Separation anxiety in dogs can be difficult to treat, yet I have read time and time again that there is one magic tip that can cure it overnight. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. As with treating any type of anxiety problem, the solution is not that simple, and often requires multiple methods over an extended period of time.
If you’re trying to treat your dog’s separation anxiety, check out the methods I’ve had success with in treating my dog, and the additional links at the end of this post – they’ll give you actionable tips to help manage the behavior. As you can see, they rely on a few different methods and a lot of repetition; Anxiety can be quite complex to treat, and it won’t go away overnight.
As for the myths surrounding treatment options, the following methods aren’t entirely untrue (well, the one about it being a phase is absolutely nonsense), but they aren’t necessarily complete either. Taken alone, they are not common enough to treat a dog with moderate or severe anxiety. When it comes to managing separation anxiety in your dog, there are no overnight cures.
Here are 5 myths about managing separation anxiety in dogs, and why they’re not always guaranteed to work. And if you’re looking for advice on treating your own dog’s anxiety, check out the links at the end of this article. They will give you a better understanding of how to deal with anxiety in your dog, and provide actionable tips to use.
A second dog will cure your dog’s anxiety
The myth about getting a second dog to help treat a dog’s separation anxiety is quite widespread. And I understand why; on its own it seems like it would help. In theory, getting a second dog makes perfect sense; your new dog will keep your current dog company, right? But unfortunately it generally doesn’t work that way. But it’s not guaranteed to work; Getting a second dog is not a cure for separation anxiety.
If your current dog has separation anxiety, it may be tempting to get another dog so he feels less lonely when you are away. The problem is that dogs with separation anxiety don’t suffer from loneliness; they suffer from anxiety when their owner leaves.
Dogs with separation anxiety are anxious when they are away from their owner(s), and while the addition of another person may help them feel less lonely, it is no guarantee that it will reduce their anxiety. They get anxious when their owner leaves, no matter how many other animals you have in the house.
Other pets may provide some comfort to your anxious dog, but they will not cure their separation anxiety. If you get another dog because yours has separation anxiety, three things can happen:
- Your current dog will still have separation anxiety when you leave.
- Your current dog will teach your new dog that stress when you leave is ‘normal’.
- Your current dog will be less anxious when his new buddy is nearby.
The problem is that there is no way to guarantee that the third option will happen. Another dog may make your dog less lonely, but it probably won’t take away your dog’s anxiety when you’re away.
And remember, dogs learn from each other, so there’s a chance your current dog will teach your new dog that being anxious when you leave is “normal.” This is especially true if the second dog you are considering is a highly impressionable puppy. At worst, you could end up with two dogs with separation anxiety.
Getting a second dog can be a good choice, but it is a big commitment. Do it for the right reasons. Don’t buy a second dog just because of your current dog; buy a second dog because you want one.
Crate training will cure it
Crate training isn’t a bad idea in and of itself, but when it comes to treating separation anxiety it’s not a guaranteed cure. It all depends on how your dog feels about his crate to begin with.
If your dog has separation anxiety, using a crate makes sense if you want to help keep him safe while you’re away, but before you do that, it’s important to make sure he’s comfortable with it. With most dogs this takes some time. If your dog isn’t a fan of his crate to begin with, he won’t enjoy it (or feel safe) if you leave it in it when you leave.
Does your dog feel safe in the crate, or does he avoid it as much as possible? If your dog doesn’t feel safe in the crate when you leave him there when you leave, his anxiety may worsen. Not only will they still be anxious because you left, they will also be anxious because they feel trapped in a space where they don’t feel safe.
If you want to crate your dog when you leave, you should first work on getting him completely comfortable with it. Encourage your dog to use the crate by showing him that the crate is not a place to be afraid of; it’s a place where good things happen. If you are not familiar with this process crate training games are a huge help.
Working on getting your dog completely comfortable in the crate can be a big help with anxiety. It all depends on whether the comfort the crate provides outweighs the anxiety they feel when you go to work.
Exercise will cure it
While it’s true that exercise can help reduce some destructive behaviors, it alone may not be enough to cure separation anxiety. Now, I’m not one to say that you shouldn’t give your dog more exercise; almost all dogs would benefit from more physical activity. But what I am saying is that exercise alone will not always be enough to cure all cases of separation anxiety.
Exercise is known to help reduce anxiety in both humans and dogs, but this usually involves additional treatment methods. Exercise can help with your dog’s anxiety, but on its own it may not be enough.
Most of us go to work in the morning, and for many dogs that means leaving without giving our dogs a chance to burn off energy (this can be especially tricky for young, energetic dogs). Before you go to work in the morning, take your dog for a short walk or jog, or a quick game of drag or fetch.
Giving your dog some extra exercise before you leave is great, and there are no downsides to it – but on its own it may not be enough to keep him calm while you leave.
If giving your dog more exercise doesn’t work, give him something to do while you leave. When you get ready for work in the morning, does your dog become anxious? If so, give them a Kong filled with treats that you have frozen overnight. I prefer using Kongs because they are indestructible (at least to my dog) and I like leaving my dog with them.
Stuffed Kongs work so well because they give your dog something to do while you go away, taking their attention away from you. They are mentally stimulating, and because they take a while to get through, they work wonders when it comes to keeping a dog’s attention.
It’s gone forever once you control it
There is a common misconception that once you find a way to control separation anxiety in dogs, it is cured forever. Well, that’s not entirely true. Unfortunately, without proper maintenance it can creep back up.
My dog Carter’s separation anxiety was well controlled until we moved to a new home. That stress caused it to come back almost immediately. If I had known this was possible I probably would have noticed the signs of his anxiety resurfacing sooner, but as it was I didn’t notice it until it had gotten quite bad.
Changes in living arrangements or any additional stressors, such as a new schedule, can cause your dog’s separation anxiety to return. That’s the bad news. The good news is that since you already know the signs of anxiety in your dog, you may notice them sooner the second time. And generally speaking, the sooner you deal with their anxiety, the easier it is to treat.
I’m not saying it’s guaranteed that your dog will act anxious again when you leave, but it’s important to understand that this can happen. It doesn’t mean you failed the first time, it just means something has triggered your dog’s anxiety again.
You can help your dog by using the same methods you used successfully the first time, and using them when you notice your dog starting to become anxious again.
It’s just a phase they will grow out of
It’s true that our dogs have different phases in their lives, like the equivalent of the rebellious teenage years, but separation anxiety itself is not a phase. It is a problem that can affect any dog, regardless of age or breed.
In most dogs, separation anxiety is progressive and will only get worse over time. If you can intervene early, we can stop the behavior before it becomes so serious.
Separation anxiety in dogs is a behavioral problem that will not go away on its own, but will only get worse over time without treatment. It’s not a phase, and your dog won’t just grow out of it. Like anxiety disorders in humans, your dog’s separation anxiety could be caused by something specific, but it is not a phase. People don’t just wake up one day without fear because they’ve reached a certain age, and neither do our dogs.
To prevent your dog’s anxiety from getting worse, you need to deal with it. That includes using desensitization and counterconditioning – methods that change your dog’s negative association with your dog leaving into a more positive association. It takes time and a lot of effort, but it can and should be managed. It’s not something they will grow out of.
Separation anxiety in dogs can be tricky to deal with, and it’s a heartbreaking behavior to watch our dog deal with it. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that there are methods to help control this. It takes time and a lot of repetition, but it can be done. Don’t be discouraged if a single piece of advice, like the one mentioned above, doesn’t work for your dog right away. Treating separation anxiety depends on several methods, and not all of them work well for every dog.
Tools for dealing with your dog’s separation anxiety
If your dog has separation anxiety, I recommend that you read the following articles. They explain the behavior in detail and provide practical advice and methods for dealing with it.
For dogs with severe cases of separation anxiety, I recommend seeking help from a professional trainer or behaviorist. It can be a complex behavior to deal with, so don’t hesitate to get help if you can’t deal with it yourself.