All About Separation Anxiety in Dogs | Great Pet Care (2024)

Leaving pets with separation anxiety can be a daunting experience for both pet parents and their dogs. It can leave pet parents feeling frustrated and helpless, and it’s a common reason that dogs are surrendered or rehomed.

To make separation anxiety a bit easier to understand and hopefully correct, we will explore the nuances of separation anxiety in dogs, including its definition, causes, signs, diagnosis, and treatment options. We’ll also delve into related aspects, such as prevention, home remedies, costs, and additional measures for training and managing dogs with separation anxiety.

What Is Separation Anxiety in Dogs?

Separation anxiety is a behavioral disorder where dogs experience extreme distress and fear when left alone. Dogs with separation anxiety often exhibit undesirable behaviors as a result of their emotional distress. In contrast to generalized anxiety or stress, which may occur in a variety of conditions, separation anxiety specifically manifests when a dog is away from their pet parent or a close housemate.

Separation anxiety is a relatively common behavioral condition in dogs. Some studies suggest that around 20-40 percent of dogs may experience some form of separation anxiety (1).

What Causes Separation Anxiety in Dogs?

Dogs of all breeds and ages can suffer from separation anxiety. Certain breeds are thought to be predisposed to the condition, such as the:

  • Labrador Retriever
  • German Shepherd
  • Border Collie
  • Vizsla
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Jack Russell Terrier
  • Australian Shepherd

The prevalence may vary among individual dogs and is influenced by factors such as the dog’s temperament, other pets in the household, and their owner’s lifestyle. Other factors such as a history of abandonment, changes in routine, or traumatic experiences can contribute to the development of this condition. Additionally, younger dogs, especially puppies, may be more susceptible to separation anxiety as they form strong attachments to their pet parents.

Signs of Separation Anxiety in Dogs

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Signs of separation anxiety in dogs can vary, and each dog may exhibit a unique combination of behaviors. Some common signs include:

  • Excessive vocalization: Excessive barking, whining, or howling when left alone.
  • Destructive behavior: Chewing furniture, doors, or belongings, often near exits like doors or windows.
  • House soiling: Accidents in the house, even if the dog is typically house-trained.
  • Pacing and restlessness: Constant movement or restlessness, often observed through pacing or circling.
  • Attempts to escape: Trying to escape from the home or a confined area, sometimes resulting in self-injury.
  • Excessive salivation and panting: Physical signs of stress, such as drooling and heavy panting.
  • Following their owner: Shadowing the pet parent around the house, unwilling to be separated.
  • Refusal to eat: Lack of interest in food, especially when the owner is not present.
  • Excessive greeting behavior: Overly excited and anxious behavior when the owner returns, including jumping or extreme excitement.
  • Droopy ears and tucked tail: Physical signs of anxiety, such as ears pinned back or a tucked tail.

Diagnosing Dogs with Separation Anxiety

Veterinarians and professional dog behaviorists typically diagnose separation anxiety in dogs by gathering information from pet parents and ruling out other potential causes. Details used to help guide the veterinary team toward a diagnosis include:

  • The dog’s lifestyle and daily routine
  • The dog’s full medical and historical background
  • Descriptions of the dog’s behavior when left alone vs when others are around
  • Documentation of what pet parents find upon returning home

The most valuable asset in diagnosing separation anxiety is video footage. This offers valuable insights into the dog’s reactions and behaviors in the absence of the pet parent, and helps veterinarians make a more accurate diagnosis and tailor a suitable treatment plan.

How to Treat Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Treatment for separation anxiety in dogs typically involves a multifaceted approach aimed at addressing the underlying behavioral issues and promoting a sense of comfort and security.

Behavioral modification techniques, such as desensitization and counterconditioning, are commonly used to gradually acclimate the dog to short periods of alone time while associating positive experiences, like treats or toys, with these intervals.

Environmental changes play a crucial role, with pet parents creating a designated safe space for their dogs equipped with familiar items and engaging toys or puzzle feeders for mental stimulation.

Consistent positive reinforcement training and the establishment of a predictable routine contribute to reducing anxiety.

Dog Separation Anxiety Medication

In some cases, veterinarians may recommend medications to assist in managing separation anxiety. Reconcile, an FDA-approved selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), and Clomicalm, a tricyclic antidepressant, are examples of medications that may be prescribed to address anxiety-related symptoms in dogs. Additionally, dietary supplements like Solliquin, containing ingredients such as L-theanine, magnolia, and phellodendron, are designed to support balanced behavior and relaxation in dogs.

Home Remedies for Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Home remedies complement professional treatment and include creating a designated safe space within the home, establishing a consistent routine, providing interactive toys for mental stimulation, and incorporating calming scents, such as lavender. It’s crucial for pet parents to work closely with their veterinarians to tailor a comprehensive treatment plan based on the specific needs of their dogs.

Cost to Treat

While the costs associated with treating separation anxiety can vary, ranging from $200 to $1,000 or more, the investment is significant for the long-term well-being and improved quality of life for dogs experiencing this challenging condition.

Dog Separation Anxiety: Training and Management

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Beyond medication, pet parents can take various proactive steps to effectively manage their dog’s separation anxiety. Implementing a combination of training, environmental adjustments, and supportive measures can significantly contribute to a more positive experience for the dog. Some ideas include:

Separation Anxiety Training

Desensitization: Gradually expose the dog to short periods of alone time, starting with brief intervals and progressively extending them to build tolerance.

Counterconditioning: Associate positive experiences with being home alone, such as providing treats or engaging toys, to create a positive association with solitude.

Identify and Remove Anxiety Triggers

Analyze departure cues: Dogs may associate specific actions (putting on shoes, grabbing keys) with their pet parent leaving, so varying these cues can help reduce anticipatory anxiety.

Modify departure routine: Changing the routine before leaving can help make departures less predictable and, consequently, less anxiety-inducing.

Create a Safe and Comfortable Space

Designated safe zone: Set up a specific area in the home where the dog feels secure, equipped with familiar items like their bed, toys, and comforting blankets.

Calming scents: Use soothing scents, such as lavender, in the designated space to promote relaxation, or consider an Adaptil diffuser, which releases dog-appeasing pheromones that help dogs feel calm and relaxed.

Special Dog Crates or Playpens

Cozy crates: Provide a comfortable crate with soft bedding, making it a secure and inviting space for the dog, and consider a crate cover to give it a “den-like” atmosphere.

Playpens: Use playpens to give the dog a confined yet spacious area, reducing the feeling of isolation.

Interactive Toys and Puzzles

Mental stimulation: Engage the dog with interactive toys or puzzle feeders to keep them mentally stimulated and distracted during periods of separation.

Consistent Routine

Establish predictability: Dogs thrive on routine, so maintaining a consistent daily schedule can help alleviate anxiety. This includes regular feeding times, walks, and play sessions.

Positive Reinforcement

Reward calm behavior: Reinforce calm behavior by praising and rewarding the dog when they remain relaxed during departures and arrivals.

Seek Professional Guidance

Consult with a professional trainer or behaviorist: Enlist the help of a professional dog trainer or behaviorist to develop a customized training plan based on the specific needs of the dog.

By combining these strategies, pet parents can create a supportive environment that promotes a sense of security and comfort for their dogs. It’s essential to approach separation anxiety management holistically and be patient and consistent in implementing these measures over time.


Understanding separation anxiety in dogs, its causes, and effective management strategies empowers pet parents to provide the support and care their canine companions need. Early intervention and a holistic approach contribute to the overall well-being of dogs dealing with this challenging condition.

Related Conditions

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Noise phobias
  • Aggression issues


  1. Horowitz D. Separation-related behaviours in dogs and cats. In: Horowitz D., Mills D., editors. BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Behavioural Medicine. BSAVA; Gloucester, UK: 2017. pp. 211–222.
All About Separation Anxiety in Dogs | Great Pet Care (2024)
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