How can I improve my dog’s separation anxiety?

First things first:
“Separation anxiety” is one of those overused terms whose definition has gotten blurred along the way. True separation anxiety is actually a mental disorder that is extremely rare, while most of us use the word more casually to describe unfavorable behaviors rather than a state of mind.

That being said, before you start tearing your hair out and making enemies of your neighbors, here are some tips to help your dog grow out of these behaviors.

1. Talk it out

No, we aren’t referring to the “I wuv you wittle baby” talk. In fact, this type of talk can often increase the anxiety and excitement of our four-legged friends. Rather, a great way to build self-regulation is to teach your dog simple verbal commands (sit, down, stay), and then gradually get them to obey these commands for longer and longer. Self-control and the ability to calm down aren’t natural skills for dogs, so it’s up to us to teach them. If you stay calm and consistent in your enforcing of these commands, you are actively helping your dog de-escalate their anxious behaviors in the meantime. When you see they’re able to hold commands for longer periods of time, this is a great sign that they’re learning how to manage their excitement, which will pay off big time when you leave them alone.

2. Stimulate!

A lot of these negative behaviors are a result of boredom and restlessness. I mean come on, have you ever gotten bored sitting around at home alone with nobody to talk to and nothing to do? SNOREFEST. It’s really important to stimulate your dog both physically and mentally before you leave them alone, as this will help keep them calm. If they aren’t stimulated, they will take all their energy out while you’re away, and that can make for some ugly results.

3. Make a date with the crate

Crates are a great choice for several reasons. Not only do they serve as a great self-regulation tool, but they also prevent dogs from consuming anything harmful while we’re away and prevent them from causing any (heart-breaking) damage to our belongings. When used effectively, a crate can serve as a great tool to teach your dog how to calm down. That being said, it’s important to note the difference between containment and crate training. Simply locking your dog in a particular section of your house is not conducive to encouraging them to calm down. A crate, on the other hand, can act as a sort of den for your dog, allowing them to associate a particular place with a sense of calm and relaxation.

4. Bonds and boundaries

From the day that you adopt your scruff, whether they’re a puppy or a senior citizen, you need to build a relationship of trust and control. This means a commitment to enforcing rules and following through on your commands, whether they be ‘sit’, ‘fetch’ or ‘stay’. Always remember that our dogs take their cues from us, and the relationship you build with them will determine how they act when you leave them alone.