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Separation Anxiety in Dogs

How to avoid it and teach your dog it's okay to be on their own.

Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Kennel training can be a suitable method of teaching your dog to spend periods of time on its own. (Ben Brettingen photo)

The little ball of fur was attempting to summon some sort of demon, as it howled and bounced off the walls of her kennel at three o’clock in the morning. In hindsight, this is where our troubles with separation anxiety started. After the third night of incessant howling and against sage advice, we invited our first puppy into our bed, so we could catch a little more shuteye before work. Little did we know how this mistake would manifest itself over the next ten months, but in that moment, life was better with a quiet sleeping puppy than another minute of her raucous racket. 

Fast forward to several months later, Annie was now going to work with me every day, a constant companion and all was well with the world. We enjoyed walking over to the customer service department where a group of gals would swoon over the little bearded dog and we took our lunch in the woods where the pup could experience the sights and smells of the world. This all ended abruptly with some corporate policy changes. Annie was now relegated to spending her 9 to 5 at home. Naivete was in full effect, and after her first day unrestricted at home, it was time for some structure and a kennel—I didn’t know a feather pillow would create such a mess!

After being with me nearly 24/7, she was dealing with a case of separation anxiety caused wholeheartedly by yours truly. With my next three dogs, I was very conscientious of my mistakes and made sure not to repeat them. However, despite your best efforts, some dogs are simply predisposed to separation anxiety and it’s something you’ll have to remedy. Here are a few tips to prevent and mitigate separation anxiety with your dog.

Setter puppy coming through dog door
As most gun dogs double as household pets, they need to feel confident and comfortable to be on their own at times. (Kali Parmley photo)

Preventing Separation Anxiety 

Your dog isn’t a child. Yes, I know you love your fur baby, and you’d do anything for them, but it’s a dog. This is where many people go wrong. Although your new puppy may disagree, the kennel is a beautiful place. Crate training or kennel training is a crucial step that teaches a dog to be okay by itself. At night the dog goes in its crate and if it starts to whine for a potty break, the pup goes outside to relieve itself and then right back into the kennel. Throughout the day, the puppy needs to be in its kennel for some portion of the day, and within a week, it might give you a whimper or two before relaxing. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT let the puppy out when it starts to whine. If you do, congratulations, you’ve just reinforced “whenever I cry, my human comes over to let me out.” This is so much easier to do with an 8- to 12-week-old puppy than with a 6-month-old dog.


Exercise definitely helps with this process but don’t overdo it with puppies as they are still prone to injury or developing joint and bone problems later in life. However, it’s a heck of a lot easier to get a tired pup to curl up in the kennel and fall asleep after it’s been outside to socialize and run around.

Many say routine is important and I agree to an extent. However, my dogs’ lives are not routine, and curling up by the fireplace is just as common as a 12-hour drive in the truck. I move the kennel around the house, take it to new places, and let my dogs sleep in the back of the truck inside of the kennel when the situation arises. Your young puppy needs to be properly socialized and exposed to many different situations in order to create a well-rounded canine citizen.

Pointer puppy on the couch
Establishing a routine with your puppy that includes time alone will help them develop a proper level of independence. (Ben Brettingen photo)

There could be an entire novel written about proper puppy socialization, but if you adhere to these simple steps, the odds of your puppy developing separation anxiety are dramatically reduced.

Take It Slow

Don’t worry. Take it from me. I’ve successfully cured separation anxiety, but it definitely is a process. My approach was to temper Annie to my constant presence and to the kennel. It started with putting her in the kennel while we were still inside the house going back and forth in front of her kennel. She was not happy, but after a few days of this she was fine. We didn’t make a big leap, or leave the house, so she felt comfortable when we were around. Next, we would start to go outside for 5, 10, or 15 minutes at a time, and yep, she would freak out. However, after continuing with the routine she would ultimately settle down. Eventually we made it to the point where she would go in her kennel, and we would leave for work without a whimper. This didn’t happen in a matter of days, but over many weeks.


Setter puppy laying on dog bed in office
Fostering your dog's independence should be a thoughtful and well-planned process. (Kali Parmley photo)

Overcoming separation anxiety, like most of dog training, is a process. Our dogs want to be with us all the time, but we need to teach them it’s okay for them to be alone at times. Breaking down these steps and turning them into sample-sized teachable moments will help condition your dog to find comfort in being alone for longer and longer increments. Learn to read your dog’s cues and develop a system that is tailored to their speed. Pay close attention, don’t rush it, and don’t be afraid to take a few steps back. This is an optimal time to build a strong bond with your companion and a mutual working relationship that will carry on for years to come.

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