Separation anxiety? Ask a Trainer!

separation anxiety

Q. #1 Every time I go out I have to deal with my Toy Poodle’s separation anxiety. Right now he’s 3 years old and was adopted from a Humane Society shelter when he was 2. When I go out he barks and whines like crazy. He won’t stop. When I’m home, there’s total silence, you can hear a pin falling. He stays calm. What can I do?

#2 My mom’s Toy Poodle has separation anxiety. He knows when she is leaving. He starts to shake really bad and paces back and forth. He also has two other small poodles with him. When she get into the car they all start wining and crying. What can she do to make this easier on them?

Separation anxiety in dogs is a very complex issue. Some dogs even require, or would benefit greatly, from medication if their anxiety is severe enough. This is a behavior issue that would truly benefit from working one-on-one with someone local to you. You can find professionals at or Keep in mind, there are many degrees of anxiety and it may be that simple things, such as mental enrichment, food-filled toys (Kongs) or increased exercise can help.

You need to work with a qualified professional experienced in working with separation anxiety to determine the degree to which your dog is experiencing anxiety. Another excellent resource are two books: I’ll be Home Soon by Patricia McConnell ( and Don’t Leave Me: Step by Step Help for Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety by Nicole Wilde ( .

For “general anxiety”, exercise can really help, and in fact can help most dogs since many dogs don’t get anywhere near enough exercise. Just like with people, going out and doing something physical can make you feel better because it releases neurotransmitters and endorphins in the brain. It also gives the dog something to focus on other than the anxiety, such as occupying their minds with a nice long walk with lots of interesting things to see and smell.

It also can make a dog tired out so when they’re back at home, they’re more likely to take a long nap and it’s hard to be anxious when you’re sleeping! Exercise doesn’t have to be just limited to the outdoors though. For all of our snowed in East coasters, you can play with them inside with a good game of fetch or hide and seek, or even doing nosework with some empty boxes. (See for information on nosework).

And exercise also doesn’t have to be limited to physical things – mental exercise can also help an anxious dog for the same reasons – it gives the dog something else to focus on. So giving them food stuffed toys like Kongs or other puzzle toys can be a great way to help relieve a dog who is feeling mildly anxious or stressed.

Got a question for the Association of Professional Dog Trainers? Leave a comment on the Animal Wellness Facebook page and we’ll send it in for our weekly Q&A.

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