Separation Anxiety Support
For Shelters and Rescues
There are many low-to-no-cost things you can do to make a big difference – we are here to help!
Best Practices for Supporting a Dog with Separation Anxiety
When you have a dog relinquished by a family that is showing signs of separation anxiety, it can be helpful to assess the dog in a systematic way so that the issues can be addressed clearly. We have created a Separation Anxiety Screening Tool that can be used to help with this, which can be added to your intake form consistently or only when the interview with the surrendering guardian suggests the dog may suffer from separation anxiety.
This tool can also be used to assess dogs in a foster or adoptive home if the guardians reach out with alone-time concerns. It is extremely difficult to identify separation anxiety in a dog in a shelter or rescue without previous home history, which is why we recommend only screening for separation anxiety when a home history at intake or after some time in a home is available.
The Separation Anxiety Screening Tool is intended to aid in the assessment of a dog’s comfort with alone time and is not meant to assign a level of severity or potential for recovery.
The use of medication for dogs with separation anxiety in the shelter/rescue environment is very dependent on the organization. We recognize that not all organizations have direct access to behavior meds for the dogs in their care, and that shelter medicine has its differences from the use of behavioral pharmacology within the dog’s permanent home. I am not a veterinarian, and I cannot advise on medication, so this topic is reserved for the veterinarian that is working with the shelter or rescue. However, one thing I think is important to mention is that these dogs are really struggling and their welfare can be compromised due to the challenges of their condition. Given the goal of maintaining the highest quality of life for all dogs in shelters, behavior meds should be a consideration if available.
While very powerful, separation anxiety training cannot be implemented in a shelter environment. However, please don’t minimize the impact of reducing any scary alone time on improving the dog’s quality of life while in a shelter environment. Remember, these dogs are panicking every time they are left alone for longer than they can handle, and stress and anxiety can take a toll both mentally and physically.
We understand that each shelter and rescue organization’s capacity to minimize alone time for dogs with separation anxiety will vary, so wanted to offer some ideas you may find helpful.
- Have the dog accompany staff in the office or meetings.
- Have the dog go home with staff.
- Have volunteers for in-shelter or at-home sitting.
Whenever possible, placing a dog with separation anxiety in foster care is ideal for the dog. Understandably, this is a big ask for a foster parent as part of helping a dog with separation anxiety is to stop exposing them to the scary stimulus of alone time, which means the dog should not be left entirely alone. Ideally, this means the foster care provider will have a more flexible schedule and support from other fosters, volunteers, behavior staff, or community dog professionals.
If a foster family is looking for additional information about what separation anxiety is or support managing alone-time, consider sharing these resources:
While I understand the desire to incorporate a separation anxiety protocol while in foster care, it is not usually the first-line recommendation. Dogs don’t generalize well, so even if the dog improves through training while in foster care, that doesn’t mean that learning will translate to the new adoptive home. Instead, encourage fosters to have fun training one or a few new tricks. Adopting a dog with separation anxiety that also has undesirable manners-related behaviors can make the situation more difficult. Manner training and having a cute trick on board both enhances the potential for adoption and permanency in the new home.
Of course, we want to support foster families committed to working a separation anxiety protocol. Please share Mission: POSSIBLE, our online self-paced course for caregivers of dogs with separation anxiety, with them.
When talking with potential adopters about bringing home a dog with separation anxiety, it’s important to talk openly and honestly about separation anxiety. Remember, this is a quality of life issue for the dog as well as the potential guardians. Potential adopters need to understand what life caring for a dog with separation anxiety requires. Separation anxiety is treatable, though the journey to help a dog overcome this issue can be slow and progress will not be linear.
Here are a few talking points to aid you in planning for an adoption counseling session:
- Be honest and do not sugar coat it; it is important to elevate separation anxiety to the level of attention it deserves in the conversation.
- Separation anxiety is a panic issue that can be overcome with time, creativity, and dedication. It IS treatable, though setting realistic expectations about the time it may take is key. Let them know it can be helpful to think about training in terms of months, not weeks, and weeks not year.
- Managing absences is critical to helping the dog learn alone time can feel safe. This is a requirement for effective learning and an essential part of the training process.
Consider sharing these resources with potential adopters:
- Handout: Separation Anxiety
- Handout: How to Help a Dog Overcome Separation Anxiety
- Handout: Treating Separation Anxiety Myths
- Blog post: Crowdsourcing Alone-Time Alternatives
- Blog post: Promissory Note and Practical Practices for Pet Parents
- Blog post: The Separation Anxiety Top 10 List – Malena DeMartini
If/as possible, follow up with families post adoption one or more times to see how the dog and humans are adjusting to life together. Consider asking what, if any, additional support they may need. This follow up could be a text, email, phone call. One goal of post-adoption follow up is to remind them they are not alone and connect them with resources, if needed, to help keep the dog safely and comfortably in their new home.
Consider sharing these resources with any adoptive families in search of additional support or hope:
- Prospective Client Questionnaire: We offer a free, 30-minute call to help guardians learn more about the resources we offer and to get connected with Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer if they’d like to move forward with one-to-one training.
- Blog post: The History of a Dog Who Overcame Separation Anxiety
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Help us gather as much information as possible about the current practices and protocols being used in shelters and rescues so that we can learn how to better support you.
My gratitude to you is infinite. I recognize the challenges that you face in your position and want you to know that we truly see your big hearts and tremendous efforts. Read our newest blog about how important our shelters are, and our commitment to them!