According to the ASPCA, dogs that are adopted from rescue shelters or adopted during adulthood tend to have separation anxiety more than dogs that are raised by the same family since puppyhood. And this makes sense, right? Dogs get attached to their owners and when they’re lost, orphaned, or surrendered to a shelter, this etches deep fears of abandonment in their brains.
Do not let the concern of separation anxiety discourage you from adopting an older dog from a shelter. These loving animals can be trained to trust you and live very happy and healthy lives with some patience and techniques.
What is Dog Separation Anxiety?
Dogs are pack animals, and you are part of their pack. Some dogs don’t handle separation from you and your family well. Separation anxiety in older dogs can be triggered by loss of a pet or family member, move to a new home, or other changes to your dog’s environment.
Signs of separation anxiety
These are the most common signs that your dog is suffering from separation anxiety. The most important thing to note is that dog separation anxiety behaviors happen when you’re not home or when they’re left alone. If you’re home and in the same room and your dog is howling, barking, destroying, or defecating — that’s not separation anxiety.
Destroy your property: Dogs with severe separation anxiety can chew, dig and shred your home, yard, furnishings and belongings.
Urination and defecation: A dog with separation anxiety might lose bladder or bowel control while you are away, or let you know he’s unhappy with you by leaving you these messages. (If your dog urinates and defecates while you’re home, he’s doing it for another reason and you should check with your vet.)
Escape room: Dogs with separation anxiety that are crated, confined to a room, or otherwise isolated while you’re away will try to escape. We all know the stories of dogs who’ve tried to chew or claw through walls or doors when left alone!
Barking, baying, whining or howling: If you’ve heard complaints from neighbors that your dog cries, barks, whines or howls while you’re away, he’s likely suffering from separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety is hard to remedy because of the nature of it — you’re not with your dog to give commands or counter-train the behavior.
There are a few things you can do to reduce your dog’s anxiety, but if it persists, you may want to consult your veterinarian or a professional dog trainer. In fact, the first thing you should do if a dog is barking non-stop is rule out medical conditions. Visit your vet to make sure your dog isn’t in pain or uncomfortable because of an illness or injury.
How to Train Dogs Not to Bark When Left Alone
One of the approaches to dog training for separation anxiety barking is to teach your dog to associate something wonderful with your absence. It teaches him to associate treats, toys, and other rewards with your departure, and it gives him something to look forward to upon your return.
You might give your dog a frozen treat stuffed in a Kong or similar puzzle toy, so she has to work to free it. This distraction will keep her busy for a while and help her forget you’re gone. When you return home, the Kong or other toy gets put away so she associates it only with your absence.
You might also start this training tactic while you’re home but in another part of the house. This is when the Barx Buddy ultrasonic training device comes in handy.
- If your dog starts to show anxiety when you’re getting ready to leave, your training should start then. For example, if you pick up your keys, your dog might associate that sound with your departure. Teach your dog to disassociate the trigger by doing it throughout the day, even when you aren’t leaving. Pick up your keys and jingle them when you move about the house. Then the dog learns that the sound of keys could mean anything.
- Teach your dog the sit-stay command, using treats as rewards. Try doing them when you leave the room and close the door. Gradually build up the sit-stay training.
- Build up your absences as you train. Try leaving the room for a few minutes, and then returning but make sure she’s calm when you return. If you return when she’s mid-barking fit, she’ll know her behavior worked.
- You can use Barx Buddy as soon as she starts her crying, howling or other barking noises. Press the Barx Buddy “ON” button followed by a verbal command. (For more about how to use the Barx Buddy to train dogs, visit our FAQs or the ultrasonic trainer product page.)
- Don’t yell at your dog. It’s important not to scare her or add to her fears while you’re away. Give her a favorite bed, blanket or something familiar to lay on while you’re away.
- Make sure your dog gets enough exercise before you leave, so he will sleep while you’re gone. Dogs typically spend 50% of their time sleeping and 30% of their time lounging, which leaves 20% of their time for activities, according to akc.org.
Other Tips to Stop Dog Barking While You’re Away
Do bark collars work for separation anxiety?
Bark collars, like all dog training tools, work only if you use them properly. A bark collar can be used to distract your dog from doing unwanted behaviors, but you have to be consistent with the train-treat-repeat methodology. Therefore, bark collars tend to work best when you are home, with your dog, so you can press the button to distract him, issue the verbal command, give positive reinforcement — and repeat.
Do dog separation anxiety toys work?
Toys specifically designed for dog separation anxiety can keep them busy (therefore distracted) so they don’t realize that they’re alone. They can also offer a positive reinforcement so your dog associates the toy with your departure, which will lessen their negative behaviors.
However, dog separation anxiety toys tend to work best when they’re used with other training methods.
Do CBD oils help with dog separation anxiety?
We prefer to defer to the experts when it comes to administering over-the-counter or prescription medications and treatments to pets for anxiety and other disorders. Ask your veterinarian.
My dog barks all day while I’m at work. What else can I do?
Day care: In addition to the tips we’ve shared on this page and our Barx Buddy device, you might also consider doggie daycare one or two days a week. You might find that your dog’s temperament becomes calmer after spending a day filled with energetic stimulation from other dogs. Again, we recommend that you use day care in conjunction with other training methods.
Dog walking service: There are many dog-walking services that do thorough background checks; or, you might hire a trusted neighbor to take your dog for mid-day walks. Make sure that your caretaker understands the train-treat-repeat method you’re using with your dog.
Dog TV: You may have heard about streaming dog TV channels or playing music to soothe an anxious dog. The jury is out on whether dog TV channels and music work to calm dogs that suffer from separation anxiety. You might try a free version for short periods to see if this helps your dog. We are skeptical that audiovisual stimulation alone will work for dogs that suffer from separation anxiety. It’s likely that you’ll need to incorporate a train-treat-repeat approach.