Dogs Trust

Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Some dogs can find it quite worrying when they are left on their own at home and they can panic and think their owner is never coming back. This panic can lead to destructive behaviour, toileting in the home, barking, whining and howling.

How do I know if my dog has separation anxiety?

His anxiety will be very obvious at the first sign that you are going to leave (e.g. putting your coat on) – his breathing and heart rate will increase and he may become visibly distressed. He will behave in an agitated or panicky manner.

Most dogs showing separation related issues are likely to be most destructive during the first 20 minutes of being left alone.

How can I help my dog cope with this?

The treatment for this type of behaviour issue can take many weeks and will require lots of patience and understanding. For the first two or three weeks you will need to make arrangements so that your dog is never left alone.

Here are some top tips to help your dog cope with being left alone for short periods of time:

  • Separation Related Behaviours (abbreviated to SRBs) can occur when a dog is over attached to one family member. Ensure that everybody in the house has a role in looking after, interacting with and caring for your dog, so that he is not overly dependent on one person. If you have reliable friends or neighbours who can help walk him or dog-sit, this will help.
  • Initially you will need to teach him to relax when you are around him but busy doing something else (give him a tasty chew or food stuffed toy).
  • Teach him to relax when you are doing all of the things that usually tell him you are going to leave.
  • Practise leaving him for only seconds at a time.
  • Build up the time that he is left very, very gradually.
  • NEVER be tempted to shut him in a room or indoor kennel to try to prevent the SRB happening. This doesn’t address the severe anxiety that he is suffering from and it is a welfare issue – you need to deal with this particular behaviour issue in a consistent and methodical manner.

Please remember that destructive behaviour is not a purposeful or spiteful act by your dog – they just aren’t capable of that. Punishing your dog on your return for anything that he may have done in your absence will only increase the amount of anxiety and confusion that he feels when you leave him and make the problem far worse.

If you need more help with your dog’s destructive behaviour and separation related problem, please ask your vet to put you in touch with a reputable behaviourist – or if your dog is adopted from Dogs Trust, please contact our Rehoming Centre for help and advice.