enjoyable part of your daily routine. If you are dealing with a young, exuberant dog or you are simply pressed for time, consider hiring a dog walker or enrolling in dog daycare.

#4 — Try Different Things

If you’ve developed your routine and established a calm environment and your dog is still experiencing heighten separation anxiety, there are a number of options to explore: specially formulated music, such as Through a Dog’s Ear (throughadogsear.com), dog appeasing pheromones, such as Adaptil collars, or homeopathic calming aids, such as Rescue Remedy. Wireless camera, such as the Samsung SmartCam, are relatively inexpensive and allow you to monitor your dog in your home from your mobile phone–you can even speak to them through the app to reassure them if you observe anxious behaviors arising.

#5 — Contact Your Vet If things aren’t Improving

Medication is often a last case resort, but there is no shame in investigating this option for a highly anxious dog. It can make a huge difference in your dog’s behavior.

As American doctors are seeing dramatic increases in anxiety cases among their own patients, so too are veterinarians and dog trainers. The good news is as our lives increasingly intertwine with our canine companions, we possess the gateway to their well-being and happiness. Through these learned methods, we can greatly improve the lives of our best friends–so that they can be there for us too.

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5 Ways to Ease Separation Anxiety in Your Dog
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The big eyes, the hysterical barking, the whining, the destruction of property--separation anxiety in our canine companions can be as stressful and emotionally draining for us as it is for them.
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Pet Insurance U
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  • LilyJ

    Wow, I have never thought that dramatic exit and entrance signals to our dogs that when we leave, it is a very big deal and they become anxious about it. I used to have a dog, and I did this mistake every time as I can remember. Now I know, why he couldn’t find his place for an hour or two after my entrance…

  • Andrea Robinson

    This is great advice. Everything on this list is exactly what I would recommend as a dog trainer. For those who haven’t experienced separation anxiety, it can be extremely severe. Dogs have been known to crash through windows and glass doors, break through dog crates and injure themselves doing it, and put themselves in all kinds of harmful situations. And the nervous clawing can ruin entire rooms full of furniture. It’s actually quite frightening, but separation is quite treatable. The treatment requires patience, because it’s done gradually over time, but it almost always works when people apply treatment consistently and effectively.

    Like it says in the article, don’t be ashamed or hesitant to seek medical help! Amitriptyline is very effective and as mentioned in the article, many other alternatives.

    Also, get a reputable dog trainer who’s knowledgeable of separation anxiety, as it can be very tricky to treat and can consume a lot of your time. A trainer can break down every step in great detail and tell you the rationale behind the treatment. That will not only make you feel better, but will arm you with the knowledge you need to succeed.

  • Mike

    I love dogs, but I sure am glad I’ve never had to deal with a dog that goes crazy when I leave! At least now I know another thing to look out for when choosing a dog – I mean, I’m assuming this is more prevalent in certain types of dogs, that is.

  • Caitlin

    Very helpful post! Our poor dog has a terrible time with anxiety anytime we leave her to go on a trip. She usually stays with my in-laws when we go away. She’s used to being at their home (with us), but if we’re not there she is a wreck. You’ve got lots of good info here though!

  • Amy

    I totally agree. I would add that’s it’s good to get them used to being away from you by closing the door when you go to the restroom or briefly when you’re working in your office (for longer and longer periods). If you do a combination of these, you’ll be sure to make headway.

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