Separation Anxiety

Written by Leon Chow

Many dogs experience separation anxiety when left alone. As the name suggests, it deals with feelings of anxiety and worry, and not something to be punished. When they are alone, some dogs, particularly those that have been abandoned previously, fear that you will not come back. 

Teaching your dog not to be afraid often takes a lot of work to build assurance in the dog and may need the assistance of a dog trainer to help further, especially if the separation anxiety is particularly severe. We at BARK can help connect you with a dog trainer if you would like. 

Some things that you can try to help with separation anxiety are:

  • Puzzle toys! When you leave, give your dog a puzzle toy filled with delicious food! 
    • This creates a good association with being left alone because they get yummy food. 
    • It can also act as a safety cue to let your dog know that when they get this treat, it means this is a “safe” separation and you are coming back. 
    • It also keeps your dog busy and mentally stimulated 
    • Note: Dogs that get extremely anxious usually will not eat alone
  • Exercise! Before you leave, take your dog for a run or some other tiring activity
    • This expends energy so your dog might be able to rest and relax easier even when you are gone
  • Stay calm! When saying hello or goodbye to your dog, do so in a very calm manner
    • Dogs can pick up on emotions and you being calm tells them that they can be too
    • It can be tempting to get excited about your dog, but it makes a bigger deal of leaving which is not wanted and can have a negative effect. The calm and quiet when you are there also lowers the contrast with when you are gone.  
  • Leaving for short amounts of time!
    • This builds up reassurance that you will return while eliminating possible problem behaviors from happening if you return quick enough
    • Remember to be patient with your dog!

If you notice that your dog gets anxious as you get ready to leave, they may have figured out cues that you are leaving (ex: putting on your shoes, getting your keys). To prevent this, you can simply do those same actions without leaving to teach your dog that it does not always mean you are leaving. This helps your dog not get so anxious when they see the cue, reducing overall anxiety. 

Please remember that your dog is scared, and do not punish them for this fear as that will only make it worse.

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