5 Myths About Separation Anxiety

There is lots of info floating around about managing anxiety behaviors in your dog. Here are 5 myths about separation anxiety in dogs we wish would get busted for good.

Dog destroying furniture

Myth 1: Crate Training Helps Separation Anxiety

Well, this one is a partial myth. It does help some dogs. But many dogs with separation distress actually do worse when confined. Giving dogs more space can decrease stress for some of these dogs. Having the option to move around, choose resting locations, or engage in other activities can be safer and more appropriate for other dogs.

We know you’re thinking, “But I’ll come home to everything destroyed.”  In a separation training protocol, a dog is never left longer than he can handle. Your home, your belongings, and your dog should be safe. 

Keep in mind that dogs can get severely injured when attempting to break out of a crate. If your dog is breaking out or damaging crates, consult a professional immediately. 

Myth 2: Music and Toys Are a Solution to Separation Anxiety

There’s some controversy about how useful “calming” music is for dogs. Some types of noise can help drown out noises of neighborhood activity or make the outside noises less relevant. That can be helpful for some dogs.

Delicious chew items, such as a stuffed and frozen hollow toy can be helpful as part of a separation training protocol. Though some dogs will enjoy the object and then panic, others might be too distressed even to spend time with the chew item. We have met dogs who learned that a chew object meant the family was leaving, so these dogs didn’t enjoy the things anymore -even with everyone home. 

Myth 3:  Exercise a Dog to Stop Separation Anxiety

There is research on people and dogs to show that moderate exercise can absolutely be part of a program to reduce anxiety. However, dogs with significant separation distress will likely still be stressed even if exhausted. Do keep exercising your dog! But don’t feel bad when people tell you “more and more!” as the solution to separation distress.

Myth 4: Get A Second Dog to Solve Separation Anxiety

Some dogs do better with a friend - but for many dogs the stress is about a person being gone and a second dog won’t keep you home all day. More than once I have met families who added a second dog to then only have two dogs who needed extra training for behavior challenges.

If this is something you really want to try, ask a friend with a dog to visit or foster for a reputable rescue group in your area. A friend’s dog can go home after a day or two and a foster dog is only a short-term commitment. Spending a few days or weeks in your home will provide the rescue with valuable information about what this dog is like in a family so they can find a forever family that matches. That foster dog gets to spend time outside the shelter and learn about living with a family, and you and your dog will know if a companion is helpful for your dog’s separation.

Myth 5: There’s Nothing You Can Do About Separation Anxiety

A dog might struggle with being alone now, but that can change. There absolutely are behavior plans to help dogs develop confidence and relaxation about being home alone. It is a faster process for some dogs than others, but it is something you can achieve, too. 

Training plans start with building confidence with you home, then with separation while you are home, and from there, short departures are added. At each stage, we see relaxation and confidence, gradually increasing the challenge level. 

During this process, we avoid situations that are too overwhelming. This might involve using a dog daycare, friends and family, or temporarily modifying your schedule so your dog is not left alone for longer than they can handle. 

For some dogs, medication to decrease anxiety can be helpful. Your vet is a great starting point and may be ready to help you or direct you to a veterinary behavior professional in your area. Medication shouldn’t sedate your dog but decrease anxiety so they can learn to feel safe much faster. 

If you’d like to work with us on separation training for your dog, reach out!