How to Resolve Dog Separation Anxiety: Solutions & Training Plan!

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Dog Training By Kayla Fratt 28 min read October 1, 2022 10 Comments

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Most people discover that their dog has separation anxiety the hard way.

Usually the discovery comes in a few different forms. Maybe the neighbors complain of constant howling and barking. Or perhaps your dog has dug into the doors or chewed through a window sill. You may even come home to find your dog has escaped his crates and broken teeth in a panic.

Separation anxiety can be emotionally exhausting to deal with, both for the dog and the owner. It’s not a sign of how much your dog loves you — it’s essentially a panic disorder.

Luckily, the treatment for separation anxiety is pretty straightforward. All you need to do is systematically teach your dog that being alone isn’t a cause for alarm. The problem is that this training is often slow going and disruptive to our work and social lives.

Resolving full-blown separation anxiety can be a long road, but the good news is that separation anxiety (SA) is one of the more serious behavior problems with the highest rates of success.

Let’s look at how to resolve your dog’s separation anxiety disorder, from start to finish!

Why Do Dogs Get Separation Anxiety?

We’ve bred dogs for thousands of years to enjoy human companionship.

Most of our dog breeds, especially the ones that are popular today, exist because they provide companionship to us. Our dogs love being around us, so is it any wonder that some dogs get separation anxiety?

But not all dogs develop this kind of panic when left alone. So why does it happen?

Separation Anxiety Risk Factors

There are a few risk factors that make dogs more likely to develop a separation anxiety disorder:

  1. Coming from a pet store. In a study of over 400 dogs, researchers found that dogs from pet stores were 30% more likely to display “separation-related behaviors” than dogs from breeders. The researchers suggest that adverse early life experiences at the pet stores may have affected the puppy’s brains, making them more vulnerable to stress later in life.
  2. Hyper-attachment to the owner. Maybe. Dogs are social animals and some dogs just love staying super close to their owners — they are constantly touching or they follow their owners to the bathroom. We often call these dogs “clingy,” “hyper-attached,” or “Velcro dogs.”

    A 2001 Tufts University study found that dogs that are “clingy” are more likely to have separation anxiety. But this might be a chicken-or-the-egg sort of situation where clinginess is a symptom of SA rather than a warning sign.

    That said, a study in 2006 on dog-human relationships and separation anxiety found no such link between clingy dogs and separation anxiety disorder.
  3. Living with just one owner. The same 2001 study also found that more dogs living with a single owner suffer from separation anxiety disorders than dogs that live with multiple owners. In fact, having just one owner made a dog 2.5 times more likely to have separation anxiety than a dog with several owners!
  4. Being a rescue dog. Rescue dogs and dogs that had been previously abandoned were more likely to suffer from separation anxiety according to the 2001 Tufts study referenced earlier. After being abandoned, a dog may be more fearful that you will leave and never return!
  5. Recent changes in the home. The same Tufts University study found that about 16% of owners could recall a change in the home (such as a divorce or move) before their dog started suffering from separation anxiety. However, 10% of owners also reported recent changes while noting that their dogs hadn’t developed anxiety.

Research seems to dictate that rescue dogs, pet store dogs, and single-owner dogs all seem to be more likely to suffer from some form of SA.

lonely dog with separation anxiety

Experts Weigh in on What Does NOT Cause Separation Anxiety

We’ve discussed a bit about what causes separation anxiety in dogs. Now let’s talk about what does not cause SA, despite what you may have heard anecdotally.

For one, it’s a myth that spoiling your dog or sleeping with her makes her more likely to develop separation anxiety. This just isn’t supported by the research, so spoil away!

puppy sleeping in bed

Malena DeMartini, author of Treating Separation Anxiety in Dogs and instructor of the $99 Mission Possible Separation Anxiety course, says:

One that I hear so commonly from friends and family is that people have caused separation anxiety by coddling their dogs. That’s just really not true.

Separation anxiety is a panic disorder, and letting your dog sleep with you or join you on outings does not cause separation anxiety. It’s actually pretty hard to “create” a separation anxiety dog.

Just like people with anxiety, depression, or panic disorders can have these problems in the best possible homes, separation anxiety seems to have a strong genetic component.

It’s also worth noting that dogs are not exhibiting separation anxiety out of any purposeful anger or disobedience. Remember, dogs with separation anxiety have an anxiety disorder. There is no intention or ulterior motive behind your dog’s actions.

Dr. Jen Summerfield, a veterinarian who specializes in tough behavior cases and has first-hand experience with separation anxiety in her own dog, chimed in that:

The most common misconception I see is that the dog is acting out of spite, or because he’s “mad” that the owner left him alone. SA [Separation Anxiety] dogs can sometimes be very destructive, or they may get into garbage and make a mess, or have housetraining accidents while the owner is away.

These are really frustrating problems to deal with, so it’s easy for owners to assume that the dog is intentionally causing trouble to get back at them for leaving. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth!

Also, don’t assume that bringing home another canine buddy for your current fur pal will resolve the issue.

A 2014 study on preventing separation anxiety in shelter dogs found that having another dog in the house did nothing to prevent dogs from developing a separation anxiety disorder.


To conclude, dogs probably develop separation anxiety disorders thanks to a combination of genetic factors, early life experiences, fears, and traumatic experiences as an adult.

Like with most things, SA is a combination of nature and nurture.

Signs of Dog Separation Anxiety

It’s time to observe your dog and see how she responds when you take off.

Set up your laptop, phone, or another recording device one day while you’re out of the house (or monitor your dog live via a Furbo or Petcube camera).

Dogs with separation anxiety may display signs of distress, with common symptoms that include:

  • Panting or pacing constantly while you’re gone
  • Fully dilated pupils
  • Howling, excessive barking, or whining
  • Jumping or scratching at the door
  • Excessive drooling that’s more than usual
  • Digging at the door
  • Breaking teeth or nails trying to escape
  • Refusing to eat or drink or play while alone
  • Self-harm
  • Destructive chewing towards doors and crates
  • Inappropriate urinating and elimination (when they’ve already been house trained)

With canine separation anxiety, a dog’s anxious behaviors usually will get worse, rather than better, when you’re gone longer.

In comparison, dogs who are just bored or under-exercised won’t look as frantic and panicked.

Dogs with separation anxiety are also unlikely to focus their destruction on food thievery. If your dog is stealing food, destroying the couch, or getting into the trash, she’s probably bored or under-exercised. For these dogs, try upping their daily walks to ensure they get plenty of exercise and see if you notice an improvement!

Dogs with separation anxiety disorders often direct their destruction at escape. They destroy crates, doors, and windows as they try to find you.

Be prepared for what you might see when you watch the video of your dog alone — it can be really tough to watch. Watching video of a dog with full-blown separation anxiety is one of the most sobering things that I do as a dog behavior consultant.

Here’s an example of what a separation anxiety disorder can look like when a dog is left home alone:

If you watch video of your dog alone, it’s generally easy to figure out if your dog has separation anxiety. Once you’ve identified the problem, it’s time to get to work fixing it.

Dog Separation Anxiety Solutions: Fixing Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety

If you know that your dog has separation anxiety, I have good news for you: You really only have one job.

The bad news? That job isn’t easy.

Your main job is to teach your dog that being alone is no big deal.

Most separation anxiety protocols revolve around one idea: systematic desensitization. You need to begin by only leaving your dog alone for as long as he can handle, slowly building up his tolerance (kind of like starting to train for a marathon).

You only have so much bandwidth when it comes to training your dog, so don’t waste your time with treatments that aren’t going to help.


At the end of the day, the gold standard for separation anxiety is desensitization training.

Desensitization is simply exposing your dog to an amount of alone time that she can handle, then gradually increasing that time period.

Start with just leaving your dog alone for a few seconds (or even just stepping away from your dog if that’s all she can handle), then gradually build up the tolerance until your dog can handle a more extended period of alone time.


Unfortunately, if your dog can only be left alone for 30 seconds before she panics, this is no small task. This is where canine behavior medication can come in handy.

Dog Separation Anxiety Medication: Do Meds Help?

Veterinarian Dr. Chris Pachel has some great things to say about separation anxiety medication and how it can complement a training plan. He points out that if a dog can’t handle being left alone, it’s easy to end up with a “one step forward, two steps back” treatment plan.

Sure, you might be able to get your dog to tolerate 20 minutes of alone time over the weekend. But you undo all of that on Monday when you go to work.

Behavior medication can help take the edge off for dogs that otherwise would backslide behaviorally every single day.

Behavioral medications like Xanax and Clomipramine will help get through the bumpy early bit of separation anxiety training. Since you often can’t leave your dog alone for more than a few minutes at first, behavior medication is indispensable to having a real life without traumatizing your dog.

Behavior medication helps your dog to start to learn that being alone is OK. Just be sure that you wait to administer any medications to your pet until you get the green light from your vet.

medications for arthritic dogs

A study in 2000 showed that giving dogs Clomipramine sped up the resolution of separation anxiety — reducing symptoms as much as three times faster than the placebo group!

Dr. Jen Summerfield is another big advocate of behavioral drugs for treating SA. She says:

“I’m a huge fan of medication as a first-line treatment option for dogs with SA [separation anxiety]. Separation anxiety is a type of panic disorder – so at a physiological level, it’s very much like a person who’s having a panic attack.

A dog who is panicking can’t learn anything useful and isn’t likely to be interested in treats or toys. So until we can get that panic response under control, it’s often hard to make much headway on teaching the dog to be calmer when the owner is away.

From a quality of life standpoint, I also really believe that these dogs are suffering. If we can do something to make them feel better in the short term while we work on the problem, why wouldn’t we want to do that?”

Appropriate medication shouldn’t sedate your dog or make her act like a zombie — it just prevents panic.

While natural remedies may seem appealing, the truth is that pheromone collars and other holistic treatments rarely cut it in the case of panic disorders, though they might take the edge off, according to one 2005 study. However, for most dogs, only real medical drugs will have enough of a calming effect.

Once your dog is appropriately medicated (thanks to a vet), it’s time to get started with the learning.

CBD for Separation Anxiety

In addition to traditional behavioral medications, some owners have begun using canine CBD supplements for dogs suffering from separation anxiety.

CBD (short for cannabidiol) is a naturally occurring substance found in Cannabis plants. CBD is non-psychoactive, meaning that it will not make your pet feel “high,” and it is largely considered safe for use in dogs.

You’ll still want to speak to your vet before you begin administering CBD to your pet, but once you get your vet’s go ahead, you’ll likely find that it is very easy to use.

The Anxious Pet CBD


We explain everything you need to know in our Canine CBD Oil Guide (there’s even a free eBook you can download from the article).

We also identify some of our favorite brands in the canine CBD space, such as The Anxious Pet.

In fact, for a limited time, K9 of Mine readers can enjoy a 20% discount on all of The Anxious Pet’s CBD supplements — just enter the code K9OFMINE at checkout!

Dog Separation Anxiety Training Plan: Step-By-Step Desensitization Guide

Here’s what your desensitization plan should look like for beginning to resolve your dog’s separation anxiety.

  1. Determine What Your Dog’s “Threshold” Is. This is the level at which your dog starts to become distressed once you leave the house (or even the room). This might be right away, or it might be after a few hours of your absence. Film your dog to see exactly when this happens.
  2. Build Upon Your Dog’s Threshold. If your dog’s stress level is so high that she can’t tolerate you being gone for even a second, you’ll have to practice closing the door partway, then returning. Then closing it fully and opening it again immediately. Then leaving for two seconds.
  3. Don’t Be Afraid of Making it Easy. If your dog gets upset at any level, make it easier. Going slow is far better than going too fast, as it’s easy to have a single mistake that sets you back weeks. If you see your dog reacting poorly, dial back the time. Going backwards and reducing the time spent alone before adding more is very normal (and recommended)! Your time chart will likely be full of small ups and downs in time spent away.
  4. Watch the Trigger Stacking. Dogs can get more and more stressed throughout a day or week, just like us. If your dog has already had a rough day or week, take it easy on the desensitization training for a little bit.
  5. Repeat But Take Breaks. It’s fine to do multiple exits with your dog, but keep it to three rounds per session, and leave one hour in-between each session. Don’t overwhelm your dog!

Second by second, day by day, you’ll be able to build up your dog’s tolerance. Most people find that after the first few minutes of alone time, their dogs improve a bit more quickly.

You can put together your own dog separation anxiety training plan if you’d like. Here’s a peek at what your desensitization plan might look like:

Date of TrainingAmount of Time Left AloneDog’s Response & Reaction
1/4/20195 secCrying, scratching at cage
1/4/20192 secWhining lightly, no scratching
1/4/20193 secSingle whine
1/5/20192 secNo whining

Alternatively, you can print our dog separation anxiety training plan worksheet for free here!

Other Important Tips:

  • When you return, calmly ignore your dog. Don’t give praise or attention, just walk back into the room as if everything is normal. The goal is to make your coming and going very boring and uneventful, not a mini-party!
  • Try not to leave your dog alone for longer than he can handle. It’s really tough, but try not to leave your dog alone for longer than what you’ve successfully completed with the training plan. The person home doesn’t have to be you — it can be a friend or neighbor, but avoid any Home Alone-style activity.
  • Vary the time spent — mix in shorter periods. You want to structure your timesheet to oscillate (aka, ups and downs in terms of time your dog is left alone). It’s not fun to learn something when things are always getting harder, so give your pup some easy wins. This will improve your pup’s confidence and work better in the long run!

You want incremental progress. But slow and steady wins the race for SA, along with most other forms of behavior modification.

What About When I Need to Be Away For Several Hours?

The really tough part about separation anxiety is what to do when you have to leave your dog for longer than she can handle. In an ideal world, you won’t leave her for too long at all, but most of us live in the real world, not an ideal world.

If you know you’re going to be leaving your dog for too long, use medication or get help — maybe even both.

A dogsitter or friendly dogwalker may be able to take a load off while you get a much-needed break from your constant canine shadow. Dog day care may be another option for dogs that can handle being around other pooches. Medication can help reduce the negative effects of leaving your dog for too long.

You may also want to consider talking to your employer about the option of working from home for a while.

Again, this all sounds daunting. But separation anxiety actually has a pretty high rate of “success,” unlike some of the other behavior issues that I work with regularly.

Some dogs with separation anxiety are never fully “fixed,” but they’re often able to live fully regular and happy lives with a bit of management or ongoing medication.

What Won’t Help When it Comes to Curing Separation Anxiety in Dogs

There are a lot of common dog training myths around separation anxiety, do let’s dispel some of those misunderstandings and discuss what does not resolve canine anxiety.

Nothing in Life if Free (NILIF)

You’ll often hear of trainers recommending the Nothing In Life Is Free (NILIF) protocol to treat separation anxiety. The idea with NILIF is that a dog only gets reward, attention, or treats when they do something you, the owner, wants.

Some compare it to making your dog “say please”.

When applied, to treating anxiety, the somewhat convoluted idea is that the NILIF technique will teach your dog to look to you for “guidance” and “leadership,” and that somehow this will reduce anxiety.

NILIF isn’t a bad concept; it can be helpful in some situations (like demand barking). But I really don’t recommend using this strategy to treat separation anxiety, because “structure” and “leadership” won’t fix anxiety and panic!

Separation anxiety specialist Moira Hechenleiter Vergara adds:

“Setting up the rule “nothing in life is free” as a training measure won’t solve the problem, and furthermore could make it worse. A dog who is experiencing Separation Anxiety is in constant stress, and adding a new stress – such as not paying attention to him anymore – can promote more stress, making things even worse.”

Keep in mind that a panic disorder cannot be remedied by obedience training, because panic is not a behavior, but rather an emotion that can drive unwanted behavior (like house soiling, crying, and destruction).

Desensitizing to Departure Cues

Many often-recommend treatments — such as desensitizing your dog to departure cues (like picking up your keys or putting on your shoes and coat without leaving) and counterconditioning (offering treats while you’re gone) — did not help dogs in a 2011 study more than simple systematic desensitization.

So, if you have limited energy, focus on the one goal: building up your pup’s tolerance for being alone.

Malena Demartini adds:

“A lot of people spend a lot of energy on adjunct treatments like leaving the TV on, using a thunder shirt, and getting adaptil collars. While these treatments might fall into the “can’t hurt” category, they actually can hurt because they take so much emotional energy and time away from the actual desensitization work that needs to be done.”

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with desensitizing your dog to departure cues, don’t let that distract you from what matters – getting your dog comfortable with being home alone.

How to Prevent a Dog From Getting Separation Anxiety

Like with most behavior problems, there are some steps that you can take to prevent your dog from developing separation anxiety.

While it’s no guarantee (since genetics and early life experiences surely play a role), there are a few things that you can do to protect your dog from developing this panic disorder.

Assuming that you’ve done your best to pick out a dog or puppy from a good source, you’ve already stacked the genetics and early life experiences in your favor.

1. Teach Your Dog That It’s OK To Be Alone

With any new dog, it’s important to start teaching your dog early that being alone is normal and good.

Even if you don’t have to, start leaving your puppy alone with food and engaging items (or — best of all — frozen food-stuffed toys) for brief periods of time.

Put your puppy in a crate or canine x-pen while you shower, grab the mail, or run to the gym.

These smaller absences, paired with food treats, will help teach your puppy that you being gone is totally normal. If at all possible, start slow with short absences rather than going straight to a full work day of alone time!

Going straight from being with you all the time to long periods of your sudden absence can be very stressful for a canine!

2. Distract Your Dog With Treasure Hunts When You Leave The House

You can also make alone time fun using a modified morning routine. Before you leave for work or school, put your dog away in a crate or the bathroom for a few minutes. Then hide her food, cow’s ears, dental chews, stuffed peanut butter toys, and other tasty treats all around the house.

Dogs who don’t have separation anxiety will love spending time looking for food. If your dog won’t eat while you’re gone, you already have a problem.

why does my dog lick carpet

3. Use Technology To Remotely Reward Alone Time

Finally, technology can help teach your dog to be alone with comfort and grace. The Treat N’Train, Petcube, or Furbo both allow you to reward your dog remotely.

This allows you to teach your dog that you being gone actually makes treats happen.

These tech gadgets differ a bit in the specifics (the Furbo, for example, is a treat dispensing pet camera and includes a barking sensor, while the Treat N’Train is slightly cheaper, doesn’t have a camera, and works better with soft treats), but they are all excellent options for preventing canine anxiety or treating mild separation anxiety.

This video from The Verge gives a nice oversight of how Furbo works and some of its core benefits:

Just don’t rely on gadgets to fix moderate to severe anxiety — most dogs who are really suffering won’t eat the food even if it’s given to them.

How Do You Know If Your Dog Has Separation Anxiety?

You come home from work and find a nasty note from your neighbor complaining about howling from your dog — again.

Or you return home from class to find that your dog has peed all over the house, destroyed the curtains, unstuffed your couch, or dug through the door. Does your dog have SA?

Separation anxiety is a bit hard to pin down. Most animal behavior experts will draw lines between separation anxiety, separation distress, isolation distress, and other nitty-gritty terms based on if the dog is attached to one person, all people, or if “any warm body will do.”


For the purpose of treatment, though, it doesn’t really matter much if your dog suffers from separation anxiety versus isolation distress. Either way, your dog panics while you’re gone.

Separation anxiety can be a terrible, full-blown panic attack when the dog is alone (or at least away from her owner).

There’s another reason to put separation anxiety firmly in the category of panic or anxiety disorder: As many as 88% of dogs with noise phobias also have separation anxiety.

In the words of the authors of the 2001 Tufts study:

“This suggests that the interaction of multiple pathologic responses to noise likely reflects an altered dysfunctional underlying neurochemical substrate or is the result of one. “

In other words, dogs that struggle with both SA and noise phobias might have unusual brains that respond to stress differently.

One of the heartbreaking things about separation anxiety is that most dogs with this issue are wonderful, loving pets – as long as they’re with you.

You’d never suspect that most dogs with SA have any “behavior issues,” because they’re often model citizens — until they panic when left alone.

Remember, your dog with separation anxiety isn’t mad that you left. She’s petrified and has a panic disorder.

That’s why treating this problem with dog behavior medications and big words (like systematic desensitization) is far more important than implementing the standard basics like structure, leadership, or exercise.

Is it Separation Anxiety or Boredom?

There are a lot of similarities between the symptoms of separation anxiety and a bored, untrained, and under-exercised dog.

If you just look at the results — elimination in the house and destruction when you’re gone — it can be hard to tell the difference between an anxioous dog and a bored dog.


Most animal behaviorists and trainers (myself included) recommend filming your dog while you’re gone to diagnose the issue.

Dr. Jen Summerfield agrees. She says:

“While it’s true that dogs who don’t get enough exercise or mental stimulation can be inclined to get into mischief while their owners are gone, this should NOT cause obvious signs of anxiety like whining, howling, panting and pacing, excessive salivation, escape attempts, etc.

If you think your dog might have SA [separation anxiety], the most helpful thing you can do right off the bat is get some video of them while you’re away! It’s usually fairly easy to tell based on the video whether the dog is anxious or just bored.”

Will Bark Collars Help With Dog Separation Anxiety?

It’s really tempting to put a bark collar (shock or citronella) on your dog if she’s disturbing the neighborhood.

However, this can be a really bad idea. Malena Demartini says:

“People often get caught up with the outward symptoms and outward manifestations. But people need to remember that we can’t fix the barking without fixing the anxiety, because those are just the symptoms of the underlying anxiety. If you are frightened of something, and every time you start to show your fear, someone whacks you up side the head, how is that going to affect your fear?”

In Demartini’s experience working with hundreds of dogs with separation anxiety, she’s found that bark collars — whether they’re shock collars or citronella collars — won’t really fix the anxiety.

They may stop the barking, but this can also lead to the dog destroying things, having accidents, or injuring itself trying to escape.

Ultimately, while the incessant barking may be one of the more frustrating aspects of SA (especially for your neighbors), and effort to resolve the barking will only be treating the symptom (barking) instead of the underlying solution (your dog’s panic at your absence).

Demartini even tells the story of “the sweetest little dog ever” who barked nonstop when alone thanks to his anxiety. When his owner started using a bark collar, he stopped barking.

But soon afterwards, when his owner approached him before leaving, he started attacking her and biting — hard. He was so upset about the bark collar that instead of just being scared when left alone, he actually became aggressive towards his owner.

True behavior modification takes time, patience, and compassion. Quick fixes like bark collars will end up hurting your dog in the long run.

To Crate, or Not to Crate For Separation Anxiety?

One more thing to keep in mind if your pup has SA is where to leave her while you’re gone. It seems intuitive to leave her in a crate, where her destruction or mess is contained.

In fact, most dogs with severe separation anxiety will be more relaxed if they’re left outside of the crate.

It may take some time and training to wean your dog off of the crate, but sometimes eliminating the crate entirely is the way to go.

puppy in crate

My own dog, Barley, started suffering from some separation anxiety when we started living out of AirBnbs instead of a regular apartment. The constant moving really messed with his routine! When we stopped crating him and stepped up our hidden treat game, his SA almost evaporated.

That said, sometimes it’s just not possible to leave your dog out of the crate. In that case, you might want to look into an extra durable dog crate for dogs with separation anxiety. Crates like these can keep your pup and your stuff safe.

Keep in mind that some dogs who are really determined can actually hurt themselves more on these heavy-duty crates (by digging, breaking teeth, or nails), so be careful here.

If you do plan on leaving your dog in the crate, make sure to properly crate train your dog so that the crate becomes a relaxing safe space rather than something associated with fear and punishment.

This can be done through crate training games and starting with just a few minutes in the crate at a time before slowly increasing the duration. You absolutely don’t want to leave your dog crying in his crate, as this does nothing to build a positive association with the crate. Locking an unhappy dog in the crate simply reinforces the idea that the crate is a scary, stressful place to be.

Another option that can be less stressful for anxious dogs is to gate off a dog-proof area of the house (like the kitchen or bathroom) so that your dog has more space and won’t feel quite as trapped as he may feel enclosed in a crate.

Will Toys, Treats, or Exercise Fix My Dog’s Separation Anxiety?

Maybe. The jury is still out on this one.

Dr. Jen Summerfield advocates using hidden treats as her main SA treatment method, citing their simplicity for owners. Pairing hidden treats with anti-anxiety medication is enough for many dogs.

But other studies have pointed to treats having little effect on separation anxiety. In my personal experience with dogs (in situations where owners shunned medication), treats did not help much. The dogs were simply too panicked to eat for even the slightest absence.


Instead, we just focused on slow and steady desensitization.

Likewise, exercising your dog to the point of exhaustion won’t fix her separation anxiety. It might reduce the energy that she puts into an escape, but it won’t fix the underlying panic.

That being said, boosting your dog’s exercise regimen certainly won’t hurt, and is likely still a good idea for keeping your dog safe and burning off some of that excess anxious energy.

Your Best Bet For Fixing Separation Anxiety? Desensitization, Drug Therapy, & Treat Combo

Hidden treats and interactive puzzle toys cannot hurt anxious dogs, in my experience. But they might not help enough. Dogs that are really panicking just won’t eat stuffed Kongs or play with a puzzle toy.

If you opt for hidden treat distractions instead of desensitization, you’ll probably need anti-anxiety medication as a compliment. If you opt for a really well-thought-out desensitization plan, you might not need treats or drug therapy.

I always urge owners to do all three: desensitization, medication, and treats. I often find that most owners are comfortable picking two of the three.

If you follow the advice in this guide and are still struggling, consider getting in contact with a veterinary behaviorist (not your standard vet) who can help you create a specialized drug and desensitization training plan to help with your dog’s panic disorder.

Separation Anxiety in Dogs FAQ

What causes separation anxiety in dogs?

We explore this in detail above in our guide. But, the most common reasons include:

1) Coming from a pet store
2) Hyper-attachment to their owner
3) Living with a single (one) owner
4) Coming from a shelter
5) Recent changes to home life

What are home remedies for treating separation anxiety in dogs?

The most important element for treating separation anxiety is getting your dog comfortable with being alone.

In our training plan within this guide, we take you through step-by-step on how to desensitize your dog to being alone slowly.

Some other natural home remedies that may help (or may not, depending on how severe your dog’s separation anxiety is) include:

1) CBD dog treats
2) Food-dispensing dog cameras
3) Frozen dog toys and tasty chews
4) Increased exercise
5) Working from home or having dog sitters come over to limit the amount of time your dog is forced to be alone

How do you cure dog separation anxiety quickly?

Unfortunately, while fixing a dog’s separation anxiety with desensitization is fairly simple and straight forward, it is neither easy nor fast.

You need to slowly work your dog up to spending more time alone. You might have to start with just a few minutes, or even 30 seconds in extreme cases.

Anxiety medication can be tremendously useful for boosting your training sessions, as it may help your dog to make progress much more quickly.

What medications are recommended for treating dog separation anxiety?

Clomipramine and canine Xanax can help your dog make significant progress more quickly. Just be sure you are working with a veterinarian and that he or she is OK with you administering these medications.

Alternatively, CBD and dog calming supplements may also help in mild cases, though they’re less likely to work in severe cases.


What helped your dog overcome separation anxiety? We’d love to hear your tips and tricks below!

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Written by

Kayla Fratt

Kayla Fratt is a conservation detection dog trainer and Certified Dog Behavior Consultant. She is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a member of the American Society for K9 Trainers, and is a member of Dog Writer’s Association of America. She lives in her van with her two border collies traveling the country to help biologists detect data with her nonprofit, K9 Conservationists. Before coming to K9 of Mine, Kayla worked at Denver Dumb Friends League and Humane Society of Western Montana as a Behavior Technician. She owns her own dog training business, Journey Dog Training and holds a degree in biology from Colorado College. When she’s not writing or training Barley and Niffler, Kayla enjoys cross-country skiing, eating sushi, drinking cocktails, and going backpacking.


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We have a young labrador retriever who has developed separation anxiety but he isn’t being left alone. He’s very much a velcro dog and he enjoys a great deal of attention and love from everyone. There are 3 adults who have always taken care of him but he’s most strongly attached to my daughter. When he was 6-7 months old I had major surgery and got a joint replaced unfortunately the evening of the surgery I tested positive for Covid-19 and they had to keep me in the hospital for more than a week. By the time I got home I was still very sick and weak and couldn’t handle having a 7 month old lab crawling on me going crazy with excitement. It took another month to recuperate enough to let him in with me. He still sleeps with me and spends a good part of his day with me. But now my daughter has been unable to leave the house without him acting afraid, howling and tearing her stuff up or just breaking things knocking them down running around. This is with me being here, although I am still mostly bedridden because of infections in the new joint and other medical mishaps. He comes in to my room and acts as if he is terrified howling and trembling WHILE I’M PETTING HIM and he’s laying on me! We can’t shut him in with me or he acts even worse and destroyed the carpet before I could get up to stop him he eventually takes treats but is still distressed and destroys things if I let him down. I have never seen a dog that has separation anxiety despite having multiple people who he grew up with right beside him! I’d prefer to not drug him at least not unless we have no choice. She is leaving him out of the bathroom and while he might scratch the door & cry once he is starting to just lay in front of the door until she’s done. My daughter will have to go back to work eventually, so it would be good to get him settled back down to at least the point where he’s comfortable with me while she’s gone. He starts out acting afraid the minute she gets ready to go out, even if she’s taking him out and putting his harness on, after she walks out he starts howling and trembling, if she hasn’t returned in a 10 -20 minutes he starts destroying her stuff, so her boyfriend has been coming over to help keep him from getting things by physically restraining him and taking things away. We have not been putting him in the kennel when he acts like this because I don’t want him to develop kennel anxiety and have him afraid of that or hurt himself which I’m sure he would! Although before I went to the hospital he was fine staying in his kennel for an hour or so. Fortunately we timed my surgery so she’d just graduated from UC Berkeley but now she needs to start making money to pay for that education. We feel like we probably have another month to dedicate to this before she needs to start job hunting and then if he’s not doing well we’ve agreed that he’ll need medication. But the biggest question is should I leave at the same time because technically he’s not alone, or will my staying here make any progress with her just need to be repeated with me so he doesn’t just get better with her and then won’t be able to tolerate me leaving him alone? I’d just go out too except it’s still very difficult to get up and leave the house.

Ben Team

Hey there, Rose.
I’m not sure that your dog is actually suffering from anxiety — it sounds like he may have more generalized anxiety, but we obviously can’t tell from afar.

I’d recommend speaking with a certified dog behavior consultant, and it’d also be a good idea to talk to your vet about things too. But in the meantime, you may want to check out some dog anxiety toys. Sometimes a little extra mental stimulation can help.

Best of luck!


My dog is barking and crying the second I close the door. I know you mentioned starting small and practice leaving with the door open – how do you keep your dog from leaving the room then?

Ben Team

Hey, Cheryl.
That’s easy: Use indoor pet gates!
Aside from your leash and a crate, an indoor dog gate is probably the most important and helpful dog-management tool around.
Best of luck!


We are currently using the method that is going in and out slowly increasing time. So far we are at 12 mins. But I wanted to ask. If they’re whining and howling but no longer pacing, scratching, chewing at the doors.. is that still success? Or are we supposed to have no whining as well? She has improved alot since we have started but wanted to make sure before we keep increasing time that we are on the right path!


Thank you so much for your training program. I am doing it with my 8 month old Cavoodle (a re-home who’s never been alone and has separation anxiety) and am already seeing results alongside the medication prescribed by the vet. I’m up to 10 minutes alone with no reaction! My question is whether or not I should be doing the desensitisation training on the days she is not medicated or just the days she is? She’s on trazapone which works really well but just worry if I do the training when she’s not on the meds she will get anxious.

Meg Marrs

That’s great to hear you’re seeing success Hallie! Hard to say for sure, and I will admit it’s not my area of expertise, but I would say you can try doing the desensitization without medication, just expect that she won’t be able to handle the highest amount of alone time you’ve achieved without the meds. So, for example, maybe just experiment with one or two minutes alone without meds. It might also help to get a dog camera like a PetCube so you can monitor her and see if she’s starting to reach panic mode. The most important thing is that she doesn’t go over threshold and flip out. Whether she can manage that without the meds will really depend on her as an individual.

I’d also suggest consulting with your vet, as he or she might have a better sense of how the medication is affecting her and whether or not it’s OK for her to be on and off the medication.
Good luck and good work being so patient with her! She is a lucky girl.

Tired Roadtripper

How would you tweak the above plan for dogs that only have separation anxiety in certain situations? My rescue dog is a superstar when she’s home alone, but doesn’t cope well if left alone while out and about. For instance, if I want to pop into the market on our walk to buy something for dinner, she’ll start barking by the time I’ve walked 50-100 ft. She also worries if I decide to run an errand on the way to or from a fun excursion (runs, hikes, etc).

I’ve taught her that car = fun times (she was initially afraid of cars and now eagerly jumps in anytime the door’s left open too long). Now, when prepping for a camping trip, she prefers to hang out in the car, in the garage, over running in the yard, even though packing the car takes a while. I know this indicates separation anxiety, but to me it also indicates that at least she doesn’t have negative feelings towards the car per se – she jumps in the car because she wants to make sure she isn’t left behind. I’d like to expand that concept and teach her that car ALWAYS equals never left behind. I’ve tried treats when I leave her in the car, since high reward ‘second breakfasts’ have done wonders to smooth out our many moves. But alone in the car she won’t touch treats, no matter how fancy. She’s better in the car if I run the errand after our hike or run, but that’s not always possible and the paw prints all over the seats indicate that she’s still pacing, just not barking.

I try to keep my dog fit and engaged. She’s my marathon training partner and weekend hike buddy, we do nosework or other fun training games daily. My long work hours and booked weekends simply don’t leave enough time to run all my weekly errands separate from dog-outings. She’s fine at home alone, I’d like her to know that the car is also home, just on wheels.

Kayla Fratt

You’re doing such a great job of giving your dog a great life! Kudos to you. I’d use the step-by-step desensitization guide (found about 2/3 or 3/4 of the way down this article), but modified for the car instead of a crate or bedroom. So leave her in the car for 5 seconds, then 7 seconds, then 6 seconds, then 10 seconds, and so on.


Do you have the password for the desensitisation training plan please?


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