Separation Anxiety: How to get Your Dog used to Being Home Alone

Research suggests that 8 out of the 10 dogs who are left alone experience some kind of distress. Staying home alone is a skill that needs to be learned, and will come naturally easier to some dogs than others. Separation anxiety isn’t only inconvenient for the owner, but also seriously affects the well being of the dog. In this article, we will have a closer look at the signs a dog may show when experiencing separation anxiety, and what can be done to get a dog used to being home alone. 

Signs of separation anxiety

While most dog owners will realise their pet has separation anxiety when it barks and whines in their absence, there are many more signs that indicate that a dog is feeling anxious and stressed while being alone. These signs however, may not always be as obvious, and in some cases will only be seen if an indoor camera is used. If your dog is showing any of the following signs when you are away, it may indicate they have separation anxiety.

  • House soiling. This is not retaliation, but a stress response. 
  • Destructive behaviour
  • Pacing around
  • Declining food and treats
  • Anxious behaviour before you leave
  • Excessive excitement upon return.
  • Excessive drooling
  • Trembling
  • Excessive panting
  • Not engaging in play
  • Vomiting
  • Self mutilation
  • Repetitive behaviours, such as running in circles.
  • Depressed, apathetic, and withdrawn behaviour while alone

Practise leaving and returning

As mentioned before, staying home alone is a skill that needs to be learned, and like with other skills, this needs to be taught in steps. Leaving a dog that just joined your family home for an extended period of time without any preparation is a recipe for disaster. Moving homes is a stressful event for any dog, and understanding and patience is required. If you welcome a dog into the family, it’s advised to take some time free from work and other life obligations, so you can help your new family member ease into his or her new home. Moving homes can be especially hard on pups because often at the same time they will gett separated from their mother and siblings. 

Once the dog is settled in, you can start practising with leaving and returning. You can start this really small, for example by being in different rooms in the house than the dog. Make sure to start with short intervals of separation. I  you notice your dog is getting anxious, starts barking, or shows any other signs of distress, this means the interval was too long, or the distance too big. If you first need to learn to create distance inside the room with you visible at all times, then this is what needs to be done. Key to positively developing the skill to stay home alone, is returning before the dog gets distressed. 

Routine and schedule

Dogs are animals of routine, and they love to know what to expect. It makes them feel safe and prevents stress. In many cases, dogs are brought into families when they have a lot of free time available, such as during holidays. With the time available, and the excitement over the new family member, a lot of time will be dedicated to the dog. They will get used to this routine, and any sudden big changes can create anxiety. 

While it’s definitely advisable to bring a dog home when you are free from most life obligations so you can help your new family member settle in, one should start shortly after bringing the dog home to ease them into the routine and schedule they will be on most of the time. By starting to set the schedule and routine early, you have time to gradually implement any changes. 

Interactive & independent play

It’s important to provide your dog with both interactive and independent play. By playing with your dog, they will feel connected and it will fill their “attention & interaction” cup. It’s a great way to strengthen the dog-owner bond and provide them with mental enrichment. Just as important as interactive play, is independent play. Rotate your dogs toys around, or make use of hidden treats in toys, to stimulate them to play alone. You can also start with interactive play, and once you notice your dog is engaged by himself, remove yourself from the situation. You can use play to mentally engage your dog during the day, so it will be easier for them to settle when you are out of the house as they will feel satisfied. 


Having a walk before leaving your dog alone may help them settle easier after you leave. A walk will physically tire them, and most likely they will want to take some down time after. Ensure that you have some time after the walk, and don’t have to rush out, so your dog can settle down and the departure is a calm event. 

Tools & Tips

Some dogs benefit from the use of tools. There are pheromone sprays and diffusers available which you can use, which based on studies, might be helpful in reducing stress and anxiety. Some dogs also enjoy having the radio or television on, and curtains either open or closed. You can leave safe chews, toys, and enrichment games to entertain your dog when you are away. Comfort items, like a shirt that you have worn, may help your dog feel more at ease. Keep greetings and departures calm.


Most dogs experience some level of distress when they are left alone, but with some guidance, a lot of them can learn to stay home alone comfortably. Some dogs will have extreme difficulty staying home alone, and will require more help. When you suspect your dog may fall into this category, consult with a canine behaviourist. Separation anxiety can severely impact the well-being of your dog, so it’s imperative that they are helped. One should NEVER use corrective measurement such as correction collars, as it may suppress the symptoms like barking, but the root cause isn’t addressed which can create other behaviours issues in the long run. Also, it’s simply not fair to punish a dog for being fearful when home alone.

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