February 20, 2024

The First Step To Managing Separation Anxiety in Your Dog

Separation distress or anxiety is becoming more and more common with out pets. It can be challenging to manage since as much as you like, you can't stay home forever! It's not a quick fix but, this one exercise you can do at home with your dog, is a really good starting place.

Dog staring at the door while home alone

Separation anxiety or distress can be a common behavior challenge in dogs. Dogs may bark, try to escape, chew, or go to the bathroom in the house when left home. While there’s a lot of advice out there, some is for dogs who are only a little bit upset, and this advice can actually be harmful to dogs who are more anxious.

Minimize Bad Experiences

In an ideal situation, we would never leave your dog for longer than they can handle. This means that in the early stages of training, we will use daycare, friends and family, or a pet sitter to help your dog while you are away. This is not the plan forever - just until we’re further along in training. 

If you work from home, and this may change - now is the time to work on this! 

Build Independence with Activities

Many dogs with separation distress want to follow their people all over the house. Start with a puzzle toy on the other side of the room  - or even halfway across the room. Then, move to something in another room. There are toys that your dog has to paw or nudge to make dry food come out, or it might be something that your dog will chew. 

Do not sneak off or try to trick your dog - we want them to be confident that you are there and be able to enjoy their game. If your dog brings the toy back to where you are, you might try scattering some dry food on the floor or in a “snuffle mat” type toy.

Build Confidence with Separation

Before we can have separation with you away, we first need separation with you present. We will most often use a baby gate for this activity. Note that even if your dog can jump gates, our goal is to keep things so low-key and relaxed that they have no reason to jump over the gate. 

Set up a baby gate and sit on one side to read, watch TV, or call a friend. Your dog can be on the other side of the gate. You can be right against it - so close that you touch the gate. Our goal is for your dog to just hang out and settle on their side. If your dog is distressed - reach out for professional help; we’ll have to add more in-between level steps.

If your dog does relax, do these sessions for 5-20 minutes a few times a day for a few days. Then repeat, but with your chair 6-12 inches from the gate. Repeat this for a few days. Then…you guessed it, your chair moves a little further away.

Get a Camera

There are many inexpensive and easy-to-use camera options. A camera setup that will go to your phone will help us know how to progress. In later stages of training, we will move out of sight and need to see what your dog is doing. We only want to move to the next level when your dog is calm and relaxed. While we might notice if your dog pees on the floor or barks, a video is the easiest way to know if they are pacing the house or staring, alert at the door. 

Now is the time to get this set up and test it out so that you know how to work it and your dog is used to the camera up on the shelf or on a table out of the way.