Separation anxiety

Many dogs can become anxious when separated from their human family.

Anxiety is characterised by signs of distress that can include:

  • toileting in the house
  • destructiveness
  • excessive barking
  • digging
  • pacing
  • attempting to escape.

To manage and treat separation anxiety, the goal is to teach your dog how to be calm and relaxed when you are absent. This may mean making adjustments to regular routines.

Managing your pet's separation anxiety

Here are some tips to help manage your pet's separation anxiety.

Pet-owner interactions

Reward your dog for being calm and relaxed and avoid attention-seeking behaviour. This can help your dog become more independent and less anxious.

Leave and return routines

Ignore your dog for 15 to 30 minutes before leaving. When you return, greet your dog calmly and quietly. Avoid giving your dog attention until they are calm and relaxed. This can help decrease anxiety levels before you leave.

Pre-departure cues

Change how your dog perceives pre-departure cues. This may include picking up keys or packing a bag. Re-teaching your dog to not associate these cues with departure can help prevent anxiety. This can be achieved through habituation, counter-conditioning and desensitisation. Visit the RSPCA website for more information.

Play

Play fun, interactive games with your dog before you leave. This may include fetch or tug-of-war.

Food and enrichment toys

Provide your dog with things 'to do' when you are away. Exercising your dog's mind has many benefits. It can help decrease anxiety, enrich their life, and provide them with opportunities to engage in normal dog behaviours.

Fill Kong-type toys with food and give it to them before you leave. Try to fill the toy with food that will take your dog 20 to 30 minutes to eat. This often distracts them long enough to prevent anxiety from building up.

Tip: Try freezing the Kong and food before giving it to them. This will lengthen the time your dog is occupied. You can also try hiding your dog’s food so they have to find it which can help engage and preoccupy them.

Exercise

Exercise your dog before you leave. This will encourage them to rest and relax while you're gone.

Take different routes and visit new places so that your dog can experience new sights and smells.

If your dog has recall, visit one of Stonnington's off-lead parks or reserves to exercise your furry companion before you leave.

Seek help

Ask friends or family to visit your dog during the day. You can also look into a reputable dog walker or doggy daycare in your area to keep your pooch entertained while you're not home.

For severe cases of separation anxiety, contact your local vet for advice. Your vet may refer you to a behavioural specialist offering humane reward-based training.

If your neighbour's dog is showing signs of separation anxiety while they're not home, you may want to raise the issue with them. Your neighbour may not be aware that their pet is distressed. Find tips on how to approach your neighbour on our Dealing with barking dogsdealing with barking dogs page.

For more tips and information, visit RSPCA.