Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Separation Anxiety Dogs: Minimize Contrast


Dogs with separation issues have a hard time with, to state the obvious, separation. Want to help your separation anxiety dog? Then minimize the contrast between when you are home and when you are not.

This means, if you cuddle with your dog pretty much nonstop when you are home, you actually set your dog up for problems when he is alone. How can you make things easier for your dog? Start here:

Time to Detox!

Your dog is probably a junkie – a companionship junkie. And while companionship is why you acquired this pet, his profound need for it and dependence on it is a big part of this problem.

Your dog is never – ever – going to sort this out on his own or come up with a workable solution. Think how hard it is for humans – who assumably know better – to change addictive-type patterns. Your dog has no chance on his own – change is entirely up to you.

In short, your “you junkie” needs a good detox. And doggy detox begins with: Less is more. Less of you is more beneficial for him: less contact, less attention, less proximity.

Aim for no more than ten minutes of attention per hour when you are home. “Attention” means lap time, belly rubs, unconsciously stroking his head, and any body, eye, verbal contact between you and your dog. This includes resting his head on your foot or lap, gazing at each other adoringly, etc.

  • Hands Off Your Dog
  • Eyes Off Your Dog
  • Dog On the Floor
  • You on the Furniture
  • Dog Off the Bed

If you have clutched your chest and gasped at these suggestions: Excellent! That means we have plenty we can change, and that should help your dog.

Also, ten minutes an hour is a ton of attention when it is doled out in a conscious, sincere way. I don’t want you to cease enjoying your dog, just do so in a productive way, and for separation stressed dogs, productive = limited and specific.

If you can’t imagine this, then think about interacting with him about as much as you interact with adult family members. How much direct attention do you give them when you are home?

Add in new ways to engage him by using food-dispensing dog toys, slow feeders instead of regular bowls, interactive toys and USA made chews. In short, your dog has too little to do and too much time to do it in.

Giving your dog more to do and changing how you interact with your separation anxiety dog sets the stage for him to begin calming down and becoming less dependent on you. And that is movement in the right direction.

Good luck! Feel free to post questions below. I’m happy to help.


  1. can you explain to me why my boxer mix nudges me when we are walking around the house. looks at me while im reading a to get my attention, doesnt return to me after being off the leash.

    • Hi Vickie –

      Dogs do what works. Nudging and staring works. In both those cases, she is causing you to obey her. When that is the relationship, coming off leash (where she must obey you) is not likely.

  2. Help, I have adopted a 3year old maltese. She does every thing right on and knows all her commands. She is a little strange has no interest in any toys, period. We take many walks and is very calm around other dogs her size. Makes a fuss at the big ones but does listen to “no” amd quite commands. Lord dont let me leave when I have to run a errand, her high pitched annoying bark is non stop! I was allowing her to have to house, ( she will go #2 in the house and did both the next time I had to leave her.I have to kennel her now but I give her treats and may it really nice for her. And leave. Not gone more than a couple of hours and she is complaining for the 2 hrs none stop. Today I received a complaint warning from the humane society. So, Please help me. I have had her for about 40 days.

  3. Hi Miss Sarah,
    the humane society suggested a citronella collar or a security jacket . The collar will hurt dog cause it can get in to eyes the warning in not to use if dog going to be alone. And the security jacket is said to cause dog to have more of a fit and will try to rip it off. And both are expensive. What do you think?
    I will be doing the work suggested in above article. I was in a panic yesterday, after learning I was home all day the day in question, ( she did not have a barking fit).So some one is not being honest. Do you also have any suggested for the meddlingly cowardly humanes ? This is a guite a new relationship I ask the humane society to call if recieve another complaint, and the 2nd complaint the name of complainer has to be given. The humane society said they will work with me, but in the state of Colorado the law is 1 hr of barking will be enough to recieve a ticket. So any more cures and answers will be greatly appreciated. I dont want to have to rehome her. Its not fair. White female maltese, named Bella.
    Thanks so much,
    Lj Martins

  4. psss She is not interested in the treats, in kennel, and will not consume until hours after I have returned and she has clam down. i dony let her out of kennel until she is
    totally calm which takes about 45min. to hour.
    Respectfully, Txks again.
    LJ martins

    • Hi LJ –

      There is no quick or easy answer for this one. Ideas include: Walking her far and fast before you leave so she is more tired, covering the crate, crating her when you are home, moving the crate to another part of the house that will muffle her barking more, “Grounding Her” and changing her food (slowly) to a lower protein/lower fat food.

      Not knowing you or your dog, that’s good general advise to follow.

      Good luck and you might consider day care for a bit to give your neighbors a break and leaving a voice activated recorder on to be able to “prove” she’s not barking. There may be more than one barker and, when nerves are frayed, your dog may be getting all the blame.


  5. Hi Miss Sarah,
    I hope this note finds you and yours in good health and spirit. Bella is still a hot mess.
    I think this is the reason for re-homing her from her previous owners. As soon as I can get her to “stay” may be there will be hope for “quite”. In the meantime I have no answers either. I did purchase the citronella spray and have used it once and well of course she pissed in her kennel with her whole underside wet. That makes for 2 baths in 1day, plus cleaning her kennel.Yes Bella is a Hot Mess, however I do loveher.
    I thankyou so much for replying, I will carry-on.

    • So sorry. No short cuts on this problem. Putting her in daycare is an intermediate steps for many apartment dwellers.

      It’s a frustrating issue. 🙁

    • Hello LJ,

      I feel your pain. We raised a dog for a guide dog school and she was released because of separation anxiety. She had these issues as a young pup and never outgrew them. Now that she is an adult (4 1/2 years old), the issue is still there but we’ve come up with a few strategies for you to try.

      Put some nice calming music on. Don’t wait until you get ready to leave, have this on all the time to create a nice environment. Can’t remember the name if the music I use, but it’s specifically for dogs!

      We also use a thunder shirt. Again, don’t wait until you get ready to leave the house to put it on. Have it on periodically while you’re home so your pup doesn’t associate it with you leaving.

      Leave a good bone to chew like an antler bone. Yoo hoo….nice things happen for your pup when you leave!

      Try leaving from a back door or other exit if you have one. Whenever I do this, my pup doesn’t think I’m leaving the house.

      Would be happy to hear if any of these things work for you….Bonoca

  6. My daughter recently brought her lab-mix year old home from the Peace Corps in advance of finishing her service. He seems ok with her absence, but when we have left him in his crate, he actually bent it. She crate trained him for the travel to the US, and I bought him a slightly larger wire crate for when we work. I’m not sure if the problem is not having someone around, or the fact that in his previous life, he was tied out and able to see people and other animals, and not so physically confined. He likes it and gets fed and treated in it, and willingly goes in it. He would not be reliable having the run of the house. How can I best get him used to this new way of living? Thanks so much

    • Finding a good local trainer would be the best approach. Until them crate him for periods when you are home so he gets used to it as a normal part of the day. He also may do better with a plastic crate than a wire one. Good luck!

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