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Separation Anxiety in Dogs: Know Before You Go

By Lea Jaratz

Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Back when I first found Lyger, a 6-month-old stray Lab mix, I knew nothing about dogs. I didn’t know about their needs for exercise, their play habits, and I certainly knew nothing about their social needs. I would soon find out that Lyger’s were a bit higher than most as he quickly introduced me to the concept of “separation anxiety.” I became all too familiar with this idea after he chewed up my couches, mattresses (yes, as in the plural of mattress), socks, shoes, underwear, spatulas... everything he could get his anxious little teeth on. It became a running joke that whenever a friend was throwing out furniture, they should offer it to me first since it was probably better than the partially chewed remains I was using. What was worse was that Lyger only chewed my belongings. He chewed my spot on the couch, almost exactly following the contours of where I sat but leaving my roommates’ spots alone. My towel. My shoes. My favorite bra. It was pretty clear he was sending me a message.

Yes, he was my dog and I was his person and he was less than thrilled when I left. I certainly was less than thrilled to come home to see everything destroyed. But I was committed to get to the root of the issue. After all, how can you resist helping a creature that is so infatuated with you?

With the help of a Lab owners’ support group forum, I learned how to overcome our problem. And I do mean “our” problem because, as it turns out, I was inadvertently reinforcing his anxiety. Here’s what I wish I’d learned a few couch casualties earlier.

Moderate your comings and goings

Your first instinct to calm an anxious dog is to provide them with reassurance that you’ll be gone only a little while, that you’ll be back soon, and to snuggle the heck out of them when you get back. Your first instincts are wrong and, sadly, making it worse. Instead, when you go, say a simple goodbye, maybe give them a treat or Kong to make the farewell a bit sweeter, and go out the door with little fuss or eye contact. When you get back, don’t even acknowledge the dog until he’s calmed down completely. No hello, no butt scratches, no cookies. Once he’s chill, commence the calm snuggles.

Use your tools

Crate training is the easiest way to keep your dog from destroying things. Make his crate a happy place and he just might learn to enjoy it.

Bitter apple spray and other taste deterrents can be a stuff-saver. Investing in a quart refill may have seemed extreme, but it saved me a ton in replacing chewed items and even more in potential vet bills.

Kongs and other durable toys provide environmental enrichment while you’re away. By turning alone-time into a chance to play, you give your dog a healthy, productive activity. (Pro tip: keep the quantity to a minimum and offer them only in your absence. Giving your dog 10 toys can actually decrease their desire to actively play.)

Provide Comforts

It’s easy enough to offer comforting elements while you’re out. Tuning into a calm, soothing TV or radio station can help a dog feel less alone. Stay away from programs with loud or upsetting noises such as sirens or shouting as these can distress sensitive dogs. (Try different genres of programming to find what your dog likes best. We learned that Lyger liked Indian sitar music, though talk radio or soft tunes are probably good options too.) If your dog can be trusted not to shred it, a favorite snuggly toy or blanket (perhaps one that smells a bit like you) can be of solace as well.

While it’s not a realistic option for everyone, I cannot emphasize enough the impact of getting a second dog had for us. While Lyger’s general chewing and anxiety was managed overall, his “relapses” stopped only after he got a full-time companion.


That’s as simple as it sounds. A sedentary dog has no positive outlets for his anxiety or frustrations. Walks, runs, a quick game of fetch, even chasing a tennis ball up and down the stairs can help your dog clear his head. If you have the option to enroll your dog in daycare or hire a walker for quick outings, it’s worthwhile.

No doubt, separation anxiety is heartbreaking for both pup and pet parent. If you try these steps and don’t succeed, it might be time to discuss other medical or behavioral options with your vet. But if these tips could help a high-maintenance boy like Lyger, I bet they can help your dog too.

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