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Managing Canine Separation Anxiety: Effective Strategies for a Calmer, Happier Dog

Updated: Dec 8, 2023


dog under blanket because of his separation anxiety

As a pet owner, you must understand that just like humans, animals can also experience emotional distress. One of the major culprits behind it can be behavioral problems like separation anxiety.


If your dog becomes excessively agitated when left alone, it might be a sign that they are suffering from separation anxiety. If not addressed, this problem can pose a huge threat to your pet's well-being. Hence, taking proper measures to alleviate separation anxiety in dogs is crucial.


With that said, let’s discuss some practical tips to help your furry friend overcome the fear of being alone. But first, we will briefly explore the anxiety-triggering factors and symptoms to let you evaluate your pet’s situation better.


Common Behaviors Indicating Separation Anxiety

dog hiding with separation anxiety

Separation anxiety occurs when the dog that is overly attached to their guardian becomes distressed when they leave. If your dog follows you everywhere in the house, rarely plays by themselves, and doesn't like to be left alone when outside, then your pup may already have or may develop separation anxiety.


These dogs usually have low social skills with other dogs and depend on their guardian for most of their needs. If you have a dog that is heavily dependent on you for everything, they may begin unhealthy behaviors when you leave. Separation anxiety can be best described by seeing and understanding the behaviors:

  • Urinating or defecating whenever you leave them alone.

  • Display of uneasiness by barking and howling constantly after you leave.

dog with chewed up pillow from separation anxiety
  • Chewing on furniture, home decor and other personal items when left alone. This type of behavior can be dangerous and harmful for your dog (swallowing items or injuries by sharp pieces).

  • Your dog may try to find an escape when left alone. This means they will try to dig through doors and windows to find a way out.

  • Another sign that is clear evidence of separation anxiety in dogs is walking along a particular path in a similar pattern or pacing. For example, it may trot in circles or go forth and back in straight lines.

  • One of the most worrisome signs of this pet disorder is coprophagia. It means your dog will defecate in your absence and eat the waste. This is extremely dangerous and may lead to several bacterial diseases.

  • Shaking, shivering, drooling, becoming withdrawn, lack of appetite, and restlessness can also be anxiety behaviors.


Factors Triggering Anxiety in Dogs

dog with dog mom may have separation anxiety

According to studies, dogs who have been abandoned by their owners and adopted again from shelters might display signs of separation anxiety. This is because they lost an important person in their life and being left by their new owner, even just for the day, can be a primary trigger of their separation anxiety.


However, that is not the only possible trigger for your pup. If they didn't get adopted, other factors can still cause them to develop separation anxiety behaviors:

  • If the dog’s schedule or routine changes abruptly, it might display behaviors of separation anxiety.

  • Changing its long-term residence and shifting to a new place can also be a significant trigger.

  • Dogs can also develop separation anxiety if any member of your family whom it sees daily suddenly disappears.

  • If you travel often and leave them with pet sitters, they may begin to get anxious when you are gone.

  • Dogs that have experienced scary events while being home alone. This could be fireworks, thunderstorms, visitors knocking on the door, home break-ins and more.

covid puppy has separation anxiety

As mentioned above, changes in their normal routine can trigger separation anxiety. This can be easily seen in dogs that were adopted during the covid pandemic. Pet parents spent almost their entire day with their dog and had limited interactions with other humans or dogs. After the covid restrictions were lifted, you now leave your pup alone more often. Your pup is now confused and may develop the anxious behaviors mentioned above. They see you as their pack leader and when you are gone, they do not know how to function on their own.


Since they have only experienced life with you, they have low social skills with other dogs. When you bring your pup out to meet other dogs, they are anxious and do not understand dog social cues. This creates a bad situation for you and the other dogs (aggression, fights, nervousness, over-protection, etc.). As you can see, separation anxiety can lead to many other behavior problems.


We will discuss the options to help your baby feel more confident and calm when alone below.


Use CBD to Calm Your Anxious Dog

Using CBD (cannabidiol) oil to calm anxious dogs is gaining popularity as a natural and potentially effective solution. CBD is a compound derived from the cannabis plant, and while its exact mechanism of action in dogs is not fully understood, some research suggests that it interacts with the endocannabinoid system to promote relaxation and alleviate anxiety.


Here's a detailed explanation of how to use CBD oil for your dog's separation anxiety:


  • Natural Calming Solution: CBD oil is praised for its natural properties in soothing anxiety without the need for pharmaceutical interventions. Its potential to interact with the endocannabinoid system, which plays a role in regulating mood and stress responses, makes it a promising option for managing anxiety in dogs.

  • Choosing the Right CBD Oil: When selecting a CBD oil for your dog, opt for a high-quality product specifically formulated for pets. Choose a bottle with a dropper for precise dosing. It's important to use CBD oil that is specifically designed for dogs, as some products for humans may contain ingredients that could be harmful to pets.


cbd given to dog with separation anxiety
  • Administration Methods: The best way to administer CBD oil to ensure accurate dosing is to use the dropper directly in your dog's mouth. This method allows for better absorption. While adding CBD oil to food or treats is an option, it may not guarantee that the full dose is ingested, as some dogs may not eat the entire treat or meal.

  • Recommended CBD Dose: Determining the right dosage of CBD for your dog depends on factors such as their weight, breed, and the severity of anxiety. A general guideline is 1 to 5 milligrams per 10 pounds of your dog's weight. However, it's crucial to start with a low dose and monitor your dog's response, adjusting as needed. Consulting with a veterinarian can provide personalized guidance.

  • Full-Spectrum CBD Oil: Choosing a full-spectrum CBD oil is recommended because it contains a variety of cannabinoids, including a high concentration of natural terpenes. These compounds work synergistically, creating what is known as the "entourage effect," potentially enhancing the therapeutic benefits of the CBD oil.

  • Monitoring Your Dog's Response: Observing your dog's behavior and responses to CBD oil is essential. If you notice positive changes, such as reduced anxiety or improved relaxation, you can continue with the chosen dosage. However, if there are adverse effects or insufficient improvement, it may be necessary to adjust the dosage or explore alternative solutions.

Before starting any CBD regimen for your dog, it's crucial to consult with your veterinarian. They can provide guidance on the appropriate dosage and ensure that CBD is a suitable option for your dog's specific needs. Additionally, regular check-ups can help monitor your dog's response to CBD and make any necessary adjustments to the treatment plan.

diagram on how cbd works in the dog

Calming Supplements for Anxiety

Calming supplements for dogs can be an effective alternative for managing anxiety, especially if you are unsure about using CBD or other interventions. These supplements often contain a combination of natural ingredients known for their calming properties. Here's an elaboration on the key ingredients and considerations:

  • Passion Flower: Passion flower is known for its calming and sedative properties. It contains compounds that may help alleviate anxiety and promote relaxation in dogs. The plant has been traditionally used to treat nervousness and insomnia. In calming supplements, passion flower contributes to a sense of tranquility.

  • Chamomile: Chamomile is widely recognized for its calming effects and anti-inflammatory properties. Apart from its anxiety-reducing qualities, chamomile can also aid in soothing the digestive system, which may be beneficial for dogs experiencing stress-related gastrointestinal issues.

  • Ginger Root: Ginger root is known for its anti-nausea and digestive benefits. In the context of calming supplements, ginger may contribute to reducing stress-related gastrointestinal discomfort.

  • L-Tryptophan: L-Tryptophan is an amino acid that serves as a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with mood regulation. By supporting the production of serotonin, L-Tryptophan may have a calming effect on the nervous system, helping to reduce anxiety in dogs.


Considerations

  • Individual Responses: Dogs may respond differently to various calming supplements. It's essential to monitor your dog's behavior and make adjustments based on their individual needs.

  • Trial and Error: Since dogs may be more responsive to specific supplements, a trial-and-error approach may be necessary. Trying different supplements and observing your dog's reaction can help determine the most effective option.

  • Quality of Brands: There are multiple brands offering calming supplements, so it's crucial to research and choose reputable products. Look for supplements with high-quality ingredients and positive customer reviews.


Dosage and Consultation

  • Consult with a Veterinarian: Before introducing any supplements, consult with your veterinarian. They can provide guidance on the appropriate dosage and ensure that the chosen supplements are safe for your dog's specific health profile.

  • Dosage Guidelines: Dosage recommendations may vary based on your dog's size, weight, and individual needs. It's important to follow the recommended dosage provided by the supplement manufacturer or your veterinarian.

In conclusion, calming supplements containing ingredients like passion flower, chamomile, ginger root, and L-Tryptophan can be a valuable tool in managing anxiety in dogs. The key is to understand your dog's individual preferences and responses, conduct thorough research on supplement brands, and seek guidance from a veterinarian for a comprehensive approach to your dog's well-being.


Acupressure to Boost Confidence in Dogs with Separation Anxiety

Acupressure, a traditional Chinese medicine technique, can be a valuable and holistic approach to promoting confidence and calmness in dogs with separation anxiety. While it is often used as a preventative measure, it can also complement other methods of addressing anxiety in dogs. Acupressure involves applying gentle pressure to specific points on the body to stimulate energy flow and promote various health benefits.


Acupressure is ideally suited as a preventative measure, helping maintain a balanced energy flow in the dog's body and promoting overall well-being. In cases of separation anxiety, acupressure can work alongside other methods, such as behavioral training or medication, enhancing the overall effectiveness of the treatment plan.


In traditional Chinese medicine, chi (or qi) represents the vital energy flowing through the body. Acupressure seeks to balance chi by stimulating specific points along energy pathways (meridians). Daily maintenance, achieved by holding or massaging acupressure points for 30-45 seconds every day, contributes to maintaining chi balance, which can have positive effects on a dog's emotional well-being.


Yin Tang Point: It is located directly between but slightly above your dog’s eyes. This point is also called the third eye. Massaging at the yin tang point can relax your pet in a few minutes.

acupressure point on a dog for separation anxiety called yin tang

If you're eager to delve deeper into this subject, consider enrolling in one of our upcoming classes! Additionally, we provide personalized one-on-one sessions tailored to your pup's needs. These individualized sessions take place in the comfort of your home, ensuring a relaxing experience for your furry friend without the added stress of car travel. Join us to make learning and relaxation an enjoyable experience for both you and your pup!



Start Mild Separation Training

Commencing mild separation training is a crucial step in acclimating your dog to periods of solitude, especially if they are accustomed to your constant presence. Abruptly leaving them alone for extended periods can induce stress and anxiety. Instead, consider implementing a gradual approach to separation training to foster a sense of security and independence in your pet.


Initiate the training by starting with short durations of absence, ranging from one to two minutes. Gradually extend the time incrementally over an extended period. Consistency is key, so incorporate this technique multiple times a day. However, it's important to allow brief intervals between each session to prevent consecutive absences, which might decrease your pet's tolerance and exacerbate anxiety rather than alleviating it.


Furthermore, maintaining a consistent leaving schedule is pivotal during the initial days of training. A predictable routine helps your dog understand and anticipate periods of separation, reducing anxiety triggered by unpredictability. Dogs thrive on routines as it provides them with a sense of structure and predictability in their environment.


By adhering to a structured separation training routine, you are effectively conditioning your dog to accept and adapt to your absence gradually. This method not only mitigates anxiety but also builds your dog's confidence in being alone. As the training progresses, you can gradually extend the duration of your absence, always gauging your dog's comfort level and adjusting accordingly.


You can also enhance training by using acupressure points for mental clarity, boosting memory, and keeping them attentive.


Create a Safe Space with Crate Training

pug is crate training for safety

Many people opt for crate training their pup. This will allow you to leave the home knowing your pup cannot get into anything that would cause him harm. However, you cannot just put your pup in the crate and thats that. You need to train your pup to acknowledge that is his safe space.

  1. Introduce your dog to the crate by leaving the door open. Feeding treats or meals inside while the door remains open.

  2. After a few days, start giving the treats and meals with the door closed, with you nearby. Once they are done, let them out. This is creating a positive space for your dog.

  3. After practicing door shutting for several more days, try to walk away while they enjoy their treats/meal/toys. When they are finished, come back to the room to let them out.

  4. Continue to work up to longer times you are away from the crate.

puppy in crate training

Crate Training Tips

  • It may be a good idea to do these crate exercises after they have been playing and can rest.

  • Be sure they have went potty before they get in the crate.

  • NEVER use the crate for punishment.

  • Buy the correct size crate for your dog. Your dog should have enough room to stand and turn around.

Your dog will eventually associate the crate as a happy place and will go in it willingly. Crate training does take some time, but it is totally worth it!


Provide Physical Movement in Daily Life

Incorporating regular physical movement into your dog's daily routine is an effective technique to mitigate separation anxiety. Allocating at least 30 minutes to aerobic exercises not only promotes your pet's physical health but also helps in expending excess energy, reducing the likelihood of anxiety when left alone.


Activities such as daily runs or swims are excellent options to engage your dog in vigorous exercise. The exhaustion that follows a good workout session can contribute to a calmer state of mind, making the transition to alone time more manageable for your pet. Additionally, interactive games like fetching and tug of war provide mental stimulation, reinforcing the bond between you and your dog while aiding in anxiety reduction.


Regular walks and outings also play a significant role in addressing separation anxiety. The combination of physical activity and exposure to different environments contributes to a well-rounded and content canine companion.


Beyond traditional exercises, engaging your dog in productive activities can keep them occupied and relaxed during your absence:

dog running after ball in the yard
  • Social Play in the Park: Allowing your dog to interact with other dogs in a park setting not only provides physical exercise but also fulfills their social needs. Positive interactions with other dogs contribute to a well-balanced and socially adept pet.

  • Food Puzzle Toys: Introducing food puzzle toys stuffed with your dog's favorite treats, such as cheese or yogurt, engages their cognitive abilities. The challenge of extracting treats from the toy keeps them mentally stimulated and occupied.

  • Food Hunting Game: Enhance mental engagement by turning mealtime into a game. Hide your dog's meal around the house before leaving them alone, encouraging them to search for their food. This combines the physical aspect of hunting with mental stimulation.


It's important to note that when introducing these activities, your presence should still be associated with positive experiences. Stay present while your dog engages in play or searches for food to avoid them associating your departure with the activities ceasing.


By integrating physical exercise and stimulating activities into your dog's routine, you provide an outlet for their energy and mental stimulation. This proactive approach not only contributes to a healthier and happier pet but also serves as an effective strategy in managing and preventing separation anxiety.


Use Toys for Emotional Support

Using toys for emotional support in dogs can be a valuable strategy, particularly for those facing separation anxiety or nervousness. Dogs, like humans, can experience a range of emotions, and providing them with appropriate toys can have positive effects on their well-being.

dog with dog toy
  1. Combatting Boredom: Dogs, especially when left alone, may experience boredom, leading to destructive behavior or anxiety. Toys serve as a stimulating diversion, engaging their attention and energy. Items such as balls, frisbees, and ropes offer interactive play, keeping the dog mentally and physically active.

  2. Source of Entertainment: Toys become a source of entertainment, helping to alleviate loneliness. Interactive toys, like those that dispense treats when manipulated, can provide mental stimulation and a sense of achievement for the dog. This engagement can contribute to a more content and relaxed canine companion.

  3. Comfort in Nervous Situations: Dogs can feel anxious in various situations, such as during thunderstorms or when meeting new people. Comfort toys, like soft plush toys or items infused with calming scents, can provide a sense of security and reassurance. Chewing on a favorite toy may also serve as a coping mechanism during stressful times.

However, it's crucial to be mindful of potential issues:

  1. Avoid Over-Attachment: While toys can be beneficial, dogs should not become overly attached to specific items. Overattachment may lead to possessive behavior, and the dog may display aggression if you try to take the toy away. Rotating toys regularly can help prevent this attachment.

  2. Supervision is Key: Always supervise your dog when playing with toys, especially if they are prone to chewing. This ensures the safety of both the dog and the toy. Some toys may have small parts that could pose a choking hazard, so it's essential to choose toys appropriate for your dog's size and chewing habits.

  3. Choose Appropriate Toys: Different dogs have varying preferences and play styles. Ensure the toys you select are suitable for your dog's size, age, and chewing strength. This helps prevent accidents and ensures the longevity of the toys.

In conclusion, using toys for emotional support is a thoughtful way to enhance your dog's well-being. It provides them with mental and physical stimulation, alleviates boredom, and can offer comfort during anxious moments. By choosing toys wisely and monitoring their use, you can foster a positive and enriching environment for your furry friend.


Daycare and In-Home Care for Separation Anxiety

Another great option for your pup is to bring them to daycare. Dog daycare has many benefits:

  • Socialization with other dogs

  • Exercise/playtime

  • Mental stimulation

  • Relieves anxiety

Dogs who visit daycare at least a couple times a week will be happier. They can get out of the house and enjoy the day playing with other dogs. The main problem with separation anxiety is being alone. Bringing your pup to daycare will offer them time with other humans and dogs. By the end of the day, your pup will be happy to see you and tired from the long day.


On the other hand, you can also schedule your dog in-home visits from a pet sitter. They can take your pup on walks, play, give meals and more. However, this does run the risk of more anxiety due to the caretaker leaving after only a short period of time.


Give Rewards for Desired Behaviors

Reward-based training is one of the dogs' most effective ways of handling separation anxiety. It will not only enhance their mental activity, but you can also improve the bond with your pet. If you think the appreciation is just limited to food-based items like treats, then you are entirely wrong. Even patting your pet gives it a sense of accomplishment.

offering high value treats to dog for positive reinforcement

If you do offer treats as a reward, give them ones that are high value. This means the tasty treats that they don't normally get. Giving them high value treats when they do correct actions will encourage them to continue to please. This is called positive reinforcement training. Everyone likes to be praised for good work and so does your pup!


Medication for Separation Anxiety

Medication can be considered as a last resort when dealing with severe separation anxiety in dogs, especially if their behavior poses a risk to their health and safety. While it is not a long-term solution on its own, anti-anxiety medication can be a valuable tool to provide immediate relief and create a more conducive environment for training and behavioral interventions.


Consulting with a veterinarian is essential when considering medication for separation anxiety. The vet will assess the severity of the anxiety, the dog's overall health, and any potential underlying issues that may contribute to the behavior. Based on this evaluation, the vet can prescribe an appropriate medication and dosage.


Medication is not a standalone solution but rather a temporary measure to provide relief while more comprehensive interventions, such as training and behavior modification, are implemented. Even if medication is prescribed, ongoing efforts in behavioral modification and training are crucial.


Regular monitoring of the dog's response to medication is vital, and adjustments to the dosage or the type of medication may be necessary based on the dog's progress and any observed side effects. The ultimate goal is to reduce reliance on medication over time as the dog's behavior improves through training and other interventions.


It is not recommended to use medication as a long-term solution without addressing the underlying behavioral issues. In conclusion, medication for separation anxiety is a strategic option when the dog's well-being is at risk, but it should be viewed as a temporary aid. Collaborating with a veterinarian ensures a comprehensive approach, combining medication with behavioral modification strategies for the best possible outcome. The focus remains on addressing the root causes of separation anxiety and empowering the dog to cope with periods of solitude in a healthier and more adaptive manner.


Wrapping Up

We understand that tackling pets with separation anxiety can be overwhelming, especially when they start damaging your home and hurting themselves. However, if you use some of these techniques to calm your dog, it can soon recover from this disorder.


Ensure your pet feels safe in your house when you are away. You can build them a fort with blankets or allot a place in the closet's corner. This way, they will stay calm in their own space and play with their toys in your absence. Crate training will also be a great option to keep your pup safe and secure while you are out.

happy dog snuggled up in blankets
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