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Separation Anxiety

Destructive chewing and house soiling are usually signs of boredom and are often seen in dogs who are too young to be responsible for their actions in their owner's absence. This handout is designed to address a different problem - separation anxiety.


Separation anxiety can best be described as extreme distress in the owner's absence.


Bossy dogs who demand to be close to their owners may throw "temper tantrums" barking excessively, rushing about the house and chewing inappropriate items. Bored dogs may dismantle whole couches just for something to do. This is not separation anxiety.


The co-dependent dog worries and frets, pacing, whining, panting, even drooling. It may urinate and deficate and possibly vomit. Both personality types may seek out items that belong specifically to the owner, not to "get back at you" for leaving them, but because the items smell the most like you: your favorite book, the TV remote, or the arm of the chair where you rest your hand each night. They may tear up carpets or linoleum, especially at doorways, and may tear down curtains trying to get to the window to watch for your return.

Kopper watches out the window. ...........Photo courtesy Kathryn & Jason Kary

The clingy dog needs to learn how to feel safe when alone.


Dogs who can't bear it when you leave, can't bear to be away from you when you're home either. The demanding dog barks bossily if a door is closed with you on the other side.  This isn't anxiety - this is more "how dare you!"  The clingy dog becomes frantic.  They fret and whine, claw the door, bark frantically, howls. Before either of these dogs can learn to cope with being left alone while you're away, you must start by helping them learn to be separated from you while you're home.


Decrease the co-dependency by paying less attention to the dog's needy behavior. Avoid lavishing attention in response to nudging, leaning or pawing. Pay casual attention when your dog is lying quietly away from you.  Be aware of those times when your dog is seeking constant contact, leaning on your leg or lying under the table on your feet. You might sit in a chair with your feet tucked up so he can't constantly touch you, in order to provide some beginnings of "you really can survive without constantly touching me."


Put up baby gates: barriers so the dog can still see you but can't go with you while you work in the kitchen or fold laundry in the family room. Ignore any fussing. Quietly acknowledge when he is calm.  With practice, he will gradually learn to accept and feel comfortable with mild separation.

Give him a bed of his own - across the room. For some dogs a crate is a perfect solution. For severe stress cases (drooling/vomiting when shut away from the owner) start with the dog in the crate next to you, and when the dog is comfortable while close, gradually, day-by-day increase the distance. Practice crating daily -while you're home/at night while you sleep. The dog should not sleep in your bed. In his crate he can still smell you and hear you breathing but will sleep apart from you and can't sneak onto the bed in the middle of the night. If possible, the dog should eventually sleep outside your room. If the dog seems to be especially dependent on one family member, let another family member take over feeding, walking and special games - but don't over-do it! The idea is not to transfer the dependency to another person!




  • Ignore the dog for at least 15 minutes before you leave and after you return. No emotionally laden farewells or wild celebrations when you return. Walk past your dog as though he doesn't exist for 15 minutes or until the dog is calm. Then call him to you, have him "sit," praise him quietly, then walk away. Decreasing the amount of attention lavished on the dog will lessen the difference between when you're home and when you're gone and decrease stress.

  • If he is properly introduced to a crate and is comfortable in it, a crate can be a safe and low-stress place for your dog - and it makes it possible for you to be happy to see your dog when you return. Place the crate in an area where the dog feels most comfortable - preferably in the heart of a family living area. (Shutting a stressed dog in the garage or basement can push them over the edge!)

  • Put the dog in his crate well before it is time to leave and leave him in his crate until he is calm after you return. Sit nearby and check your voice mail or read a book.  Quietly open the crate door and take him straight outside to go potty like you would if you'd been home the whole time.

  • Desensitize the cues that stress your dog. Put on your coat, get your keys and then sit down and read the paper or have a cup of coffee. After several minutes, when the dog is calm, quietly leave without saying a word to the dog. On your day off, go through the motions of leaving and then don't leave!

  • Leave the TV or radio on so the household sounds "normal" - just like when you're home. Dim the lights/close the blinds.

  • Buy your dog a special chew toy, something he really likes, that he only gets when you're away. (He may not touch it until you return; that's okay, too.)  Fill a Kong toy with biscuits (some that will, and one that won't come out) and a smear of peanut butter. Show it to him and then put it in his crate. Close the crate door with the Kong on the inside and the dog on the outside - he will be anxious to go in when you are ready to leave!


To do so only increases stress - and stress is the reason for the behavior. Anxiety and tension builds because each day the owner's return is unpleasant. Sad goodbyes or verbal warnings can leave the dog in a state of stress, setting the stage for destructive behavior. 


More information on Separation Anxiety:

The DAP diffuser - Female dogs secrete pheromones that comfort and reassure their nursing puppies. These "appeasement" pheromones have the same calming effect on adult dogs. D.A.P. mimics these appeasement pheromones to reduce or eliminate stress in dogs of all ages. Study on the effectiveness of the DAP diffuser.



Suggested Reading:

Helping Dogs with Separation Anxiety - Malena DeMartini
The Separation Anxiety Top Ten List - Malena DeMartini

Behavior Modification for Canine Separation Anxiety - IAABC Journal

ONLINE COURSE: Mission Possible - Malena DeMartini





This handout may be reprinted in its entirety for distribution free of charge and with full credit given:

© CAROL A. BYRNES "DIAMONDS IN THE RUFF" Training for Dogs & Their People

ditr_training @ -

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