5 Alternative Approaches to Dog Separation Anxiety

If you are struggling with a dog that digs, scratches, chews, bites, and otherwise destroys your stuff or barks non-stop while you’re gone, you’re probably suffering from dog separation anxiety.

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Dog separation anxiety is one of the most common problems that dog owners suffer from.

"Dogs with Separation Anxiety will follow you around everywhere or whine or frantically bark when you're out of reach [...] or drool or pant or even have sweaty paws."
Zak George
Zak George
Professional Dog Trainer and TV Personality

If this sounds like your dog, we’ve put together various resources to help you get this problem under control. We’ve read every article, watched every video, and tried every technique you can think of so that you don’t have to.

Instead, we will summarize our findings below and give you links to more resources if you’d like to dig deeper.

Cesar's Do's

  • Exercise your dog before you leave
  • Teach patience and calmness and reward that
  • Teach your pup to love their crate
  • Go out of sight for increasing periods of time in your own house
  • Teach your dog in small steps to be respectful and have confidence
  • Change your routine (use a different door, put your coat and bag in different places)
  • Try music and leaving the TV on

Cesar's Don'ts

  • Don't use prescription drugs unless absolutely necessary since they tend to be a short-term but not long-term fix
  • Don’t leave your house from a door that your dog can see
  • Don't talk to your dog or make a big deal about leaving
  • Don't make a big deal when you come home

Cesar believes that the root of your dog’s separation anxiety is a human-made behavior that we teach them by making a big deal about leaving and coming home. 

Making these events less emotional, starting with us and showing our lack of emotionality to our dogs can help them remain calm when we leave.

Cesar is a huge fan of crate training, and if done properly, crate training can be a very effective way to reduce your dog’s separation anxiety.

Cesar’s approach makes a lot of sense, but is not the only way to deal with separation anxiety. Some people don’t do crate training and still need advice, so let’s look at what some other dog professionals have to say.

Zak George's Approach to Dog Separation Anxiety

Zak believes that many dogs are genetically predisposed to separation anxiety and that it’s hard to fault our dogs for wanting to be with us all the time. It usually means that you have a wonderful bond with them.

Zak's Do's

  • Give your dog plenty of mental and physical stimulation
  • Figure out the first trigger that clues your dog into your leaving
  • Condition your dog to get excited when they see the trigger that you're leaving by using treats and toys
  • Associate the sound of your keys jingling with getting a good treat

Zak's Don'ts

  • Don't assume it's anxiety when it could be boredom or just youth... it's normal for puppies
  • Don't just do the training before you actually leave the house... practice while you're watching TV
  • Don't leave them for extended periods at first

Zak has read his research and found that the amount of exercise was the #1 factor for dogs with separation anxiety. One of the easiest fixes Zak recommends is giving your dog a long walk right before you leave.

Zak also suggests using toys and treats to desensitize your dog from triggers like putting your shoes and jacket on. If your dog gets overly excited when you put your jacket on, then put your jacket on in the house randomly and give a treat when the jacket is put on.

That way your dog starts to associate the things that used to trigger anxiety with things that now trigger positive things like treats and toys.

Make sure that your home alone toys are special and only used when you are leaving the house. That will give your dog something to look forward to when you leave.

The Humane Society's Approach to Dog Separation Anxiety

The Humane Society is a great organization that has many resources for helping new dog owners, especially for people who are adopting a dog that might have problems.

The Humane Society's Do's

  • Leave your dog with recently worn clothes that smell like you
  • Consider using an over-the-counter calming product
  • Provide busy toys for distraction
  • Take your dog to a doggie daycare
  • Leave your dog with a friend
  • Take your dog to work with you

The Humane Society's Don'ts

  • Don't make a big deal out of arrivals and departures
  • Avoid punishments
  • Don't buy another dog to keep the first one company
  • Don't use crate training for separation anxiety
  • Don't rely on TV/radio noise

What’s interesting about the Humane Society’s advice is that it says to not do many of the things that Cesar Millan recommends doing. Cesar is a big fan of using crate training to reduce separation anxiety, but the Humane Society says that the dog will just stay anxious in its crate and that it doesn’t fix the problem.

I think that the biggest take away here is an open mind.

For some people and dogs, crate training will help calm their dog down. For others, it won’t. It’s important to watch your dog closely. Maybe setup a dog video camera while you’re away to make sure that your dog isn’t suffering in its crate.

Doggy Dan's Approach to Dog Separation Anxiety

Doggy Dan is another online dog training expert. His approach to dog training is different than Cesar and Zak’s, which is good because not all dogs react the same way to every kind of training, so it’s good to have a different perspective.

Doggy Dan's Do's

  • Take control of your dog's environment
  • Calmly desensitize your dog through repetition
  • Always use a lead when practicing and training
  • Use positive reinforcement
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat

Doggy Dan's Don'ts

  • No yelling or shouting
  • No touching
  • Don't lose your cool

What I like about Doggy Dan’s approach is that it is very pro-active and behavior driven. His technique is to actively desensitize your dog by doing activities over and over again, and showing your dog that it’s ok. Showing your dog that nothing bad will happen.

If you want to learn more about this approach, Doggy Dan has a lot of training videos that can step you through this process in more detail.

WebMD's Approach To Dog Separation Anxiety

Like the Humane Society, WebMD has a great resource for people trying to learn to help their dog. Most people don’t realize that WebMD has an entire section of their site dedicated to pet health.

WebMD's Do's

  • Give your dog a special treat each time you leave
  • Make your comings and goings low-key
  • Leave clothes that smell like you
  • Consider health suppliments
  • Lots of exercise every day
  • Play training games and fetch
  • Use interactive puzzles

WebMD's Don'ts

  • Don't try anything before talking to your vet first and rule out medical problems
  • Don't rush things
  • Don't make things worse by yelling and stressing out your dog further

Some of the do’s and dont’s between these resources are very different, but many are similar. Here are some of the do’s that keep showing up over and over again:

  • Exercise: Almost all of these resources recommend plenty of exercise
  • Toys: Leave special toys that you only use when you leave the house
  • Smells: Put things that remind your dog of your smell
If you have tried these already and not had success. You might want to dig into one of the following resources in more depth to try to find an answer that works for you and your dog…

Links Available for Separation Anxiety for Dogs