Separation anxiety can be challenging for dogs, causing distress when they are apart from their cherished human or animal companion. Even separation from a constant canine friend can trigger anxiety in some dogs. The best support we can offer is to develop independence whilst we are with them at home, allowing them to be calm and content when left alone.

We asked canine behaviourist Caroline Spencer to explain how to identify, avoid or overcome canine separation anxiety and provide some top tips for pet parents.

Causes of separation anxiety in dogs

The level of independence a dog attains is influenced by how we interact with them. If we constantly engage them with distractions like treats and toys or continuously check in on them whether verbally or through touch and even eye contact, it will keep them alert. This often develops into a reliance on your presence and an inability to relax and switch off.

Our emotional state when leaving our dog also plays a role. If we show anxiety or make a fuss when leaving, even for a moment, it can amplify anxiety in our dogs. Remember to make leaving a low key affair. As you leave your dog, be it you are walking to another room or leaving the house, refrain from looking back to check your dog. A look and a walk away is a silent recall and will unsettle your dog from their place of rest. 

Puppies born of anxious mothers, those who have a genetic predisposition to anxiety along with life experiences not only in early life, but also later life, may have their part to play too. Each dog is an individual character and personality with their own likes and dislikes. They will respond to both the familiar and unfamiliar in their own unique way. It’s for us to build their confidence but also to realise that some situations simply need to be managed as opposed to a complete cure.  

Balancing attention

It’s essential to find a balance between providing attention and allowing your dog the opportunity to learn that alone-time is nothing to fear. Excessive entertainment, overstimulation, and constant interaction can lead to a situation where your dog craves attention when you’re home and struggles with the home-alone blues when you’re away.

Separation anxiety between dogs

Separation anxiety can also occur between dogs within the same household. As such, it’s good practice to provide opportunities for individual time with each dog to promote bonding and independence. This can also help mitigate the feelings of anxiety when even the best of  dog pals are apart.

Signs of separation anxiety

Separation anxiety can manifest in various ways, with some common symptoms including:

  • Constantly following you around at home
  • Panting
  • Pacing
  • Excessive shedding
  • Overexcitement upon your return
  • Inappropriate defecation and urination
  • Barking
  • Howling
  • Destructive behaviour


While certain signs or symptoms of separation anxiety may appear mild to us, this does not mean the internal emotions experienced by our dog are mild. All dogs are different and will demonstrate their anxiety in varying ways, some more contained than others. Like humans, some dogs will internalise their emotions rather than display their feelings through behaviour. They may simply lay very still and quiet. This does not mean they feel any less distressed than the dogs displaying the marked behaviour in the list highlighted above. It’s therefore very important to know your individual dog and their normal behaviour.

Dogs are ALWAYS  communicating with us through their body language. As pet parents, when we practise paying closer attention to the smallest signals, it will strengthen our bond and understanding of our canine companions all the more. 

Be careful to interpret behaviours accurately

Many behaviours associated with separation anxiety will look and sound like separation anxiety but manifest for other reasons.

Certain behaviours, common to those that present when a dog is experiencing separation anxiety, may arise due to other causes. Which may or may not be apparent when you are with your dog. So it’s worth placing a recording device up at home when you’re not with your dog. Identifying the root cause of the behaviours before attempting to resolve the issue is essential as each will require a unique solution. 

The following are example of where a problem can manifest in symptoms similar to those experienced with separation anxiety:

  • Fear of specific rooms
  • External noise or other stimuli
  • Pain or age-related vulnerability
  • Recent home changes
  • Spatial preferences
  • Discomfort around other canine companions

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is your dog barking at passers by and guarding the home, keeping it safe from intruders?
  • Does your dog drool and pant on occasions when left?
  • Has there been a storm or is one brewing?
  • Has something fallen in the house that has frightened your dog?
  • Is your dog defecating and urinating in the house all of a sudden?
  • Does your dog have a bladder infection or bowel infestation, infection or upset?

It is always worth a vet check if they’ve suddenly presented with behaviours not previously displayed. Some dogs may be in pain, for example, and can panic when the person who understands them isn’t there. Finding the cause of stress is paramount in being able to help your dog appropriately. 

There are always clues that will help you identify the root cause of the distress. Pay close attention and be sure to consult a professional behaviourist if you are uncertain. 

Begin addressing separation anxiety

Remember, the overall goal is to help your dog develop independence and, in turn, calm confidence being alone. The first aim is to move around a room freely without your dog standing to attention. Then progress to moving around your home without your dog being your shadow and ultimately to leaving your dog comfortably in the house on their own. 

Working through the following four goals at your dogs pace as opposed to your expectations is paramount. Your dog needs time to process the information in their own time. 

1 Desensitise your dog to even your smallest movement within the home

2 Leave a room and return with your dog remaining under threshold of stress

3 Desensitise to all triggers of leaving the home

4 Progress to longer absences and go further from home

Ten tips for pet parents 

Remember that the process is as much about keeping you stress free as it is your dog. Your emotions have a huge part to play in how your dog feels.

Also remember that your dog is not being a bad dog. Showing your frustration towards them for behaviours they are exhibiting will only serve to make the situation worse. 

The following tips are a great starting point:

  • Provide daily exercise and mental stimulation. But avoid excessive exercise and over-stimulation, as it can hinder relaxation. Appropriate exercise for the age and breed of your dog is essential as are sniffing exercises which are equally beneficial whether they do it on a walk or at home. This reduces stress and anxiety and puts the dog in a better position mentally to relax. 
  • Become adept at fitting this process into your daily life. Be mindful of how you are feeling, your stress levels and what you do around your dog.
  • Use surveillance to monitor your dog’s behaviour when you’re not home.
  •  Allow your dog head space to relax and do nothing by not engaging them when you’re occupied with tasks that don’t involve them.
  •  How you are with your dog when you are with them is important for them to be able to relax firstly with you, which will migrate to being able to relax without you. So have your dog in the same room as you without constant attention or distraction measures. Move in your seat, stand up and sit down, making movement normal and not an indication of your departure. Make nothing of your movements by avoiding eye contact unless you are going to call your dog for affection. 
  • When you can move around a room freely without your dog reacting, this is when you begin to simply touch the door and rattle the handle returning to your seat between times. Then open and shut the door until again your dog doesn’t react. Work on your internal doors before attempting the exit doors.
  • Ensure your dog is relaxed before and after any movement you make. If they begin to pace, drop your hand to your side. They will come over. Gently place your hand on their side and they will relax back down to the bed you’ve placed by your side or back onto the sofa.
  • When you exit a room, shut the door behind you, just for seconds initially. This shows your dog you do not need them to be your shadow and gives them peace of mind that you always return and so keeps stress levels below their threshold. 
  • Gradually increase the time you spend apart from your dog. Start with seconds and expand the timeframe as your dog accepts your departure and is peaceful.
  • Begin every day revising the process from the starting point. You’ll progress each day with more ease through the movements. 
  • Working from home is a bonus to help your dog through. If you need to leave your dog, and they are not ready, do take them with you or have someone be at home to help your dog out. If you work away from home consider taking your holiday time to give your dog the skills to be alone at home.  
  • The amount of sleep dogs require is many times underestimated. For example, within a 24 hour time frame an average of 16 hours sleep is required for adult dogs with three hours awake and doing their own thing or simply being, and the rest of the time being active. Each day will vary depending on your activity, and of course variations within a breed and their individual character. 

Addressing separation anxiety in dogs requires patience, understanding, and a tailored step- by-step approach. Gradually acclimatising your dog to being alone can help them become more independent and content when you’re not around. For a comprehensive guide that includes my proven process used to help countless dogs and their humans check out ProDog Raw’s Overcoming Separation Anxiety: A Guide to Help Your Dog Stay Calm Alone. (See below for details).

Other things you can do to help

Below are a few add ons to complement the process. Every dog is unique and each will have their own needs so find out what works best for your dog.

  • Massage
  • Calming music for dogs with Lisa Spector at My Zen Pet or Mozart, reggae music or taiko drums
  • Pet Remedy essential oil blend products
  • Dorwest Herbs, Dermadog Calming spray
  • Tellington Ttouch wraps, massage and movements
  • Calming coats
  • Clothing recently worn by you. Although the home will smell of you, it will help some dogs settle better having your clothing or bedding to lay on
  • Do not to leave coats, calm coats or wraps on your dog when alone

Here’s to getting a relaxed and calm dog when you are away from them.

If you would like to know more check out the links below.

Useful Links

Canine anxiety blogs

ProDog Raw Overcoming Separation Anxiety: A Guide to Help Your Dog Stay Calm Alone by Caroline Spencer

Our Modalities section gives more information on massage, Galen Myotherapy, Tellington Ttouch and essential oils

My Zen Pet calming music for dogs

Pet Remedy essential oil based calming products

Dorset Herbs anxiety and behaviour products

Hedgerow Hounds Tranquil blend

Dermadog Hush Calming Blend

Caroline Spencer DipAdCanineBehaviour

Caroline Spencer has a Diploma in Advanced Canine Behaviour and has ….. years of experience in training and addressing dog behaviour issues. Separation anxiety is a particular speciality. As well as her own consultancy, Caroline regularly collaborates with vets and other practitioners in the dog health world and is the Canine Behaviourist for ProDog Raw.

Caroline is available for 1-2-1 consultations for separation anxiety and other behaviours. She undertakes home consultations within Northumberland and offers telephone / on line consultations further afield.

She is the founder of Pure Dog Listeners, author of  Why Does My Dog Do That?, co-author of Parenting Your New Puppy with Lesley Harris and the designer of Happy at Heel Harness.

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This blog may also contain an element of consumer opinionWhilst CAM4animals welcomes positive recommendations for holistic healthcare products, we don’t necessarily endorse the product or the author’s opinion. We acknowledge that each animal is an individual and may react differently to the highlighted product/s. There may also be other products available that produce similarly positive results.

The veterinary Surgeon’s Act 1966 restricts the treatment of animals (usually other than your own*) by anyone other than a qualified vet. Always consult a veterinary surgeon if you are concerned about your animal’s health. *For full details visit the RCVS website