Separation Anxiety… Please Help!


Lap dog.

Theo’s separation anxiety has yet to wane.  I’ve tried all of the vet and friend recommended “OTC” steps, but nothing seems to change. I started with Cesar’s tips, which were similar to other specialists’ tips across the board; his tips (below) typically cured, or at the very least eased, most cases of standard separation anxiety:

1. Before you leave the house, take your dog for a walk

Start your day by taking your dog for a brisk walk. To make the walk even more rigorous, use a dog backpack with extra weight in it. Then reward your dog’s calm-submissive energy with food and water. Some dogs may need to rest before eating, but all dogs can benefit from hydration. The idea is to leave your dog in quiet, resting mode while you are away.

2. No touch, no talk, no eye contact.

Don’t make a big deal when you leave for the day or when you return. This way, you are communicating to your dog that the time apart is no big deal. It’s just business as usual! Depending on the severity of the dog anxiety, you may need to practice the rule for five minutes or up to an hour before you leave and when you get back.

3. Say goodbye to your dog long before you leave.

Having trouble practicing “no touch, no talk, no eye contact”? Take a moment to share affection and tell your dog that you will miss him way before you actually leave. Keep in mind that this display is for you, not your dog! Your dog won’t have his feelings hurt if you didn’t say goodbye.

4. Stay calm and assertive!

When you are ready to go to work, leave those guilty, nervous, and concerned feelings behind. Instead, let your dog know that everything is going to be okay by projecting the confident energy of a pack leader. A calm and assertive leader can ease separation anxiety in dogs.

5. Start out small by leaving your dog alone for just five minutes.

Leave your dog alone for five minutes, then extend the time to twenty minutes, then an hour. Continue to increase the time you spend away until you can leave for a full eight hours without any more dog problems!

Read more:


The above ideas did not work for Theo. We worked with number 5, repeatedly… for weeks. He was too smart; he could sense what I was doing, and he didn’t like it one bit. After I thoroughly tried those tips, I decided to try some slightly more advanced measures. First we tried the Thundershirt. It worked superbly… when I was still home with him:

Theo in the Thundershirt

Theo in his Thundershirt

However, the Thundershirt didn’t help the problem when I left. I also tried a pheromone collar… that produced ZERO results.  Next, per a friend’s recommendation, I bought a package of all-natural OTC calming treats.  These actually did help a bit. Although he was still panicky in his crate, he did seem a bit subdued. They still didn’t work well enough to alleviate his suffering.

See, the problem is, when Theo is upset, I’m upset. It’s gotten to the point where I won’t leave the house without him… or I won’t leave the house at all. This wouldn’t be an issue if there were more dog friendly places in Bloomington, but until that happens I’ll probably keep cancelling my dinner plans.

I also hate the thought of Theo being in a crate while I’m gone. I would feel better if he had more space to move about and be comfortable. Don’t get me wrong, I do understand the concept of the crate and its use as a “safe place.” But guess what? Theo doesn’t see his crate this way… at all. He’s never taken to his crate. Supposedly he was crate trained at the shelter, but since day one at my house, it hasn’t worked for us (and has made potty training especially difficult). At first he did do okay with free run of the house when I was gone for short amounts of time. Then, the barking began (normally he rarely barks)… followed by the neighbor complaints. Since he still wasn’t fond of his crate, I thought leaving him in my room with the door shut (plus the TV on, a special “when-mom-leaves” treat and a recently worn sweatshirt) would be an okay idea. That’s when this happened:

Theo dug at the carpet under the door until he hit cement.

Theo vs. the carpet

So, my next step was to go back to my vet. She sent me to the behavioral specialist that I’m currently in contact with. Much to my chagrin, she has recommended that Theo be put on a prescription anti-anxiety drug after watching this video. I’m torn. I don’t know if it’s worse for him to be a medication, or for him to suffer so much when he’s alone. Everyone has told me he will just grow out of it… and I do believe that, but what do I do in the meantime? Any suggestions or thoughts on my process will be greatly appreciated!

Theo currently goes to Doggie Daycare on weekdays while I’m at work. While this is a lifesaver most days, it’s not open 24/7.

25 thoughts on “Separation Anxiety… Please Help!

  1. I understand all too well what you are talking about and its so hard when we don’t know any traumas they may have been through prior to coming into our life. I have taken my dog with me and left him in the car (on cool days and not on super cold days) with me. I would have his leash, blanket, and a portable water dish. It seems to help both of us because I too get anxious when I would see my dog or dogs getting upset and yes, you are right, they do pick up on our routines and behaviors. Blaze (who is a jack russell terrier) is so keen on my moves, you will often find him at the door, before I have even gotten to being fully dressed!

    Have you tried a Kong Dog Toy I have found that with my other dogs, they do help to occupy their time.

    Are there any dog neighbors you could alternate with on the days you aren’t at work?

    One way or another, it will get figured out and when you do, please let me know 🙂

    Please feel free to check out my blog

    • It must be a terrier thing! I worry constantly that little things I do everyday are making it worse or perpetuating it! I take him with me everywhere I can! At my previous job, I was even able to take him to the office with me on same days. He absolutely LOVED it! I wish I could find something else similar.

      I have tried a couple different Kong toys. Theo loves them but once the treats are gone, he’s not too interested.

      I’m able to come home everyday at lunch and spend an hour with him and my boyfriend is usually home around 2 or 3pm. Theo is only really alone for 2-3 hours, twice a day on days like that. I also take him to doggie daycare, but I just recently heard some awful things about the place I take him. Unfortunately, it’s the only facility like it in the surrounding area (except for the one I’m on the waitlist until April for).

    • I agree… unfortunately at this time we just don’t have the space for another dog. Hopefully in a couple months.

      Although, when I’ve left him with my parents’ dog and no humans around, he still acts the same way. We video recorded it to see if it made a difference…

      • Not all separaton anxiety is equal. Some dog’s anxiety is about being alone or having a barrier between him and others. For those dogs, a canine buddy might be the answer. For dogs who have separation anxiety away from YOU, that will NOT help. You’d probably end up with TWO dogs with who panic when you’re not around.

        My GSD/Lab mix, Kita, suffers from separation anxiety any time she’s away from me. At this moment, she’s 15 feet away from me behind a doggie gate and is throwing a hissy fit. I’m ignoring her because to go and reassure her or give any attention while she’s in panic mode will just reinforce it. She’s quiet now, so I’m going to join her!

  2. I found that leaving Eko with a treat puzzle to solve – like a Kong ball/bone- kept him distracted when I left. It turned his focus from me leaving to him enjoying himself with a treat.

    • Thanks, Will! Do you just use the normal Kong toys? I have one for Theo, but it only takes him about a minute to get the treats out. I’m on the search for a slightly more advanced puzzle game that involves treats and keeps him occupied a bit longer.

  3. Like you i think i suffer more from anxiety of leaving my ‘girls’ than they are worried about me leaving, so much so i didn’t go out unless there was someone else home. Recently theres been odd times when theres no option but to leave them, i put them all together in the kitchen (making sure theres nothing on the floor that shouldn’t be) i leave them a selection of toys and 2 big beds to sleep on .. oh and i also leave the radio on just low.
    Before leaving i give them each a small treat turn and don’t look back, at first the furthest i went was upstairs then to the corner shop but each time on my return they were fine and more often than not curled up in bed together.
    I do hope you find what works for you both xx

    • Thanks, Kim! Sorry it’s taken me so long to respond- I’ve been out of town. I think I’m going to try a non-crate approach. I bought a baby gate and am hoping to block off either the kitchen or bathroom. Unfortunately, our apartment is quite small and the front door is in the kitchen so when Theo barks it resonates through the whole building! I’d be so much more at ease if he could just be home all day stress-free so it’s worth a shot!

  4. I’m sorry you’re going through this, separation anxiety is so difficult. We adopted a lab puppy when we were living in an apartment building and went through a very similar experience – he would HOWL when we left him alone, the neighbors would complain, and I think I gave myself a few ulcers worrying about it 🙂
    We tried everything to try to make it better. It turns out that part of his issue was that he hated his crate; he just never learned to love it and see it as a safe place, as you mentioned. Also, we totally babied him, so even though it was difficult, we tried to pay less attention to him when we were at home. We would calmly close the door to a room that we were in but continue to make noise so that he knew we were there, just to get him used to being on his own, and then calmly go back into the room after awhile (while continuing to ignore him).
    Then we started leaving the TV on and quietly leaving the apartment, and since he was used to being alone in a room while we were there, he wasn’t on such high alert, so he didn’t notice us leaving as much any more. We were nervous about him chewing the rug or our pillows or something, but we just left toys in there (including Kongs full of frozen peanut butter, etc) and hoped for the best. For the most part, he did okay. We also tried to exercise him a ton before we left in hopes that he would just sleep instead of causing trouble.
    He still has some seperation anxiety (he’s just an anxious dog all-around, to be honest) but it’s gotten SO much better. At the time, though, I never thought it would, so just keep plugging away!
    Lastly, I’ve also heard good things about the “Through A Dog’s Ear” CD and Rescue Remedy drops – they’re a natural stress-relief aid and we’ve used them a couple of times when traveling. They seem to take the edge off!
    Sorry for the novel! I’m just all too familiar with the issue 🙂 I really hope things get better for you and Theo! Feel free to contact if you have any questions!

    • Chrissy, Thanks so much for your response! It’s extremely helpful just hearing about similar situations. I completely agree though; sometimes I just worry myself sick over the little guy! I’m going to try your tips. As you mentioned, it’s very tough being in an apartment building. I wish I could try leaving him out more but the barking can be heard all over the building! (We’ve had complaints too). I agree with you about finding what works best for your dog though. I will make sure to try that CD! Do you have any recommendations of toys to keep them occupied? Theo loves his Kong but it only takes him about 5 seconds to get all the treats and stuffing out then he’s back to being upset!

      • It’s hard not to worry about them! it’s upsetting to see them upset and it’s also a lot of pressure to know that other people are being affected by it as well. I used to tape the small hole on the bottom of the Kong and then fill it with yogurt, apple sauce, peanut butter, etc and then freeze it – it takes them a little while longer to get through it that way. Our dog Brody also likes those hollow white bones; we smear peanut butter in there and it occupies him for some time. If Theo likes to chew, Nylabone products are good and seem to hold up well. And we’ve never tried them, but I’ve heard good things about Buster Cubes. I hope some of those help, good luck!

      • Ah, freezing! Good advice! I’ll also have to check into the Buster Cubes. I hadn’t heard of those before. Yesterday we tried a baby gate in the bathroom and that seemed to work a bit better. He could jump the gate, but when we got home he was just sitting by the door. He wasn’t barking and he hadn’t torn anything up, but who knows what he was doing in the meantime! Trying it again today…

  5. I noticed you read my posts about dog calming music. I was wondering if it helped? Never tried it for separation anxiety, mostly just for scary thunderstorms and fireworks, but I would be really interested to know how Theo reacted. Also, hope you can figure something out – I totally understand your dilemma with the drugs, I’ve always been weary of giving a dog antidepressants. On that note you may want to check out this blog I’ve been reading It’s essentially a case study of a behaviourist helping a dog with phobia. As far as I recall, they discussed drugs at some point.

  6. Theo is adorable! of course 🙂 and I see someone mentioned that terriers must have a “thing” for anxiety -in fact, they do. They are more prone to anxiety – a LOT. I have a Boston Terrier and 4 bulldogs… the boston is a worry wart, the bulldogs, are lazy lumps 🙂 My husband and I have raised, trained and fostered dogs for 15+ yrs. I use reiki on my Boston and I work on a number of other animals using Reiki as well – it’s a very old form of energy medicine. There is nothing “medicinal” about it, but it’s a way to work energy and direct more “properly” in the body… human, animal. etc… You may want to see if you have a Reiki animal practitioner in your area
    If not, you can try crating – leaving a blanket in there or something you wear (an old tshirt, etc.)… dogs do find comfort in having a crate, it does need to be introduced correctly, but it can work well… best wishes! 🙂

  7. What wonderful job you are doing to parent your dog. I do not have a terrier, but I have a Cocker Spaniel / poodle mix that we adopted from an animal shelter. Sydney had “failed” out of two homes, and at one-year-old was not house trained (he was made to wear a diaper & smelled like an old dog).

    He came to us, wild with anxiety, and desperate to please. My daughter and I quickly house trained him, began many bonding and fun games, teaching him to down-stay, wait and come when called. But after months he still bit us when we put collars or harnesses on him or tried to brush his hair. We took private lessons with a positive behavioral trainer. Plus I spent time each day crate training by sitting next to the crate with the door open after I had placed his meal inside. He hated his crate.

    We tried all your steps above, plus a Thundershirt. Posted two on our experience with our dog trying one out. “Did a Thundershirt Calm My Dog?

    Tried medication after months of walking him into and out of the Vets office, and feeding favorite treats with negative results, Sydney acted even weirder on meds. Our dog never let the Vet touch him in several years. Nothing solved his fretting while alone or his impulse to bite the Vet.

    Finally, Sydney bonded, learned and mellowed like a gem, He still hates being alone. He was never destructive, but began urinating in the house (even if left for only 1 hour) and chewing his paws in frustration, so I found a pet sitter.

    Our “pet sitter” is now a dear family friend, who loves taking Sydney to stay with him and his 90-year-old mother (they live in an apartment and can’t own a dog).

    Who would have guesses that a wildly anxious rescue 14-pound dog, would turn himself into a calm companion for the sick and fragile? He now has two families and is rarely alone for more than an hour or two.

    I have written about how small dogs have been bred for companionship, in contrast to big working and sporting dogs. Little dogs, terriers too, have a distinct life purpose, as companions and seem to suffer much more than larger breeds and mixes. I have also published on the dangers of dog-to-dog misunderstandings due to doggish vs puppyish language

    • Thank you again for taking the time to look at my blog! I know I can learn a lot from you and your experiences!

      How did you house train Sydney so quickly after others failed to before you? It’s amazing how negative behavior early on in a dog’s life can so greatly impact him in the future– same with children. It breaks my heart thinking about people who are not ready to deal with the responsibility of a dog before adopting. They’re not only pets, they’re part of the family… and should not be treated like toys!

      It’s amazing that you’ve found a great pet-sitter like the one you mentioned. After I posted this article, I became disheartened by Theo’s daycare facility. Since, I’ve diligently worked with Theo and leaving him alone in the house. I put his crate out of sight, which I think helped with some of the anxiety. I put a baby gate up in the bathroom and made him a little luxury home in there. I think it really helped that he could see out. He managed to climb over the gate, but once he escaped he remained calm and relaxed in the house (I videotaped him). Since then, he has done fairly well alone with free reign of the apartment. His barking has stopped and has yet to have an accident. Some days are better than others, he still gets upset when we leave, but we’ve just been working on fairly short amounts of time and I think he’s beginning to realize that I will always come back.

      Luckily he’s only had to be alone for 2 hours at the most so far. I am anxious to see what he does when we have to be gone for 3 or 4. For now, I’m thrilled we’ve made this much progress!

      I’ve read many articles on small dogs and separation anxiety. It makes perfect sense. Theo is the perfect companion. I literally take him everywhere I can (that will allow pets). Thank you so much for pointing me to your articles on similar issues. I look forward to reading more!

  8. Interesting reading, but I think most dogs want to be with someone, none of them want to be left behind. From what I’ve seen in my dog training practice there are dog inherited family traits of more anxiety, but it isn’t a size or breed thing. I have known two Old Eng Bulldogs (usually couch potatoes) who got very anxious and I’m in the northwoods of WI the land of labs (who don’t want to be left alone).
    People with small dogs often take them everywhere (great for socialization) and don’t regularly teach them to be alone (a big gap). People with large dogs, often just because of their size can’t take them (lack of socialization- oh oh) and so the dogs practice separation from an earlier age and practice being alone more frequently. Also large dogs in the house tend to have more house rules – if they act wild or inappropriately everybody notices, small dogs are given a lot more leeway which often means they don’t actually know as many polite things, which is not fair to them (ie. large dogs don’t get to jump up, often they’re not allowed on furniture on in beds, they must be house trained, they don’t get to pull on the leash, they don’t get to nip)…yes I know there’s exceptions and everybody has met one, frequently at a shelter.
    Usually if I’m clear on what I’m actually supposed to do and where I’m supposed to be, I’m a lot less anxious. Dogs too – the more they know the better.
    The video of training place/playpen was a very good one, the important thing to note in clicker training is the action of the dog during the time of the click and also doing the reward where the action was what you wanted.
    Crate training can be done the same way (open door) and can include a huge number of games you can play with your dog multiple brief times daily. When there is a fear of something take it to small pieces and create fun games out of learning those little bits. Manage it the rest of the time, but management isn’t really a solution it’s a stopgap until the other pieces form enough history/learning to have changed the behavior.
    Why can’t you just skip it? Well of course you can, but then later it will still be a problem-a lot of owners just learn to somehow avoid the issue. But this your puppy and you haven’t taught him how to stay in and like a den(crate), how to accept barriers you set. One of your jobs as his human partner is to show him how to accept and have fun with initially less desirable things-this isn’t a challenge to be avoided (note I’m not a fan of Cesar — look at Karen Pryor or Susan Garrett).
    As far as body work Linda Tellington-Jones has done a lot and has books and videos. Terriers are bred for spatial problem solving, hunting vermin, fast and prey driven so they tend to really like finding things esp if there is a chase or barrier…use what he really likes to reward the things he doesn’t like so much, the more progressively difficult the better. Who knew I would be so wordy, sheesh

  9. Really wish I could offer some practical help – I know exactly what you’re going through. My 5 year old Staffie has always suffered with a mild form of separation anxiety (due to having at least 3 homes before me in her first year of life). She got worse when my daughter broke her arm and we were at hospital a lot (even though she has a doggy sister) and we’d come home to find their pet beds ripped to shreds (neither of them chew or destroy), and then I was made redundant from work and had a lot of issues myself which meant I was home all day every day for months. Now if I want to go out she pines.. I took her in the car when I went shopping recently, only for her to break the dog guard between the estate boot and the car in her distress at where I’d gone! I’ve been going out more lately again and she has been getting better, she still pines but I don’t think it’s quite as bad as it was. I just hope you and Theo can overcome your problems x

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