FAQs Unpacked: Providing Answers and Dispelling Myths

My team and I speak daily to guardians seeking support to help their dogs overcome separation anxiety. Those conversations are such a gift to us, and we learn a tremendous amount from each and every person we speak with. While every separation anxiety scenario is unique, there are some common threads in these calls that we address regularly. Today, we’re here to help answer some of those most frequently asked questions we receive so that you, too, have the information that we share.

Why is my dog having such a hard time learning to be comfortable at home alone?

Separation anxiety is a panic issue, a genuine phobia about alone time, which means dogs in the clutches of this condition are truly terrified when home alone. Have you ever known or met someone afraid of flying, spiders, or perhaps public speaking? If so, then you recognize how real that fear feels to them and how debilitating it can be. Dogs struggling with separation anxiety are having a hard time, not giving you a hard time. This is not, nor could it be, your fault, which means there is nothing you’ve done (or not done) to cause this issue for your dog.

Does my dog really have separation anxiety?

Many dogs will display one or more of these behaviors when home alone: periods of vocalizations, uncontrollable urinating or defecating, destruction of furniture, walls, windows, doors, or flooring, pacing, panting, and drooling. As indicators of separation anxiety, these behaviors would be observed specifically when the dog is left home alone or about to be left home alone. Please also keep in mind that the appearance of severity (or lack of severity) of an anxiety indicator does not necessarily reflect the level of panic the dog is experiencing. The outward manifestation is all we can see; the signs are simply indicators of the underlying anxiety the dog is experiencing.

Is separation anxiety really treatable?

Yes! Just like any fear, phobia, or anxiety issue, there are positive treatments that can make a difference. The most efficient and effective way – the gold standard – to help dogs overcome their separation anxiety is a process called “systematic desensitization.” This process involves beginning with a period of alone time that is not stressful for your dog, which may be a very tiny amount (that is OK), and then gradually and systematically increasing that exposure as they start to learn alone time can feel safe. Over time, this process helps your dog to be comfortable for longer stretches and be alone as needed without distress.

How long will it take for my dog to overcome their separation anxiety?

I can empathize with the concern and question of time; however, only your dog has the answer to this question. Each and every dog is an individual learner. I wish I could give a time estimate as to how long it might take, but I’d be making a guess if I did so. The best answer I can give to this question is to ask you to think in terms of months, not weeks, and months, not years. The training is likely to take longer than you wish it would, though not as long as you’re afraid it might. Try not to place deadlines on you or your dog, and, instead, celebrate each of the many victories you will accomplish on your journey to resolution – there will be many!

What do you mean by “managing my dog’s alone time”?

One requirement of helping a dog with separation anxiety is not exposing them to any terrifying alone-time, whether managing the issue or working a training protocol. This does not mean you need to be with your dog 24/7 – friends, family, pet sitters, daycare, and other creative options will do. Remember, the goal is to change your dog’s emotional response to alone time, which means we cannot expose the dog to full-blown scary absences without compromising their welfare and potential for progress. While this may sound and feel intimidating, please keep in mind that it’s a temporary requirement and why you are implementing it – for you and your dog!

Would a crate help my dog feel more comfortable home alone?

Most dogs with separation anxiety do much better without being crated, and many dogs with separation anxiety also struggle with confinement anxiety. While most of us have learned about the importance of crate training, the problem with this as a “solution” for a dog’s separation anxiety is that the behavior is a manifestation of something – panic. When we simply crate dogs who are panicking, we’re typically accomplishing one thing and one thing only: limiting the panic to a smaller area. This can actually make it much worse for many dogs.

Should I try food toys?

It is commonly recommended that we use interactive feeding toys when working with separation anxiety. The problem with this is that most dogs will finish the food and then immediately begin to get anxious. That is, if they will engage with the food at all. Some dogs are too stressed to eat when left alone, and those that will usually fall into panic the moment the food is gone. Food can also put extra emphasis on the exit routine. Lastly, using food will obscure the necessary body language and behavior observation that is so essential to this training process. Interactive feeding toys can play an amazing role in your dog’s overall well-being and enrichment but will not help your dog overcome their fear of alone time. 

Should I talk to my vet about this?

I recommend that your veterinarian/veterinary behaviorist be informed about your dog’s separation anxiety. Please remember that medical issues can create behavior change and complicate behavior modification attempts. Separation anxiety should be clinically diagnosed, and your vet can rule out possibilities like pain or underlying health issues that might be influencing your dog’s home-alone behavior. Depending on the situation, medication can be very useful as an adjunct to behavior modification. I encourage you to discuss any questions/concerns you have regarding medication with your vet.
My team and I are here to help answer your additional questions and get you started on the path to resolution. If you are concerned that your dog is struggling when home alone, please feel free to get in touch with us through this form so that we can determine how best to support you and your beloved dog.

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About Malena DeMartini

Malena DeMartini is renowned in the dog training industry for her work with separation anxiety over the past two decades. She is the author of two groundbreaking books on the topic, and the founder of the Separation Anxiety Certification program. More information about Malena and resources about separation anxiety can be found on her website at:

About Malena

Malena DeMartini is renowned in the dog training industry for her work with separation anxiety over the past two 

decades, for more information about Malena Read More…

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