Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Published Apr. 29, 2024
A Beagle looks out the window for his pet parent.

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In This Article


What Is Separation Anxiety in Dogs?

Separation anxiety in dogs is a behavioral disorder characterized by anxiety and distress when a dog is away from their pet parent. The condition typically occurs when a pet parent leaves, and it often includes excessive excitement, clingy behavior, and restlessness upon the pet parent’s return. 

Separation anxiety is one of the most common behavioral disorders in dogs.  The condition affects not only the dog but also the pet parent, and can put a strain on the human-animal bond.

Separation anxiety can cause severe stress and emotional trauma for the dog, and often results in environmental and household damage and costly repairs for their pet parents.

Symptoms of Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Dogs with separation anxiety show symptoms in the absence of their pet parent, and often prior to their departure.

Common symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs include:

Causes of Separation Anxiety in Dogs

The exact cause of separation anxiety in dogs is not usually known. However, genetic and environmental factors or early negative experiences in a pup’s life may contribute to the development of separation anxiety.

Such factors might include:

  • The attitude and actions of a pet parent toward the dog, such as negative reinforcement or punishment

  • Changes in the family dynamic, such as the death of a family member

  • Rehoming

  • Transition of a pet parent from staying home to working outside the home

  • Frustration or boredom from a lack of enrichment activities and resources, such as:

    • Toys

    • Food

    • Play time

    • Adequate exercise

    • A play area

Older dogs are more likely to develop separation anxiety, since they are less able to cope with changes in their surroundings. 

How Veterinarians Diagnose Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Since separation anxiety in dogs is a behavioral disorder, there is no specific test your veterinarian can use to diagnose the condition.

Videos and descriptions of your dog’s behavior are typically most helpful in helping the vet identify and evaluate symptoms that occur and worsen in your absence. An indoor pet camera can be used to document such behavior and help your vet reach an accurate diagnosis. 

In addition, your veterinarian may perform tests including blood work, urine testing, and hormone tests—such as a thyroid panel—to rule out other conditions, since symptoms are often vague and may be attributed to an underlying disease. For instance, pain from arthritis can manifest as restlessness, and urinary accidents can be caused by a urinary tract infection.

Your veterinarian will want to ensure your pup has healthy organ function if and when medication is needed. 

Treatment of Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Early recognition, intervention, and treatment are important to prevent symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs from worsening.

Multiple forms of management are available for separation anxiety in dogs. However, not all of them will be effective for your pup and it’s important to work with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist to create an effective treatment plan.

You will also need to provide frequent updates about your dog’s progress so adjustments to the treatment plan can be made as needed.

Behavior modification is the foundation of separation anxiety treatment and requires time, effort, and patience from you and your dog. Be consistent. Never punish your dog—this will only increase their anxiety and worsen unwanted behaviors. 

A consistent daily routine can help your dog establish expectations for when they will receive attention and when they will be alone.

Teach your dog calming behaviors, such as “settle,” by rewarding them for relaxing in a specific location, such as a mat or crate, and gradually increasing the amount of time they spend there.

Training should focus not only on the behavioral response (such as “sit,” “lie down,” or “stay,”) but also on your dog’s emotional state, emphasizing calm and relaxed behavior. Reward behavioral characteristics such as relaxed facial muscles, regular and slow breathing, sitting with one leg tucked under their body, and positioning the ears to the side or forward.

Desensitizing your dog to pre-departure cues can also help reduce their anxiety. These

cues—such as picking up your car keys, packing your lunch, or putting on your shoes—are the behaviors youexhibit prior to leaving.

These actions can be a significant source of distress for your dog. You can help decrease your dog’s anxiety by changing up your routine, performing these actions when you are not leaving, or avoiding as many of them as possible.

You can also offer your dog a special treat to help distract them as you are preparing to leave.

Ultimately, the goal of behavioral modification is to teach your dog that being alone is not a bad thing. To increase their confidence, gradually increase the amount of time your dog spends alone. This requires patience and is often the most challenging part of behavior modification. 

Pheromones or nutraceuticals can help your dog relax in your absence. Examples of pheromone products include:

  • Adaptil®: These products contain dog-appeasing pheromone (DAP), which mimics the soothing effect of a nursing dog

  • Solliquin®: This product contains a blend of plant extracts and other relaxing ingredients that have been shown to help calm dogs

  • Rescue Remedy®: This is a more natural stress relief option that is added to your dog’s drinking water

Medications are not suitable for all dogs and aren’t considered a cure. However, when used in addition to a training program, medications can help relieve the fear of being alone. Moreover, some medications improve a dog’s ability to learn new tasks. 

Commonly prescribed medications include:

Some medications are more effective in the short term, whereas others require several weeks before the behaviors improve. Adhere to your veterinarian’s guidelines and keep all recheck appointments for your pup, as many of these medications require monitoring and should not be suddenly discontinued. 

It’s important to limit a dog’s ability to hurt themselves or their surroundings.

A crate can be helpful but may worsen your dog’s anxiety if they are hesitant. Never force your dog to use their crate.

Create a safe space for your pup by:

  • Placing their crate in a quiet location
  • Adding an Adaptil® diffuser nearby
  • Feeding them in this spot
  • Providing a special food or treat in the area
  • Playing soothing (e.g., classical) music

Ignore your dog prior to leaving and upon arrival so you don’t reinforce their excitement and excessive attachment to you. Exercising your dog for 30 minutes prior to leaving and ignoring them for 10 minutes after you return can help them calm down. 

Manage absences by minimizing the time your dog spends alone. For example, you may be able to:

  • Take your dog to work with you
  • Take your dog to daycare or leave them with a family member or friend
  • Use a pet sitter

Recovery and Management of Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Complete recovery of separation anxiety in dogs can be quite challenging, and behavioral modification can be taxing for pet parents.

Although studies show the effectiveness of certain medications for separation anxiety, every dog is different and different responses to treatment can occur, so a trial period may be necessary to determine an effective medication and dose.

It’s important to partner with your veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist, as routine monitoring will be necessary to ensure your dog’s anxiety is well managed.

Over time, you should be able to spend more time away from your dog, and they should exhibit fewer symptoms upon your departure, arrival, and while you’re away. 

Unfortunately, there’s no exact timeline for when to expect your dog’s behavior to improve, since each dog is different. Treatment can be demanding of your time and patience, and even when all efforts have been exhausted, treatment may be ineffective in severe cases. Humane euthanasia may be required in cases where the dog is hurting themself or others.

Prevention of Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Separation anxiety in dogs is not completely preventable, but teaching your dog to spend time alone can help prevent them from becoming overly attached to you. Be aware of how much time you spend with your dog and how you act before leaving and upon arrival. 

When you bring home a new puppy, socialize them and teach them how to spend time by themselves. Start early and use positive reinforcement to reward behaviors you want to continue. Never use any form of negative reinforcement or punishment.

If a sudden schedule change is necessary, such as having to go back into the office after working from home, or you anticipate a major lifestyle change, such as getting married or divorced, you may see a shift in your dogs’ behavior.

If possible, gradually acclimate them to the change, instead of expecting them to adapt suddenly.


Harvey N, et al. Impact of Changes in Time Left Alone on Separation-Related Behaviour in UK Pet Dogs. Animals. 2022;12(482), pp. 1–15.

Lenkei R, et al. Separation-related behavior of dogs shows association with their reactions to everyday situations that may elicit frustration or fear. Nature Portfolio: Scientific Reports. 2021;11(19207).

Michael Kearley, DVM


Michael Kearley, DVM


Dr. Michael Kearley graduated from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. He graduated with a certificate in...

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