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separation anxiety in dogs

home ALONE

Although dogs are social animals many now spend most of the daytime hours home alone.  While some dogs seem to adjust quite well, others show distress.  This distress can range from mild to severe and is often called separation distress.

It's a very commonly reported behavioural problem in dogs, and it may worsen if left untreated.
It is a distressing situation for a dog owner, and barking may result in neighbour complaints with possible legal troubles. It is also a major reason for dog relinquishment, making it a welfare concern. For this reason, it's important to make the best efforts to prevent it to develop, and when the problem has already arisen to address it with the help of a professional.

What is separation distress?

Separation distress is a behavioural response a dog shows when they are unable to cope with being home alone. Common signs include:

  • Barking, whining or howling soon after family members leave and perhaps all day
  • Elimination indoors even after having been outside before owners depart
  • Destruction often near entrances and exits, but can be any items
  • Rearranging owner possessions-taking owner scented items and carrying them around
  • If confined intensive and perhaps injurious attempts to escape
  • Consistently occurs on most departures

Are those the only symptoms?

While some dogs show the profound symptoms listed above, others may show subtler signs of distress

  • Behavioural depression-do not move, eat or drink when home alone
  • Hiding or acting upset when owners get ready to depart
  • Extreme excitement when owners return, regardless of how long they have been gone
  • Depressions or signs only when one person is gone
  • Distress signs only during frightening situations such as storms or fireworks when home alone and not at other times 

How can I find out if this is happening to my dog?

  • Use a smart phone, camera or tablet to take a video or audio recording of your dog when you leave the house
  • To be most accurate, you must actually drive away for at least 5-10 minutes
  • If you see or hear signs of distress, contact your veterinarian for help

What can I do immediately to help my dog and prevent separation stress


Adaptil diffusers have been shown to calm dogs in distress situations, alongside instructions to the owners provided by a veterinarian (called “behavioural modification plan”)


Use either an Adaptil diffuser and/or an Adaptil collar to help your dog relax


Make an appointment with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviourist for a more detailed behavioural modification plan


Be aware this condition can take a while to resolve (up to 3 to 6 months, depending on the severity). For the best improvement everyone in the family needs to be prepared to stick to the plan.


Studies on Adaptil have shown that utilizing a collar or diffuser when first bringing a puppy into a new home can help them settle faster with less distress


Studies have also shown that Adaptil can be useful when bringing home a dog from a rescue centre or shelter


If your dog reacts to storms or fireworks, Adaptil is known to help calm dogs and utilizing it during these times even if your dog has mild reactions may help them to stay home alone during these episodes

The above video provides advice on how to make your dog cope home alone.

Additional tips to reduce early signs or to help your dog adapt to time home alone:

  • Provide your dog with somewhere safe to be when you are not at home, e.g. a dog bed, a room or even a crate/den only if your dog is not upset or destructive when confined. 
  • Ideally plug in an Adaptil diffuser at floor level where your dog will spend their time alone (unless your dog is destructive – instead plug the diffuser in out of reach of your dog). Adaptil should be continued for at least a month after your dog has learnt to adapt to time on their own. This implies replacing the refill as required every 30 days)
  • Reward your dog for demonstrating relaxed behaviours – train the cue ‘down’ and reward calm behaviour in this position and the safe location
  • Ensure your dog has had enough exercise and has been outside to eliminate before being left home alone
  • Leave your dog a fun toy or food puzzle to keep him occupied as you depart.
  • Keep your departures and returns calm and quiet, just say “goodbye” and leave, a soft hello when you return.
  • If your dog is destructive or eliminates while you are gone never punish them, this will only increase their distress.
  • If these steps are not effective, contact your veterinarian or veterinary behaviourist for additional help and advice.