Home Alone: 6 Ways To Soothe Separation Anxiety in Dogs

May 1st, 2024

happy hound waiting for people

Dogs have an extraordinary capacity for love. It’s just in their nature. If it were up to your favorite Fido, they would hang by your side 24/7, shadowing your every move (well, when they’re not sleeping or running after a ball). But you get the gist; in fact, if they could talk, they’d be sure to note that this is possibly the worst saying out there – “Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder.” Their preference is to always be with you. “Personal space? Why?” But as we humans know, leaving the house and parting ways for 5 minutes or even up to a full day is how life works. This reality can lead to separation anxiety in our furry friends. It’s important to understand that separation anxiety is not simply a matter of not wanting to be left alone; it’s an emotional response rooted in insecurity. Also sprinkled with a little bit of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). I mean, in all fairness, they don’t know when we leave if we are headed to their favorite toy store or park.

Separation anxiety in dogs can stem from various factors. Changes in routine, past traumas, the introduction of new family members or pets, and senior dogs with dementia can all trigger separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety can manifest in varying ways and levels. Some dogs experience severe episodes of separation anxiety, exhibiting distress even when their human friend leaves the room. In contrast, others may only show mild symptoms that occur as soon as their owner heads out the door. Certain breeds are more prone to separation anxiety than others; for example, herding dogs have a greater likelihood of experiencing this feeling.

Regardless of your furry friend’s situation, there are numerous strategies to alleviate their anxiety and provide peace of mind for both of you when you’re apart.

happy hound snuggling person

What You Might Feel

When your dog deeply feels your absence, it can also be a gut-wrenching experience for us. Their sad eyes and loneliness may stir feelings of guilt, worry, and, at times, frustration when they experiment with some destructive behavior.

Addressing separation anxiety is not for the faint of heart – it requires patience and perseverance. It involves trial and error, exploring different approaches, and preparing ourselves to remain consistent and calm. It can be difficult to hear our dogs in distress or imagine them feeling sad at home, given the special bond we share with them. However, investing time in building their confidence while we’re away and teaching them coping skills and independence is ultimately rewarding.

The amount of time and effort needed varies depending on factors such as whether you have a puppy, a rescue dog, or your dog’s personality and disposition. Each case is unique, with its own challenges and experiences. It’s important to remember that, like us, every dog requires some alone time to thrive.

Spotting Separation Symptoms

  • Excessive panting and drooling
  • Uncontrollable barking, howling or whining
  • Pacing back and forth
  • Destructive behavior – Tearing up their crate, furniture or scratching your door
  • Accidents around the house, even in dogs who’ve been housetrained
  • Making an all-out effort to flee as soon as you’re getting ready to leave


6 Ways To Make Goodbyes Easier

1. Start With Positive Training & Vibes!
Establishing a routine provides consistency and predictability for your little clingy pup. So, stick to a regular schedule for feeding, exercise and alone time.
Commit to a set time each day to practice a departure and return routine with your dog. This not only familiarizes your dog with your comings and goings but also turns their interest away from you and towards other rewarding activities.

Key Note: never get your dog excited when you come home. Be super cool and casual. I know it’s so hard not to greet them with all your enthusiastic kisses and pets! We get it! But it’s important to avoid making a scene. When you head through the door, you will have to do the unthinkable and ignore them. Or acknowledge with a simple pat on the back. Once they are calm, reward them with affection, playtime with their favorite toy, or a walk.

The idea is to teach your dog that returning isn’t the most fun part. Instead, positive reinforcement happens after your dog has remained calm. This draws attention away from your absence or return, highlighting their ability to self-soothe and remain calm.

Avoid punishing your dog for separation anxiety behaviors; punishment is ineffective at addressing separation anxiety and may only increase their anxiety.

2. Practice. Practice. Practice!

Start by leaving your dog alone for short periods in a separate room or crate while you do tasks around the house, gradually increasing the duration. Then, practice brief departures outside the house, beginning with tasks like taking out the trash or watering your yard. Gradually extend these outings to include short walks or a drive around the block. Vary your pre-departure routine to prevent your dog from anticipating your departures and experiencing anxiety. Dogs are very good at noticing patterns. Once you settle into your new routine, your dog might start to get anxious before you even leave the house because they know you are about to go. So mix it up whenever you can – keep them on their “paws” so to speak!

happy hound listening to music on headphones

3. Playtime & Exercise
Offer mental stimulation: Interactive toys, puzzle feeders, and enrichment activities can engage dogs and provide distraction while you are away. Playing music can also help alleviate some dogs’ anxiety, such as soothing and low-key tunes. Your playlist may have some of their favorite jams that may even make them feel like you are there with them!

If you are leaving for a long period, try incorporating a long walk or a game of fetch into your routine before leaving the house. Aim for 20-30 minutes of physical activity to help them release all that pent-up energy.
Post-work exercise is just as important. After being alone for hours or a full day, your dog is likely to have lots of wiggles that need to be released.

4. Create A Safe Place
To crate or not to crate? That is the question. Only you have the answer since your dog is unique in its ways and backgrounds. Sometimes, crates can instill even more anxiety in dogs. On the flip side, a crate can make a dog feel as if they are enclosed in a comfy, relaxing den. And you may even feel better having your clingy companion in a crate – we’ve got training tips for a successful transition; it can definitely be a safe haven when done correctly. The end goal is to create a safe place. You could designate a comfortable area or even a room that they can retreat to while you are gone, which leaves them feeling safe. It can have their favorite toys, bedding and some of your clothing that has your scent – this is where dirty laundry is a plus! Throw it in a pile in the place you want your dog to lie down.

You could also consider doing a little “I Spy” and setting up a camera and mobile app so you can check on your pal from time to time for your own peace of mind.

happy hound party in barks and rec

5. Doggy Daycare
If your dog handles short separations, such as trips to the grocery store or gym, but struggles with longer absences like a full workday, many pet owners find value in doggy daycare. It is a wonderful place for your dog to socialize with other furry friends, run freely, and enjoy playtime with other humans.
For high-energy dogs experiencing separation anxiety, doggy daycare or daytime boarding may provide the stimulation your dog is craving and they will be distracted enough to not think about missing you too much!

Plus, you’ll have comfort in knowing they are having the time of their life in a safe environment.

6. The Power of Calming Supplements
If your dog continues to exhibit debilitating anxiety or destructive behaviors whenever you leave the house, despite your best efforts, see your veterinarian about the potential benefits of calming supplements or medicine. They can help guide you to make sure this is a healthy route for your pup and which products are reputable on the market.

sleeping happy hound

Finding Bliss In Alone Time

In the beginning, it will be hard for both of you. So don’t be hard on yourself or your furry bestie. If you remain positive and calm, take breaks, and regroup, you can tackle this task and get your four-legged companion comfortable in their home without having to be there. It just takes trying new approaches if one doesn’t work. You will be able to help your dog feel more secure and confident when left alone, and with this comes an even stronger bond that will develop between the two of you.

Here’s a fun outing you definitely want to take your furry pal to. Happy Hound is celebrating its 20th Anniversary on Saturday, May 18th, starting at 11:00 AM. Join us for a doggone good time of festivities, live music, food, and more. Details here »