How to Help a Dog Feel Calm When Left Alone

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Australian Shepherd (Aussie) Puppy Looking Out Window“Separation anxiety” is a phrase that’s often used when a dog becomes anxious when left alone. Some dogs with separation anxiety will bark all day when left alone. Others are so nervous they have accidents, and some dogs will destroy property in an attempt to get out of the house.

On the other hand, just because your dog is acting this way does not necessarily mean he has true “separation anxiety.” It could just be that he’s bored or that he’s not fully potty trained like you thought. Or maybe he’s just barking because he hasn’t been taught any other options.

If you’re not sure if your dog is dealing with separation anxiety, it’s always best to consult with a veterinarian or trainer. Then you can come up with the best behavior modification plan for your unique dog, whether separation anxiety is the issue or not.

In the meantime, the following are some ideas to help any dog feel more comfortable when left home alone. If your dog is already starting to appear anxious when you leave, these tips could help your dog feel calmer.

How to help a dog feel calm when home alone

1. Stick to a routine.

Dogs love a routine. If their schedules are somewhat predictable, they have an easier time relaxing. Do your best to follow the same routine each day when you leave the house. For example, maybe you let your dog out first thing in the morning, then feed her, then take her for a short walk before putting her in her kennel while you get ready for work.

2. Do not feel sorry for your dog.

Dogs pick up on our emotions, which can be a good thing at times. However, if you’re feeling anxious about leaving your dog home alone, guess who else will feel anxious? Instead, try to think positive thoughts about how lucky your dog is to stay home in a relaxing, climate-controlled environment with toys and a bed. You are the one who has to work all day at a job. Your dog should feel sorry for you!

3. Start by leaving for short periods.

If you recently adopted a new dog or puppy, it can really help if you start by leaving her alone for just 10 minutes at a time. Start doing this right away from day one. Ideally, you would be able to take a day or two off from work and slowly get your dog used to being alone in a new place.

4. Provide lots of exercise and structure.

A tired dog will have an easier time staying calm and relaxed. It’s not fair to expect your dog to be calm and quiet while you’re gone if you don’t take him for at least a walk every day. Some dogs will need even more exercise than that such as some off-leash time to run around. For more ideas, see our post on ways to exercise a dog.

5. Don’t make a big deal out of coming and going.

If you make a big production out of leaving the house, it’s only going to make your dog excited and nervous. It’s best to literally ignore him for a good 20 minutes before leaving. When you do leave, don’t even look at your dog or say goodbye. Just go.

If you say something like “Goodbye, Buddy! Mommy loves you! Be a good boy! I’ll be back soon!” it will only make Buddy more excited. You don’t want to get him excited, especially if he’s already started to settle in. Instead, just leave quietly.

6. Use a kennel.

Some dog owners are uncomfortable with the idea of putting their dogs in a “cage.” However, kennels are safe tools that can often help dogs feel relaxed and calm.

Because I used a kennel with my dog Ace for the first six months, he was able to learn how to relax when left alone. It didn’t take long for him to slowly be allowed more and more freedom, but the kennel was an important tool to prevent bad habits from forming.

While in his kennel, my dog did not have the option of chewing my coffee table or peeing on the rug. Instead, he chewed on the special toys I gave him and then settled in for a nap. It also helped that I took him for a walk every single morning before leaving.

For more, see our post on kennel training tips.

Other tips to try:

  • Leave music or TV on for your dog.
  • Leave a fan or air conditioning on for more “white noise.”
  • Give the dog a special toy or treat when you leave.
  • Ignore your dog when he whines.

How about the rest of you? How did you train your dog to feel comfortable being left alone?

About Lindsay Stordahl

Lindsay Stordahl is a blogger for dogIDs.com. She has a black Lab mix named Ace and two naughty cats named Beamer and Scout. Lindsay owns a pet sitting business called Run That Mutt and also maintains the blog ThatMutt.com. ... Add Lindsay to your Google+ circles at . You can follow Lindsay on Twitter @ThatMutt.

  1. I totally agree that any dog needs to exercise to stay healthy and calm. I am considering buying a puppy for my daughter and we agreed that she will be the one taking care of his physical training. Hopefully, she’ll keep her promises!

  2. My daughter had rescued a dog that has had severe anxiety when she leaves it got a lot better over a period of a year or two now she is regressing because now my daughter works from home three out of five days and it’s starting to come back can somebody please help me help my daughter

    • Even at home, she should not allow her dog to follow her, be with her and see her all the time.
      She should keep the same routine as the days she goes out for work : even if she’s at home, she should leave the dog alone the same hours and same amount of time than the ones she will not be there the other days. When she works home or out, she should put the dog in the same room, space, kennel… The dog must understand that he uses the same space, make the same things, during the same hours. Doesn’t matter if she’s inside the home or out. Just stuck to the routine if it was working before.
      Never answer or open the door when the dog barks or tries to destroy the door or whatever. Really never. Only when the dog is calm.
      She should also, when she leaves the dog free inside the home while she’s there, not allow him to follow her everywhere (close the doors, be out of sight,… and never open or whatever unless the dog is calm and stopped waiting and looking for her). Not answer to his demands of attention, even by looking at him. Only when she calls him or goes to him herself.
      It’s breaking heart to do so and to be obligated to “reject” and ignore the dog we love and is seeking for us, but that’s how he gets more autonomy and independence. ->>> If a dog who has anxiety isn’t autonomous when you’re home – so the periods that are normally the less anxious and the more “safe” – he cannot be when you suddenly leaves.

      Also, walk well the dog in the morning. Then when you come back wait 5min that he calms down (or if he learned to calm on command ask him), put him in his room/kennel/space that he will stay. (Those places should never be used to “punish” the dog, especially if he’s anxious). She should then prepare and make her things OUT OF SIGHT, normally in 20min the dog should be calm and sleepy – maybe not the first times through. Leave when the dog is calm, without saying anything. If nothing happens, come back; but don’t go to him ! Don’t open straight, maybe don’t even open at all, let him calm down ! Never come back when the dog is doing whatever behaviour you don’t want him to repeat. Repeat this again and again, change the amounts of time (in the beginning, very short, even 30sec!). The dog will calm quicker and quicker until to not make this anymore. Little by little he should renounce bad behaviours, understanding that not calling and not moving is a better way for you to come back.

      Just an observation : she should try, if she does, to stop watching her dog. I noticed that I was doing this. My dog was anxious, so he was looking at me all the time. I was looking back at him also a lot (even without saying anything or without even moving anything else than my eyes). When I stopped, he began to be more independant.
      Stopping to be myself on my dog’s back even by looking/checking/answering his look made him REALLY be more confident. I guess that he understood that not everything was passing through me or needed my approbation or an exchange with me. Just trust him and let him make his life more and more and accept yourself to leave him far from you when you’re with him, to not check him. When you answer all the glances with an anxious dog, you make him more anxious when your glance isn’t there to comfort him. He has to be comfortable with his life by himself. It’s more difficult with an older dog that has been abandoned, because we also want to give the love the dog missed; but by doing it we just reinforce the bad behaviours we want to avoid…

      Just stuck to the previous routine and habits if it worked ! Even if you’re in the same home, if it was working the routine of the dog shouldn’t change !

      • And I forgot, but the thing is also to give the dog enough exercise. And train him to be alone especially after exercising (coming back home after a good walk – waiting him to calm and feel sleepy – put him in his space and leave him without even a glance – leave without saying anything and without looking – come back shortly after, when he’s calm and don’t say anything and don’t let the dog see you – leave when he’s calm – come back – leave – come back – again and again). It’s the period that the dog is to more prone to feel calm and be quiet, so take advantage of it. Don’t let the anxious dog to rest near you or wherever he decides that he can check what you do and if you leave, learn to him that he can rest alone inside his safe place, while you go – come back.

        Just a last word : she shouldn’t feel sorry for this. It’s for his own good. He will feel much better in his mind generally, in his WHOLE life. So no anxiety. With an anxious dog it’s difficult, but we’ve got also to learn to just let the anxious dogs be free from ourselves :).

  3. My puppy is just about 6 months old and is showing several signs of separation anxiety. I adopted him 2 and a half months ago from a rescue. He had been living with a foster family for two weeks before we adopted him, and they never left him alone or crated him. Since we’ve brought him home, he barks and whines when we’re in another room with the door shut, or even if we’re doing yard work and tie him up just outside of our reach. Trying to get him in his crate every morning is becoming more challenging every day and when he is in there, he barks constantly. He was recently neutered and we’ve been gating him in a small hallway in the house so he has more space to move around with the cone on. I was also hoping having this additional space to play with his toys that he often plays with by himself when we are home, would decrease his barking and anxiety but it hasn’t. Yesterday we figured out he can jump over the gate and has been getting into our belongings during the day while we’re at work. (This was a bit surprising since he’s been pretty good about not chewing on things that aren’t his toys while we’re with him and he’s free in the house.) This issue crosses themes from a couple of your posts (when to give a dog more freedom, and how to crate train) but I think his separation anxiety is the root issue and I’m looking for advice to help train it out of him. I’ve mentioned it to my vet but they haven’t been able to give me much advise. I know he is still young, but I’m worried he’s not making any progress and that we aren’t addressing his anxiety as the route cause.

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