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Separation anxiety in dogs takes many forms and has many different levels of intensity, but one of the most obvious signs is a dog crying, howling, barking, or otherwise vocalizing when left alone. Your canine crooner may not be hurting themself or anyone (or anything!) with this behavior, but unless you live in a soundproof studio or way out in the country, dogs howling can certainly cause problems with your neighbors. Also, it is a very audible communication from your dog to you, or whoever might be within earshot, that your dog is unhappy. Your dog may have felt “abandoned” before, and if they’re not well-balanced through training, routine, and exercise, losing their protector can feel unbearable. The good news is there are lots of things you can try to reduce and eliminate dog crying when left alone.
What Causes Separation Anxiety In Dogs?
Separation anxiety occurs when a dog experiences fear or panic when left alone, either after a specific person leaves or if they’re totally alone. Common symptoms of anxiety in dogs include hiding, shaking, panting, excess energy, aggression, and destruction. Humans can also notice signs before they leave, including pacing, panting, pulling their ears back, following you around, hiding, or refusing food.
The most obvious sign — and one that can potentially be the most problematic for everyone involved — is crying or excessive barking. Dogs cry or whine for a number of reasons, but in this case, they’re generally expressing their uncertainty and anxiety.
How to Prevent Separation Anxiety In Dogs
Set a Reliable Daily Routine
Some newly adopted dogs may vocalize when they are first left alone as they are still getting used to their new home. Even dogs you’ve had for a while can be upset by changes in their routine, such as your work hours changing, a new roommate, etc., which can lead to separation anxiety. To help your dog’s separation anxiety, put them on a very consistent, reliable routine — at least one week of the same schedule of eating, playing, and exercising every day, including weekend days — and give them time to adjust. Even if your hour-by-hour schedule varies day to day, try to make sure your dog’s stays the same.
Exercise is known to help dogs with separation anxiety reduce stress. Unspent energy builds up in a dog and needs to come out somehow. It’s better spent running around the block with you than singing the classics while you’re gone, so take your pup for a walk or engage in an intense play session or other exercise right before you leave. Launcher fetch toys are great for helping get dogs’ energy out without requiring too much effort on your part. An indoor agility kit also works for days when you’re stuck indoors. Whatever you choose, just make sure the activity is long enough to tire them out, so they’ll be more likely to sleep while you are gone. And guess what — exercise releases serotonin in a dog’s brain, just like in humans! Serotonin causes a happy, calming feeling, and exercise is a way to get it instantly and safely into your dog’s brain without giving them any drugs. Check out our article about ways to exercise with your dog to get more fun ideas (ever tried Doga?) and eliminate dog crying.
How to Entertain a Dog Home Alone
Turning on a talk radio station or a news TV channel generally works well to soothe anxious dogs when you leave. Put the volume as loud as people would be talking in your home. If you’re looking for something specifically tailored to your dog, a sound machine may be a good option to help a dog with separation anxiety.
You can also give your dog a food puzzle right before you go, so they will be busy trying to get the food out of them while you are gone. Make sure you get the right size toy for your size dog. Even better, buy four or more different toys, and rotate, so one “new” one each day, putting the “old” one away. Take a look at our Puzzle Toys Pinterest board for inspiration on recipes, DIY toy making, and more, as well as this guide to keeping your dog entertained.
Doggie daycare can be a daily or occasional way for dogs who enjoy playing with other dogs to get lots of exercise and be happier and less anxious on days when their humans can’t be home with them. Daily dog walkers or sitters can also add just enough extra exercise and attention into your dog’s routine to alleviate crying when left alone.
How to Desensitize Your Dog to Your Leaving
You can help alleviate your dog’s separation anxiety with training. You want to “fake” your dog out the next dozen (or more) times you leave to start addressing their crying behavior. Mix it up. Your dog will think that you are coming back right away and will be less likely to cry. Here’s an example:
- Only go down the hallway to your front door or down the driveway, then come back.
- Then go down the hallway or block, wait five minutes, and come back.
- Then actually leave.
When you are getting ready to leave, gather up your things and leave as if you are coming right back. Skip hugs, kisses, or dramatic farewells. Don’t say “Goodbye, sweetie pie! It will be OK! Mommy will be back soon!” This just gives your dog a huge alert that you’re leaving.
Follow the same low-key routine when you return. This is the hardest for humans, but ignore any attention-seeking behavior, such as jumping or going crazy, and only reward your dog with calm love and affection when they are calm for at least five minutes after you’ve come home. You can take them outside immediately if they have to go potty but do so calmly without fanfare, as you’d do if you’d been home already.
Training For Dogs With Separation Anxiety
In addition to desensitization training, crate training your dog may be a helpful way to make them feel more secure when alone. Some dogs become more anxious in a crate, so take the crate training slowly to see how your dog reacts and if it helps their vocalizing or makes it worse. Adult dogs can often be crate trained for up to four-hour stretches during the day.
After you’ve followed the steps necessary for crate training, you’ll want to gradually increase the amount of time you leave your dog in the crate and then gradually increase the time you’re out of the house and your dog is in the crate by five-minute increments. You might want to try an airline kennel so their environment is darker and feels more secure than a wire crate or have the crate in a darker room. Don’t use a blanket to cover the crate because a dog can pull a blanket inside and eat it. Make sure you only use a chew-proof crate pad too.
Every dog is an individual and responds differently. A dog crying when left alone is not an uncommon problem, especially for a dog in a new home. Some dogs have severe anxiety that can take weeks to months to figure out if and what combination of the above may help. If you are struggling with a more severe situation like your dog is injuring themselves or the howling is causing landlord issues, it’s a good idea to seek help from a certified animal behaviorist or professional dog trainer.
Medication For Dogs With Separation Anxiety
If all else fails, you can visit your vet to discuss your dog’s behavior. There are a few medications for dogs with separation anxiety, such as Alprazolam or Clomicalm, that your vet can prescribe that may help either relieve anxiety or sedate your dog. You can also try natural anxiety remedies, including experimenting with calming products like calming collars, shirts, and diffusers. Probiotic supplements, available through veterinarians, can also help dogs maintain positive cardiac activity during stressful events, promoting a positive emotional state. It may take up to six weeks to see results, so give yourself plenty of lead time.
What if None of This Works?
What if you sought out a professional and it did not help or you are unable to make the investment? Rehome is a peer-to-peer adoption service that allows pet parents to post their pets on adoptapet.com to be seen by millions of potential adopters. When you’ve done all you can it’s important to remember that pets are individuals and sometimes your home might not be the right fit for either of you. If you’ve realized your dog’s anxiety is not improving or they are under a great deal of stress, rehoming your dog to a family that can better address these needs may be a very kind and responsible choice. If you’re in the difficult position of considering whether to rehome your dog, it’s important to take an honest look at the situation and to do your homework. Rehome can help make the process easy and as safe as possible.
Separation Anxiety in Dogs FAQs
How Long Can Dogs Be Left Alone?
Adult dogs can generally be left for four to six hours a day, while puppies between three and six months should not be left alone for longer than their age in months.
How Can I Help My Dog Stop Crying When I Leave?
Entertaining your dog by playing the radio or TV, leaving them with food puzzles, and crate training may all keep them from crying while alone.
How Long Does It Take For a Dog to Overcome Separation Anxiety?
Every dog is different, and with training and other methods of intervention, some dogs may overcome their separation anxiety in weeks while others may take months.
What Are Some Home Remedies For Separation Anxiety In Dogs?
Home remedies for separation anxiety in dogs include exercise, crate training, playing calm music, and calming products like collars, shirts, and diffusers.
What Is the Fastest Way to Cure Separation Anxiety In Dogs?
Every dog is different, and with training and other methods of intervention, they take different amounts of time to overcome separation anxiety.
Can Medication Be Used to Help My Dog Stop Crying When Left Alone?
Yes, there are medications that your vet can prescribe that may help either relieve anxiety or sedate your dog.
How Do I Comfort My Dog When They Are Left Alone?
Putting on the radio or TV or giving your dog a food puzzle right before you go can help soothe some anxious dogs when left alone.
Do Dogs Eventually Get Over Separation Anxiety?
With training and other methods of intervention, many dogs overcome separation anxiety.