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Living with a dog with separation anxiety is really hard. All of the good advice out there seems to agree on one thing: you can’t keep letting your dog panic when you leave if you want to fix separation anxiety.
So what do you do if you work full time or just want to live a normal life? How do you survive a dog with separation anxiety?
We’ll answer the question in today’s Ask a Behavior Consultant. Hint: the answer isn’t more essential oils or classical music.
PS – if you really want to fix your dog’s separation anxiety, you should try our self-study Separation Anxiety course. It’s taught by Erin Jones, a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant and our resident separation anxiety expert.
My dog is generally well behaved, but has been having unpredictable episodes of separation anxiety lately and cries loudly when I leave the house and continues for hours. I don’t want him to make himself sick or get us in trouble, but I also can’t stay home all the time.
– Sincerely, Help My Hound
One of the hardest things about fixing separation anxiety isn’t the actual training – that’s tedious, but not overly difficult. It’s surviving while you train.
If you’re dealing with a dog with separation anxiety, you might also like these Journey Dog Training resources on the topic:
- What Causes Separation Anxiety? Can I Prevent It?
- Will a Furbo Fix My Dog’s Separation Anxiety?
- 5 Reasons Dogs Bark When Left Alone – Is It Separation Anxiety?
- My Dog Breaks Out of Her Crate to Come Look for Us
- Left Alone: Solving Separation Anxiety (course)
The good news is, separation anxiety is generally a solvable behavior problem. If you stick with a training plan, you’re very likely to be able to solve your dog’s separation anxiety.
Basically, a good separation anxiety training plan revolves around desensitization and counterconditioning. You need to slowly teach your dog that being alone is no big deal.
This is generally done by practicing discouraging your dog from shadowing you and then leaving for short amounts of time (maybe just a few seconds), then returning. During training, you slowly build up your dog’s tolerance.
Exercise, puzzle toys, and treat cameras might all be part of treatment. But don’t spend a ton of time and money on things like Thundershirts, calming music, essential oils, and other unproven treatments.
We’ve already got lots of resources on treating separation anxiety. Today’s blog is all about what to do in the meantime.
What to Do With Your Dog With Separation Anxiety While You’re Away
We don’t want you to feel like a prisoner inside your home, held down by your dog’s anxiety.
But you can’t leave your dog alone to panic, bark, and dig, either.
Here are 6 ideas for things to do with your dog with separation anxiety while you’re away:
- For all day with social dogs: doggie daycare. This option isn’t for every dog or every budget. But for some dogs with separation anxiety, doggie daycare is just the trick. Be sure to read all about selecting a good doggie daycare here. Many doggie daycares offer good deals for frequent guests – be sure to ask if you’re concerned about cost!
- For all day with less-social dogs: stay-in dogsitter. If your dog isn’t into free-for-all playtime with other dogs (which is very normal for adult dogs), a dogsitter is a better option. Plus, dogsitters can come to your place and are often more available for odd hours. College students or young adults who work remotely can make excellent stay-in sitters.
- For short trips in reasonable weather: bring your dog and leave her in the car. If you’ve just got to run to the grocery store and it’s reasonably cool out, it’s probably OK to bring your dog along. Of course, don’t do this for long trips or in extreme weather. When my own dog was struggling with separation anxiety, this is the approach we used most often. I simply shifted my outings to late evening when it was cool enough for Barley to hang in the car.
- For dog-friendly errands or adventures: bring your dog. If you really want to grab a coffee or a bite to eat with a friend, why not just find a dog-friendly patio? If you’re hiking, jogging, or going to home improvement stores, you’re also likely to just be able to bring your dog.
- For budget-minded owners: join a dogshare or work with high school students. My friend Kim started a nanny share for dogs with separation anxiety that’s free. They’re based out of Denver, but it’s growing fast! Bay Area readers can also use Louie’s Club, a free dog sharing app. High school students and college students can also be great resources – they’re also often more affordable than professional sitters.
- When I was in college, I charged just $20 per day to hang out with a dog with separation anxiety all day. “Molly” came to class, went hiking or running with my ski team, and slept at my feet while I did homework.
- For the workday: bring your dog to work. Of course, this isn’t an option for every dog and every job. But it’s worth talking to your boss about whether or not your pup could come to work with you during training.
You don’t have to be a prisoner to your dog’s anxiety. But you do need to find some creative solutions while working on training. It’s often best to have a short list of ideas and people you can rely on – it can take a village to help a dog with separation anxiety.
You’ll be surprised how many of your friends, family, and coworkers step up to help you when you ask for help.
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Kayla founded Journey Dog Training in 2013 to provide high-quality and affordable dog behavior advice. She is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant who’s worked with hundreds of private clients, thousands of shelter dogs, and dozens of working detection dogs. Kayla’s dog and cat behavior advice has been featured in NPR, the Chicago Tribune, and Pet MD. She’s an avid adventurer who is currently doing #vanlife on the Pan-American Highway with her two border collies and a cat. Aside from running Journey Dog Training, Kayla also runs the nonprofit K9 Conservationists, where she and the dogs work as conservation detection dog teams. You can get 1:1 advice with a Journey Dog Training team member here.
The sample plan is a LIFESAVER! My partner and I adopted a 3yo dog in July, and the poor guy has some separation anxiety issues we have to work through that breaks my heart – doubly so given he’s a rescue and had at least 2 previous homes. I’d been reading a LOT about desensitization from many different trainers, and fortunately have the time to do it correctly because of COVID, but I didn’t know where to actually start on creating an appropriate schedule for ramping up and oscillating the time. I finally found the request a free plan by email link on here… In just two weeks, we’ve gone from crying when left alone for 10 minutes to being left alone for over an hour and simply sleeping the whole time we’re away. Sometimes, he doesn’t even care when I return. This is huge, and I’m confident we’ll get where we need to be in short order. My neighbors probably think I’m a creep if they’ve noticed me sitting in my car most of the day on my laptop, but it’s 100% worth it. From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU!!!
I’m SO glad this helped! This is why we do what we do, thank you so much for giving us this feedback. YAY!