How to Train Your Dog to Stop Separation Anxiety

Medium
4-8 Weeks
Behavior

Introduction

Having a dog who suffers from separation anxiety can be a scary and an incredibly frustrating thing. Many dog owners who have dogs with separation anxiety often talk about coming home to their homes in ruin because of their dogs. When a dog who suffers from separation anxiety is left to cope alone for hours at a time he tends to tear apart things like couches, doors, curtains, trash cans, and anything else he can find. Everything in your home is fair game, including your children's toys or their beloved stuffed animals when you have a dog with separation anxiety. This sort of anxiety is not the easiest thing to figure out or to diagnose, but if your dog is extremely upset every time you leave the house to the point where he is tearing things apart that he should not have access to,  he is probably dealing with separation anxiety.

Defining Tasks

Teaching your dog to deal with separation anxiety often becomes a matter of teaching your dog how to cope or how to entertain himself while you are away. Dogs want comfort and security, especially when they are left alone. Your dog lives to please you, and when you are not home, he's uncertain of his role in the world. When left with this uncertainty your dog could tear apart everything you own. One of the tricks to easing this anxiety is to give him comfort. You can do this with toys, food, small confined areas such as a crate, or even products and different behaviors before you leave to help ease your dog's anxiety.

Getting Started

Helping a dog with separation anxiety sometimes comes down to trial and error. To start, be sure you have high-value treats and any items you would like to offer your dog to help him cope through these difficult transitions. Your dog may need a crate to sleep in while you are away from the house. He may also need a new bed or additional toys. A Kong or puzzle toys with hidden treats can help keep your dog entertained while you are away. If you think your dog is dealing with separation anxiety, you may need to talk to your veterinarian about medications to help. There are also products you can purchase such as pheromone sprays, essential oils to help calm your dog, or a thunder vest to help ease anxieties. The method you choose will determine which products you need to stock up on or buy to move forward.

The Outside Help Method

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Step
1
Doggie daycare
Enroll your dog into doggie daycare. If you cannot do daycare each day of the workweek, maybe try to do a couple of days each week. Hype it up as a fun day and a big deal. On the days your dog does not go, do not mention it, but rather spend a bit of extra time with him before you leave to tire him out.
Step
2
Medications
Talk to your veterinarian about prescribing anti-anxiety medications for your dog.
Step
3
Dog trainer
Send your dog through puppy classes to boost his confidence and build him up while you are gone. You can do these classes with your dog to increase the bond you two have together.
Step
4
Dog sitter
Have someone come into your home at random times throughout the day while you are gone to check on your dog. This person can be a neighbor or someone you hire. Make sure the visits are random and not at the same time each day. This will give your dog an understanding he may be caught misbehaving at any time, not just when you arrive home at the end of the day.
Step
5
Products
Purchase essential oil diffusers and use oils such as lavender to help your dog relax. You can also buy a thunder vest to help your dog ease anxieties while you are away. Plug-ins with pheromones are also available in pet stores to ease anxious feelings.
Recommend training method?

The Comfort Crate Method

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Effective
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Step
1
Introduce crate
If possible, while your dog is a puppy or at least new to your home, introduce him to a crate. This will be a safe haven for your dog when he’s dealing with fear or anxiety. Set up the crate with a bed or soft blanket and some toys or stuffed animals he can chew on and sleep with.
Step
2
Treat
Offer a treat to encourage your dog to get into a crate.
Step
3
'Inside' command
Begin to use the same command to get your dog into the crate each time you use it. Something like "puppy in" works to let him know it’s time to go into the crate.
Step
4
Practice
While you are in the house with your dog, practice getting him into the crate by command and having him in the crate while he can see you. You can put him in his crate at night for sleeping and during the day when you do activities that may be scary, such as vacuuming. This will teach him the crate is a safe place to be.
Step
5
Talk then ignore
Have conversations with your dog when he’s in the crate while you are home. But as he gets used to the crate, leave him alone and ignore him. Even if he whines, ignore him.
Step
6
Leave
When he is used to the crate, begin to leave the house. Some owners may need to do this before the dog has had much time in the crate with his owner home. If possible, make these first few trips out of the house short.
Step
7
Excitement
As soon as you get home, be excited to see your dog and let him out of the crate. Be sure to let him outside first thing to go potty. Give him lots of love and attention when you come home to him.
Step
8
Future
Over time, you may be able to keep your dog out of the crate or leave the door open. He will begin to see his crate as a safe place to go when he’s feeling anxious.
Recommend training method?

The Entertainment Method

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Step
1
Wear out your dog
Before you leave your house, take your dog on a walk or a run to wear him out. The goal here will be to make him sleep while you are away instead of pacing your house and getting into trouble.
Step
2
Feed
Make sure your dog has a full belly before you leave and has an opportunity to go outside to go potty before you leave him alone.
Step
3
Toys
Fill a Kong, or even a few puzzle toys, with treats to keep your dog entertained while you are away.
Step
4
Confine
Keep your dog in one room so the risk of him tearing up the entire house is limited.
Step
5
Vary routine
Your dog knows your routine. Try to do as much as you can without him seeing you. If you are used to grabbing your keys or bag and walking out the door, put these things in the car or just outside the door and come back inside for a few minutes before leaving for real. Vary your routine so the build up of anxiety isn’t so great for your pup.
Step
6
Treat routine
Give your dog a positive routine to get used to. Use the same words such as "Be right back" and give your dog a treat or a Kong filled with treats before leaving.
Step
7
Return
Upon return, give your dog lots of enthusiastic love and excitement. He’s been waiting for you all day. Make him feel special each time you return, even if it’s from a short trip, by giving him love and attention when you return.
Recommend training method?
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Written by Stephanie Plummer

Published: 11/08/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Walter
Beagle
7 Years
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Question
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Walter
Beagle
7 Years

I just rescued this dog July 10th, he was dumped by his previous family. I believe he wasn’t ever crate trained or potty trained. Whenever he goes into the pen he always pees, he has terrible separation anxiety. He had ripped through 5 metal crates, we bought him a steel one that he can’t get through. I’ve tried hemp dog treats to ease his anxiety and he still pees and bites the steel bars.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
946 Dog owners recommended

Hello Kyrsten, The first step is to work on building his independence and his confidence by adding a lot of structure and predictability into his routine. Things such as making him work for rewards like meals, walks, and pets. Working on "Stay" and "Place," commands while you move away or leave the room, and teaching him to remain inside a crate when the door is open. Change your routine surrounding leaving so that he does not anticipate alone time and build up his anxiety before you leave - which is hard for him to deescalate from, and be sure to continue to give him something to do in the crate during the day (such as a dog food stuffed Kong to chew on); this is the general protocol for separation anxiety. It is gentle but can take a very long time on its own for some dogs. Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omg5DVPWIWo Another protocol involves teaching the dog to cope with their own anxiety by making their current anxious go-to behaviors unpleasant, giving them an opportunity to stop those behaviors long enough to learn something new, then rewarding the correct, calmer behavior instead. This protocol can feel harsh because it involves careful correction, but it tends to work much quicker for many dogs, and is used in more extreme cases. If you go this route, I suggest hiring a trainer who is very experienced using both positive reinforcement and fair correction. Who is extremely knowledgeable about e-collar training, and can follow the protocol listed below, to help you implement the training. Building his independence and structure in his life will still be an important part of this protocol too. First, check out this video from SolidK9Training on treating anxiety. It will give a brief over-view of treating separation anxiety more firmly. This trainer can be a bit abrupt with his teaching style with people but is very experienced working with highly aggressive, anxious, and reactive dogs. He also has other videos on his channel of him working through some extreme separation anxiety cases. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5GqzeLzysk Make sure you are implementing what he teaches there in other areas of his life too. Second, purchase a remote electronic collar, e-collar, with a wide range of levels. I recommend purchasing E-Collar Technologies Mini Educator or Garmin Delta Sport or Dogtra for this. If you are not comfortable with an e-collar then you can use a vibration collar (the Mini Educator and Garmin should also have a vibration mode) or unscented air remote controlled air spray collar. DO NOT use a citronella collar, buy the additional unscented air canister if the collar comes with the citronella and make sure that you use the unscented air. (Citronella collars are actually very harsh and the smell - punisher lingers a long time so the dog continues to be corrected even after they stop the behavior). The vibration or spray collars are less likely to work than stimulation e-collars though, so you may end up spending more money by not purchasing an e-collar first. The Mini Educator has very low levels of stimulation, that can be tailored specifically to your dog. It also has vibration and beep tones that you can try using first, without having to buy additional tools. Next, set up a camera to spy on him. If you have two smart devices, like tablets or smartphones, you can Skype or Facetime them to one another with your pup’s end on mute, so that you can see and hear him but he will not hear you. Video baby monitors, video security monitors with portable ways to view the video, GoPros with the phone Live App, or any other camera that will record and transmit the video to something portable that you can watch outside live will work. Next, put the e-collar on him while he is outside of the crate, standing, and relaxed. To learn how to put the collar on him, check out this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLxB6gYsliI Turn it to it's lowest level and push the stimulation button twice. See if he responds to the collar at all. Look for subtle signs such as turning his head, moving his ears, biting his fur, moving away from where he was, or changing his expression. If he does not respond at all, then go up one level on the collar and when he is standing and relaxed, push the stimulation button again twice. Look for a reaction again. Repeat going up one level at a time and then testing his reaction at that level until he indicates a little bit that he can feel the collar. Here is a video showing how to do this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cl3V8vYobM A modern, high quality collar will have so many levels that each level should be really subtle and he will likely respond to a low level stimulation. It's uncomfortable but not the harsh shock many people associate with such collars if done right. Once you have found the right stimulation level for him and have it correctly fitted on him, have him wear the collar around with it turned off or not being stimulated for several hours or days if you can (take it off at night to sleep though). Next, set up your camera to spy on him while he is in the crate. Put him into the crate while he is wearing the collar and leave. Spy on him from outside. Leave however you normally would. As soon as you hear him barking or see him start to try to escape or destroy the crate from the camera, push the stimulation button once. Every time he barks or tries to get out of the crate, stimulate him again. If he does not decrease his barking or escape attempts at least a little bit after being stimulated seven times in a row, then increase the stimulation level by one level. He may not feel the stimulation while excited so might need it just slightly higher. Do not go higher than three more levels on the mini-educator or two more levels on another collar with less levels right now though because he has not learned what he is supposed to be doing yet. For example, if his level is 13 out of 100 levels on the Mini Educator, don't go past level 16 right now. The level you end up using on him on the mini educator collar will probably be low to medium, within the first forty levels of the one-hundred to one-hundred-and-twenty-five levels, depending on the model you purchase. If it is not, then have a professional evaluate whether you have the correct "working level" for him. If he continues to ignore the collar, then go up one more stimulation level and if that does not work, make sure that the collar is turned on, fitted correctly, and working. After five minutes to ten minutes, as soon as your dog stays quiet and is not trying to escape for five seconds straight, go back inside to the dog, sprinkle several treats into the crate without saying anything, then leave again. Practice correcting him from outside when he barks or tries to escape, going back inside and sprinkling treats when he stays quiet, for up to 30 minutes at first. After 30 minutes -1 hour of practicing this, when he is quiet, go back inside and sprinkle more treats. This time stay inside. Do not speak to him or pay attention to him for ten minutes while you walk around and get stuff done inside. When he is being calm, then you can let him out of the crate. When you let him out, do it the way Jeff does is in this video below. Opening and closing the door until your dog is not rushing out. You want him to be calm when he comes out of the crate and to stay calm when you get home. That is why you need to ignore him when you get home right away. Also, keep your good byes extremely boring and calm. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5GqzeLzysk Continue to put a food stuffed Kong into the crate with him. Once he is less anxious he will likely enjoy it and that will help him to enjoy the crate more. First, he probably needs his anxious state of mind interrupted so that he is open to learning other ways to behave. Once it's interrupted, give him a food stuffed Kong in the crate for him to relieve his boredom instead of barking, since he will need something other than barking to do at that point. Again, I would hire a professional trainer with experience with this type of training and behavior modification to oversee this process, especially since the training approach may need to be adjusted along the way depending on how much is responding. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Lida Belle
English lab
11 Months
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Question
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Lida Belle
English lab
11 Months

Our dog likes to put 2 feet on the counter & snatch mail, dish towels, newspapers etc & run off. She likes us to chase after her. If we don’t she will chew it or shred it.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
946 Dog owners recommended

Hello Margaret, First, work on the Leave It command from the article linked below for surfing that happens when you are present. Leave It method- the first part of that method that involves food. Gradually work up to pup leaving harder foods alone - like kibble - treats - chicken - hotdogs - and junk mail, until pup can leave food and paper items on the floor alone when told that command while you are there to enforce it and prevent pup from grabbing it. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite For surfing that is happening while you are out of the room, I recommend creating an aversion to jumping on the counter itself. There are a few ways to do this. You can place something like a scat mat on the counter and put a food or mail/paper temptation further back on the counter just out of reach - when pup jumps up the mat gives a static shock - nothing harsh but its uncomfortable and surprising. You can also set up Snap Traps covered lightly with unfolded napkins. When pup touches them on the edge of the counter, they will jump up and make a snapping sound - startling pup. These are designed for this type of purpose so won't actually close on pup like real mouse traps would - don't use real mouse traps because of the risk of injury. You can also stack metal pot lids and pans precariously on the counter. Tie a strong string like twine through all of them and back tie the whole contraption to something secure so that when they fall they can't fall all the way off the counter, then tie another string to the lip or pan that's supporting the precarious set up and tie the other end of that string to a safe food or paper item booby trap, like a whole bagel or large envelop sitting on the counter. The idea is that when pup jumps up and grabs the item, they will pull the objects over and create a loud crashing noise that will surprise them. Because of the back tie string the objects should not fall on pup though. With all of these setups, you will need to set up a camera to spy on pup from the other room and be ready to run in and remove any food left on the counter or floor, so that pup doesn't return to the scene of the crime once things are calm and eat the food anyway - otherwise they may decide that its still worth it to jump up. You will need to practice this setup often with pup in different parts of the counter and with different things pup is likely to steal. If you use food, don't use any food that could harm pup if they were to eat it - like chicken bones, grapes, chocolate, xylitol, nuts, garlic, or onion. When not practicing the trap, keep counters clean and pup confined away from the area or tethered to you with a hands free leash until pup has thoroughly learned the lesson - jumping up and not being surprised and potentially grabbing food, will negate your training efforts - you want pup to think that the counter is always suspicious now so they give up on jumping up. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Jaxon
Mini golden doodle
1 Year
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Jaxon
Mini golden doodle
1 Year

Separation anxiety. He has a really hard time when I leave him out when I leave. Even if I am gone for a few minutes. He is fine in his crate for hours but when I leave him out he yelps, screeches. Etc. when I leave. I’ve tried kongs with PB, and lots else. Help!

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
946 Dog owners recommended

Hello Sarah, I recommend teaching pup Place and Quiet. I would practice both commands first with you in the home, working up to you going in other rooms while pup remains on place in that room. I would also consider low level remote collar training, to correct pup for disobeying commands you have worked up to, once pup is at the point where they can be expect to obey after enough practice. Start by leaving the room, returning quickly and rewarding when pup stays quiet. If pup barks or leaves Place (spy on pup with a camera), I would correct with the remote collar briefly, and using the section on how to use Out to deal with pushy behavior from the article I have linked below, "herd" pup back to the Place bed they tried to leave if they don't return to it on their own. Once pup is doing better on Place, space out your rewards so that you are rewarding pup for staying on Place and Quiet for longer and longer. Begin leaving your home briefly, spying on pup with the camera so you can return to reward or correct remotely. Work up to longer periods of time by going for walks near your home, within range of your remote and camera. Once pup can handle Place with you gone, then repeat the same type of training with pup not being required to go to Place first, and interrupt with the collar, reward with the treats and spy on with camera when pup begins barking, scratching, or getting getting overly worked up. Once pup is more calm overall, I would try reintroducing the dog food stuffed kong to help with boredom. Pup is probably too worked up to accept it right now. Once calmer pup will need something to help entertain themselves with though and will be more likely to chew it then. For a camera, you may already have what you need. If you have two smart devices, like tablets or smartphones, you can Skype or Facetime them to one another with your pup’s end on mute, so that you can see and hear him but he will not hear you. Video baby monitors, video security monitors with portable ways to view the video, GoPros with the phone Live App, or any other camera that will record and transmit the video to something portable that you can watch outside live will work. To properly fit an e-collar, check out this video on their use and fit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLxB6gYsliI When introducing an e-collar, you will want to find pup's "working level", which is the lowest level pup will respond to. You should only use a high quality e-collar with at least 30 levels to ensure you can get the right level and the collar will be reliable. Some well known brands include e-collar technologies, Dogtra, Sportdog, and Garmin. E-collar technologies' mini educator is a common option for such training. The working level is generally found by turning the collar to it's lowest level and pushing the stimulation button twice very briefly. See if he responds to the collar at all. Look for subtle signs such as turning his head, moving his ears, biting his fur, moving away from where he was, or changing his expression. If he does not respond at all, then go up one level on the collar and when he is standing and relaxed, push the stimulation button again twice. Look for a reaction again. Repeat going up one level at a time and then testing his reaction at that level until he indicates a little bit that he can feel the collar. Here is a video showing how to do this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cl3V8vYobM A modern, high quality collar will have so many levels that each level should be really subtle and he will likely respond to a low level stimulation. It's uncomfortable but not the harsh shock many people associate with such collars if done right. Once you have found the right stimulation level for him and have it correctly fitted on him, have him wear the collar around with it turned off or not being stimulated for several hours or days if you can before starting training with it, to allow pup to get used to the feel of it and not associate the training just with the collar, but with his behavior. (Be sure to take it off at night to sleep though and rotate it to different spots of his neck to avoid any sores from it sitting on the same spot all the time). Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Makenna
Lab/Chihuahua mix
3 Years
0 found helpful
Question
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Makenna
Lab/Chihuahua mix
3 Years

Our dog constantly pees in her kennel overnight. We've limited her water intake hours before bed, we let her out right before she goes in, and we've even tried letting her out in the middle of the night to pee in hopes it would help. She only started doing this when we moved to our new house last October but it's still happening so I'm not sure what the issue is at this point anymore.

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Question
Blanco
Pitbull mix
4 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Blanco
Pitbull mix
4 Years

When I adopted Blanco, I was told he has separation anxiety but he has never hurt himself or our home when he is left alone, nonetheless he displays aggression at neighbors, family, and even myself when I touch his treats, what can I do?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
946 Dog owners recommended

Hello Pamela, Is the aggression happening after you return from being gone? Or when one person leaves the household, it's happening toward the remaining people in the home? Check out Jeff Gellman from SolidK9Training and Sean O'Shea from the Good Dog Training. Both have free Youtube channels and offer Skype as well as in person training - depending on where you are located and quarantine. There may be anxiety present, but it sounds like a form of resource guarding - possibly related to having the house to himself, to high levels of stress hormones, or a respect issue toward the remaining household members. Without more details and a full evaluation, I cannot offer a lot of insight unfortunately. I would seek out a trainer to work with who specializes in aggressive, fearful, and reactive dogs. Who also has experience with Separation Anxiety in case that is part of the issue. You need to speak with someone who will be able to ask a lot of questions about pup, the situation, his history, and what you have and haven't tried thus far training wise, to develop a training plan for him. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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