Preventing Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Teaching your dog that it’s okay to be alone is one of the three most important things your dog needs to learn.*  Dogs are social creatures and they need to be taught gently how to tolerate being alone and/or separated from the human they have bonded with.  So be patient and plan for small increments of improvements over time.

If a dog already has moderate to extreme separation anxiety, it is best to consult a reputable dog behaviour professional. CAUTION: the dog training industry is unregulated and there are some very uninformed and ill-informed people posing as experts in dog behaviour.

Departures and Arrivals Can Trigger High Emotions. Make your departures and arrivals “No Big Deal.” Especially your arrivals. Yes, you are happy that you are home and you might really want to have cuddles and play with your dog. Just wait a bit until your dog is in a calmer state. You don’t want to add to their excitement because this causes them to anticipate your future arrivals or departures. Anticipation of an exciting (or scary) event is often more intense than the actual event. You know the feeling when you are about to rip off a sticky bandage? That’s the power of anticipation. Or that dread when you know something unpleasant is about to happen. Or that intense excitement when you cannot wait for the person to arrive at the surprise party.

Keep your emotions neutral and casual — as if you had merely stepped out to get something from the car for a minute. Try to limit your attention to your dog when you arrive — wait a few minutes for your dog to calm a bit before you give a quiet, calm greeting. Instead, when you arrive, do things that are non-exciting for your dog like set your items down on the counter, put your coat away, etc.. If you need to let your dog outside, do so with minimal attention. Keep things non-exciting and just “normal.”

Dogs pay attention to our emotional states and if we are calm and unexcited about coming home, then the dog will pick up on that and should eventually match that emotion. If you act like it’s a big deal (or worse, that you are upset by a mess), then your dog’s emotional state will be influenced by that.

Expert tip for Arrivals: Have a “greeting place” like a comfy chair or the dog’s bed where you have a quiet greeting with some low-intensity cuddles with your dog when you return. Over a few repetitions, your dog will begin to wait at the “greeting place” after you arrive home, and there will be less racing around and jumping up for attention because those unwanted behaviours are no longer reinforced with your attention.

*The three most important things a dog needs to learn are 1) the world is a safe and happy place; 2) it’s okay to be alone; and 3) where to potty and how to ask a human to be let out. These are best learned when the dog is young, and the longer these are delayed, the more difficult they are for a dog to learn. 

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