How to deal with separation anxiety in dogs

Leaving your four-legged friends alone can be hard on a lot of dogs, especially if they’re used to constant human interaction, depriving them of that reassurance for extended periods of time can often cause dogs to experience separation anxiety. Research has found that 85% of dogs struggle to cope when left alone, which is worrying to think that so many of our loving companions are feeling scared and sad when we’re not by their side. However, signs that your dog is suffering from any level of separation anxiety can be difficult to spot for a lot of owners, which is why we’ve put together a guide on how best to deal with separation anxiety in dogs to help both you and your pup.

We understand that leaving your dog alone can be unavoidable at times, especially if you have a busy work schedule and other commitments that often mean you’re out of the house on errands. However, there is no need to feel guilty as a pet owner, as we are here to offer guidance and advice on the best ways to help your dog cope with separation anxiety in order to alleviate any stress and to help keep your dogs happy and comfortable. Read on to discover our best advice to help treat and prevent separation anxiety in your pups.

What are the key signs of separation anxiety in dogs?

As mentioned above, spotting signs that your dog is suffering from separation anxiety can be difficult, as a large number of dog breeds tend to suffer in silence and their anxiety can often go unnoticed by a lot of owners. However, if your dog does start to show any of the behavioural characteristics listed below, these may be a good indicator that they are experiencing some levels of separation anxiety.

5 main signs of separation anxiety in dogs:

  1. Barking or whining - Many dogs will bark or howl persistently when left alone as a sign of distress and may also show signs of whining or trembling which indicates that they are scared and anxious.
  2. Destructive behaviours - Your dog may also show certain destructive behaviours in the absence of their owners such as chewing on furniture, digging door frames and window sills or destroying various household items. Not only are these behaviours difficult to deal with as an owner, but your dog has the potential to harm themselves during these behaviours.
  3. Toilet accidents - If your dog urinates or defecates in the house or areas of the home they wouldn’t usually use as a toilet, this is another key sign that they are experiencing separation anxiety. 
  4. Pacing - Some dogs may walk in a specific pattern such as in circles or back and forth in straight lines when they are distressed due to separation anxiety. This is a behaviour that owners will not notice in their absence, therefore if possible we would recommend buying a pet camera to keep an eye on your dog throughout the day to ensure they are coping well.
  5. Over excitement on your return - If your dog jumps up at you, barks and gets over-excited on your return home this can also indicate that they’ve experienced separation anxiety.

It’s important to note that no matter how undesirable the behaviours your dogs exhibit, pet owners should not punish dogs for exhibiting these, as raising your voice or showing disappointment can often make the situation worse by making them more anxious and more likely to repeat these behaviours the next time you leave. Dogs do not understand the link between their mistake and your behaviour, even if you take them to the place where they’ve exhibited bad behaviours, they will not understand why you’re upset, therefore it’s important to never raise your voice or physically punish your dog.

If your dog exhibits any of the above behaviours then it is clear that they are feeling anxious when left alone and will benefit from a few helpful tips and tricks from our pet experts here at Direct4Pet. 

What causes dog separation anxiety?

Separation anxiety in dogs can be triggered by a number of different things. If your dog has previously been abandoned or experienced trauma they may develop separation anxiety as they are scared that the same situation will happen to them again if you leave. If your dog has previously been given to a shelter or passed between many different families in their lifetime then this can also cause separation anxiety as they have no sense of a permanent home and will want to cling onto their owners as much as possible to prevent being moved around again.

On the other hand, if your dog was given a lot of attention as a puppy or is used to consistent human interaction then when they are left alone for longer periods of time than they are used to they will also suffer from separation anxiety as they are not getting the usual amount of love and attention they are familiar with.

How long can you leave a dog alone legally?

Leaving your dog alone is one of the main causes of dog separation anxiety, therefore it is vital that you abide by the guidelines for leaving your pup alone in order to prevent anxiety. While there are no legal guidelines for the length of time dogs can be left alone, the RSPCA recommends that you leave your dog alone for no longer than 4 hours per day. This amount of time ensures that your dog is walked and has a chance to go to the toilet while still receiving a good amount of human interaction and stimulation.

However, this is just a guideline and as a pet owner, you know your dog best, so we recommend making your own best judgement on how long or little your dog should be left alone to ensure they have access to all they need and are happy. If you need peace of mind for leaving your dog alone, we suggest investing in a pet camera so that you can check up on your dog whilst you’re away. This will not only allow you to see how your dog is doing, but most cameras also allow you to communicate with your pup throughout the day so that they can feel comforted by your voice.

How do I stop my dog's separation anxiety?

Trying to stop your dog’s separation anxiety can be difficult, however, we have outlined a few top tips below that can help reduce their anxiety and prevent any unwanted behaviours:

  • Gradually introduce them to being left alone over time - One of the most effective ways to prevent your dog from becoming anxious when left alone is to teach them as early as possible that being alone can be fun. To do this, you will need to gradually increase the amount of time that you leave your dog alone so that they are never scared or not familiar with being independent. On your return, we would recommend rewarding them with treats for their good behaviour.  This will be easier to achieve with a puppy, as you can train it from a very young age to be okay with being alone, however, this may be more difficult with an adopted, older dog as they may already have some separation anxiety issue from previous experiences. Whether you choose to give your pup praise, toys or treats, offering them positive reinforcement for being alone will help to prevent any potential anxiety.
  • Leave and return at roughly the same time each day - Dogs love routine, so by trying to leave and return at the same time each day will help your dog anticipate your arrival and reassure them that you will return at some point. They do this largely through their hypersensitive scent, as, when you leave, your scent will dissipate slightly and they will then be able to sense when you’re due back home by the amount of scent that is still around.
  • Ensure there is background noise - If possible, leave the radio, TV or music on in the background for your dog to listen to, this may seem like a silly idea but the idea is that the constant background noise will help your dog to feel less alone and therefore less anxious surrounded by familiar noise and voices.
  • Leave a stimulating toy - Giving your dog a fun and challenging toy to play with, such as a Licki Mat or Activity Ball while you’re gone will provide some mental stimulation to help keep them occupied and therefore distracted from your absence. 
  • Take them on a long walk - Taking your dog for a walk before you leave will give them a chance to go to the toilet, preventing any possible accidents and will also help to tire them out so that they are more inclined to relax in bed whilst you’re gone and reduce anxiety. 
  • Ensure they have food or have been fed - Ensuring your dog has a satisfying meal before your leave is important, whether you feed them beforehand or leave food out for them to eat while you’re gone, having a full tummy will help them to relax.
  • Minimise any disturbances - If your dog is prone to barking at passers by or any unusual noises happening outside the home, ensure that the blinds are closed and they are left in a quiet room with background noise or to help muffle any potential threatening noises.

It’s important to note that this advice is a guideline for adult dogs to follow, and puppies should never be left alone for long periods of time as they require a lot more supervision and attention. If you’re going to be out of the house for long periods of time, consider getting a dog sitter or a dog walker to keep your dog company during the time you're gone to help prevent any symptoms of separation anxiety.

Dog separation anxiety toys

KONG Goodie Bone For Dogs £8.09 and KONG Wobbler Interactive Food Dispensing Toy - All Sizes £15.29 

A stimulating and fun toy will help keep your furry friend entertained when you’re away from home. We suggest the KONG Goodie Bone and Wobbler Interactive toys that can be stuffed with food and treats, providing both a tasty treat and fun activity. 

The KONG Goodie Bone is the answer to dogs that love the classic bone shape but need a safe and durable toy that will stand the test of time. Either end of this toy have gripped holes that allow for snacks or food paste to be stuffed into and retrieved by your dog. The KONG Wobbler dispenses food when pushed around by your dog’s paw and nose, with its unpredictable movement keeping the toy challenging and offering entertainment when left alone.

Dog calming products

Beaphar Calming Collar for Dogs Regular price £6.19 and Pet Remedy All In One Calming Kit Regular price £29.69

If you’re looking for a reliable solution to help keep your dog calm when left alone, the Beaphar Calming Collar for dogs effectively reduces any potential problem behaviour arising from being separated from their owner. The collar emits natural valerian and lavender to help manage stress and leaves your dog feeling calm, settled and relaxed and prevents them from showing unwanted destructive behaviours. 

Once fitted, the natural essential oils will be released immediately and your dog should begin to relax within the hour. For it to remain effective it must remain as close to the skin as possible, ensuring it is not covered by any other collars they may be wearing. does not get covered by any other collar the dog may be wearing. Each collar provides up to six weeks of calming effects for your pup.

Pet Remedy also offers a de-stress and calming kit for your dog that provides a spray, diffuser and wipes that all feature a unique blend of essential oils that helps to calm anxious pets. These natural oils work gently alongside your pet’s own natural calming mechanisms without causing any sedating or drowsy effects. The diffuser can be switched on whilst you’re gone in conjunction with the spray on their bed, furniture or fur to help provide as much of a calming effect as possible.

Zylkene Calming Supplement for Dogs 10-30kg Regular price £106.99 and Dorwest Herbs Scullcap & Valerian Calming Tablets for Dogs and Cats Regular price £12.99 

For a more hands-on approach to helping reduce the effects of separation anxiety, we recommend opting for an edible calming supplement that you can give to your dog before you leave. These can either be mixed into your dog’s food or given with a treat and will slowly release natural calming effects to reduce anxiety and stress.

Zylkene is the UK’s No.1 veterinary calming supplement that is widely used and trusted by many. This calming supplement helps your dog to cope with challenging situations inside and outside the home such as fireworks and separation anxiety when left home alone. It contains a natural milk protein with clinically proven calming properties and can be easily sprinkled into your pet's food so that it can be quickly absorbed. 

Dorwest also offers a natural calming supplement made of scullcap and valerian that will help to ease your dog’s separation anxiety without making them drowsy. The blend of scullcap and valerian herbs helps to naturally support the calming neuro-pathways to help reduce anxiety, keeping them calm yet still alert and full of personality. If you’re leaving the house daily, the tablets should be given as half in the morning and half in the evening, with best results coming from regular use everyday for a minimum of three weeks to help combat anxiety effectively.

Keep your dog’s separation anxiety at bay with Direct4Pet

Equipped with all of our advice and top tips, you’re now ready to help keep your dog calm, settled and entertained when left alone. If you’re curious about what other toys or behavioural aids are available for your pup, browse through our full collection of dog products for separation anxiety on the Direct4Pet website to find the right fit for you.