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7 Ways to Help Your Dog Cope With Separation Anxiety

It’s time to go to work, and you know what’s coming—your pup howling and barking, pacing, scratching, chewing and leaving a nice puddle or pile for you to clean up when you get home. Many dogs experience separation anxiety on some level, and it can make both your and their life quite difficult. What is there to do if you can’t take your beloved canine everywhere, but you also can’t ever leave them alone?

naughty pup chewed a pillow

Fortunately there are many things you can do, and here are a solid seven.

1. Before you go, tire them out

Take your dog for a walk, or play a vigorous game of fetch or tug before you leave. A tired and happy pup will have less energy to devote to anxiety and anxious behaviors once you’re gone.

2. Don’t make a big deal of leaving or coming back

Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan put it this way: “No touch, no talk, no eye contact.” If you don’t give your dog a long, fawning, tearful goodbye, they’re less likely to register that you’re going away from them and mirror your distress. They won’t have hurt feelings if they don’t get a goodbye, so make your departures and arrivals no sweat, business as usual.

pup with separation anxiety looking out the window
“Where’d you go?”

3. Leave them with human touches

Leave some of your dirty laundry in the room with your pup so your scent can calm them. You can also put on an audiobook, as the sound of a human voice often reduces stress.

4. Leave them with positive distractions

pup with chew toy
Yummm

Give your dog a treat or puzzle toy filled with peanut butter, cheese or yogurt when you leave. Not only will this distract from your absence, but it will begin to form a positive association with your departure. 

5. Consider calming supplements

If your dog’s separation anxiety is relatively mild, there are over-the-counter calming products that can work wonders in reducing fearfulness in dogs.

6. Take away the power of cues

Your dog is observant, and when they see you putting on shoes, a coat, picking up your keys or purse, they know your departure is imminent, and a gear up to anxious behaviors begins. So debunk these assumptions. Put on your shoes and coat, then sit down and stay a bit. Pick up your keys or purse, then hit the couch and watch some TV. Repeat this often. Soon these cues won’t spark nervousness.

7. Ramp up the conditioning

Once your pup is getting less anxious at the sight of you preparing to leave, you can begin to do just that, in a strategic way. At an inside door, a bathroom or bedroom, tell your pup to sit or down and stay, then close the door between you. After just a few seconds, reappear. Very gradually increase the length of your absence. You can even put on your shoes or pick up your keys. When your pup is doing well with this, move to an outside door, but, if possible, not the one you usually exit through. Give them a treat when you’ve built up to some seconds or minutes apart. Always act very calm when you come and go.

pup learning commands to reduce separation anxiety
Practice makes perfect!

This is the long game for reducing your dog’s separation anxiety, and it will require time and patience. You’ll have to work slowly to extended periods of separation, but if done steadily and correctly, your pup will be handling hours without you like a champ. No more chewed shoes or unfortunate puddles!