8 Easy Exercises to Cure Separation Anxiety in Dogs

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When I first discovered the “mom-blogging” trend,” I had to admit that I chuckled at the idea of a niche dedicated to simply being a mom. Of course, I thought this with complete ignorance at how much is required to be a mom and juggle everything else in life, let alone adding a full-time job to the mix.

But now, the more I explore the vast world of blogging coupled with my own situation of having a dog, I can’t help but feel like I’ve turned into a mom-blogger myself – that is, a fur-mom blogger.

We got my beloved wiener dog Sam from friends who were forced to give him up, and he was at the time, a trusting, normal, chill dog. I don’t know what happened down the line, but more and more he started to become afraid of everything. He constantly barked aggressively at people, started trying to bite others, developed major trust issues and started to really dislike kids.

Sam grew extremely attached to me and it got to the point where he would follow me everywhere I went. If I left to fetch the mail right down the street, he’d try to bolt out from underneath me when I opened the door to leave. He’d cry immediately after I shut the door right behind him. He would chew up no one else’s shoes except mine. He wouldn’t even let me go to the bathroom alone.

Fast forward to now, and he is doing much better than he used to, thanks to some lifestyle changes I made. Living with a codependent or anxious dog can be in ways, very similar to dealing with a child with separation anxiety, but with the right changes, you can turn your dog into a trusting and independent dog over time. Continue reading for the methods I learned from several dog trainers to turn Sam into the friendliest wiener dog ever.

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#1: Find the stressor

Back when I lived with my parents, home was a very stressful environment. My mother spent a lot of time babysitting my niece and nephew, who are both 4 and 2 years old, respectively. Having crazy, screaming kids running around the house, banging on walls, throwing things, and even sometimes chasing or trying to grab Sam was one of the biggest stressors to him. Not only that, but because the kids were already a handful, my mom was constantly yelling and creating a tense environment, so if Sam was around, he’d often get scolded for the smallest things.

Now that I live elsewhere, Sam no longer has to deal with living in a place where kids are running around, making loud noises, and a crazy mom chasing after these kids, yelling and contributing to the bad juju in the house. You may have to make some changes at home, but chances are, if the environment is stressing your dog out, it’s probably stressing you out too. Dogs are very susceptible to energy, so just like humans, if they are in a bad environment, their mood will be just as bad.

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#2: Stop putting him in time-out when they don’t deserve it

Once you’ve eliminated any possible stressors, you need to start replacing your dog’s bad habits with good ones.

Because my parents dealt with the kids so often, they never let Sam out, and he was always fenced off in the hallway by himself with no attention when I wasn’t home. When I was home, I had to keep him with me in my bedroom so that he and the kids wouldn’t have a bad run-in. What I should have done was keep him on a leash around the kids to prevent any bad scenarios, but allow him to walk around and not isolate him. When you do not allow your dog to roam free in a house he lives in, you are giving him the idea that it 1) isn’t safe, or 2) you do not trust him, which, in either case, can potentially put the dog into a fight-or-flight mode when seeing others freely navigate around a place his considers to be his home.

Isolating a dog in his own home also gives him a feeling of discomfort and does not make him feel welcome either. How would you like it if you were alienated in your own home and didn’t feel comfortable to walk to the kitchen for a glass of water? It’s just about the same feeling as living with roommates and having bad blood or drama between each other. Again, create a welcoming environment.

#3: Stop raising your voice unnecessarily

Similar to creating bad energy, a loud environment with tons of people yelling all the time can contribute to an unwelcoming environment. If people are constantly fighting or arguing at home, this can create a detrimental effect on a dog’s psyche just as much as it does with children. Whatever disagreements are long-standing, you have to start being responsible and putting them to rest.

#4: Do not scold them unless you intend on following up with disciplinary action

This is a valuable lesson I have learned from working with dog trainers in the past: disciplining bad behavior is more than just telling a dog, “no!”. Do you think this will work with kids? Definitely not! Each time your dog does something they are not supposed to do, you must discipline them with action rather than just yelling, “no!” across the room. If you grow into the habit of verbally reprimanding them across the room, they will not see your verbal warning as discipline. If your dog gets into the cat food, quickly verbally reprimand them, go over to your dog, slap him on the nose, and move him away from it (do not move the food away from the dog, or he will just follow it). Each time he does this, you must continue to go through the sequence of verbally reprimanding him and then physically showing him what to do instead.

If he tears up your shoes, scold him, show him the shoe, put him in time-out, and do not remove him from time-out until he is calm. Do not yell at him and then leave him be. In short: you must not stop at verbal warnings, or just like a teenager, they will continue to rebel until you enforce the rules.

This also goes to say, if you’re feeling lazy and don’t feel like scolding him, it’s better not to scold them at all. You want to create a boundary and show them that this is not okay to do, and if you do this, you will be disciplined. The more than you say, “no!” and have no follow-up will only make him disrespect you and your belongings even more.

Also remember that if you intend on scolding him, you must scold him in the moment he is committing the crime, not after the fact. If he’s ripped up your shoe and you throw it away and then scold him, he will not understand why he is in trouble. He must see the evidence of his crime and associate it with why he is in trouble.

Lazy dog training is the equivalent of lazy parenting: don’t do it unless you mean it.

#5: Reward them when they do something right

Oftentimes, doing the right thing is a thankless job. Yes, it’s true, you don’t want Fido peeing inside the house or eating food that was dropped on the floor, but you should also reward them when they don’t do these things! If they do the right thing, it is crucial that you reward them and show them with a distinction that this is correct. They will quickly associate good behavior with being rewarded.

Many people may disagree with giving treats as rewards, but I am yes and no on this. When I first began positive reinforcement, I did use treats, but I always made sure to show obvious excitement in my voice. Saying, “good boy!” in a monotonous voice is not enough. Clap your hands, show excitement on your face, raise your tone of voice with happiness, pet him, and give him a treat. If he sees you are excited, he will associate his good deed with making his owner happy, which is worth more than the treat itself.

Over time, you will not always have to use treats to reward your dog, as showing your excitement will be good enough, granted you’ve done your positive reinforcement correctly without using treats as a crutch.

#6: Socialize, socialize, socialize

This may sound like the toughest part, but trust me, it’s much easier than you think! Once you’ve done the above steps, your dog will be much less anxious to begin with. At this point, it will be easier to begin socializing him with a calmer demeanor.

If you go out to eat often, go on Yelp and start finding dog-friendly restaurants. Begin this slowly by going during off-hours, so avoid going during peak breakfast times, peak lunch or dinner times. Pick restaurants that aren’t as popular. You want to slowly dip your dog’s toes in the water of being social without overwhelming him in a sea of people, kids, and noise.

When you go out to eat, sit away from others for the first few times, so that your dog can settle in and absorb the fact that he is in public and around other people. Let him people watch! When the waiter comes and he behaves, make sure to reward him with verbal praise, petting, back rubbing, and a treat. This will create the idea that it is okay to be around other people and mind his own business, instead of becoming anxious when the waiter approaches.

Over time, you can start inching closer to others and see how he responds. Make sure to scold him if he acts aggressive, and reward him when he behaves. Later on you can start going to more popular restaurants or during peak hours. The general idea is to slowly socialize him.

Something that helped to take the edge off his anxiety when going out in public was giving him 2 of these calming treats 1-2 hours before leaving the house. They’re about $6-7 for a bag of 30 mini-sized treats, and although they have had mixed reviews, I have had major success with them! I feel that the major problem with other people’s experiences was that they expected these treats alone to solve all their dog’s anxiety problems. Please remember that any treats or tools to cure your dog’s anxiety is just an aid to your training and should never serve as a replacement for proper training.

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#7: Find a dog buddy

If a big problem is his inability to get along with other dogs, then just like socializing with people, you have to start slow. Find a dog park local to you and gradually introduce the park to him: if your dog is extremely aggressive, start by sitting in the car and letting them look at the dogs at the park through the window. After a few times and getting adjusted, get out of the car, and hang out around the dog park, but don’t go inside. Find a patch of grass and sit down, and let your dog sit and watch them.

Later on, you can start taking him on walks around the outer fence of the dog park, so he can get closer. Over time, he will grow comfortable, and then you can bring him inside. Make sure to keep him on his leash and let him sniff around, as more than likely, other dogs will come up to him and sniff his butt. It’s important to let him sniff around and sniff others so that he can assess the situation and discover that this is a neutral and non-threatening environment. You might want to keep him on a leash for a few sessions, and even having someone there to help you that your dog trusts can make the entire situation much easier.

After a while, he will grow comfortable with this dog park, and look forward to going. Eventually you will be able to take him off his leash and let him do his thing. Be wary of his body language around other dogs – if he’s stiff when others are sniffing him, be on guard, because he may snap. If he sniffs their butt in return, this is a good sign! The trick is to slowly get him adjusted to the smells of other dogs until he learns that they are not a threat.

In the beginning, try to steer him away from dogs that are playing fetch, as he might become territorial or aggressive. After you have spent a few months doing the other steps, he may be able to play with others!

Throughout this period, you will eventually find someone, whether it’s a personal friend or someone from the dog park, who may be willing to meet up regularly and take your dogs out together. One of my best friends and I routinely have lunch together or hang out at home together, which allows my dog the time to socialize with her dog.

Again, I’ve found that those calming treats definitely helped calm down Sam’s behavior prior to going to the dog park.

#8: Practice leaving him

If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, it’s probably no question that you’ve developed anxiety as well! It’s completely understandable that you fear they might ruin the house or have a nervous breakdown while you’re not. Both of you can remedy this by doing this daily exercise of leaving him in short bursts of time throughout the day.

Back then, my dog would not leave me alone, even to use the bathroom! I had to bring him with me into the bathroom, or else he would bang and scratch on the door until I opened it. I broke this bad behavior by creating a comfortable area in the home for him that makes him feel secure. I took the comforter that I was using and replaced it with a new one, and then gave him my old comforter since it still smelled like me. He would use it as a bed in my office and doze off into sleep.

When he was relaxed, I would quietly leave the room, leave the door open, put the dog fence up, and go downstairs to use the restroom. He would notice me leaving and would naturally grow anxious, but I stayed downstairs for a few minutes afterward to fix some food, and then come back upstairs.

When I came back upstairs, I would praise him and then continue with what I was doing before I left. Simply put, I was going to the restroom by myself downstairs to give him short periods of alone time, and then coming back upstairs and praising him for it. Eventually, this worked so well that I can now shut the door instead of leaving the fence up. You just want to give him the idea that you leaving is temporary, so that gradually you can extend these periods of away time.

Obviously, you don’t want to start this by leaving him alone in your bedroom with the door shut all day. You have to take baby steps. Small trips to the restroom, to the mailbox, to the car to grab something, or even to the garage. Make sure to leave him with something that smells like you so that he does not feel abandoned, leave quietly, keep the trips short, and always reward him afterward.

When the weather is much cooler, I practice this same exercise during my errand-running days. I put him in a cage in the backseat of my car with the roof window ventilated and leave him for 5-10 minutes to deposit money at the bank, grab something at the dollar store, or drop off a package at the UPS store. Before, he would scream bloody murder as soon as I shut the door, but reinforcing his “being a good boy” for braving the 5-10 minutes of being alone with a treat and tons of kisses definitely helped him.

Eventually, when you leave home for a few hours at a time, you can curb his anxiety while you’re gone by taking him on a run or a long walk before leaving to burn some of his energy and give him some of those calming treats an hour or two before you leave.

A lot of these strategies were learned from several lessons with dog trainers in the past, but I never successfully implemented them until I eliminated the stressors that were breaking his training. So I’ve saved you tons of money by taking those dog training courses for you!

Will you be trying these methods on your anxious dog? Let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter below for more posts.

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Does your pup ruin things when you're gone? Does he cry or make messes when he's alone? Learn these 8 easy ways to cure separation anxiety in dogs, all taught from professional dog trainers. - www.theballeronabudget.com
Does your pup ruin things when you're gone? Does he cry or make messes when he's alone? Learn these 8 easy ways to cure separation anxiety in dogs, all taught from professional dog trainers. - www.theballeronabudget.com

1 Comment

  1. August 25, 2019 / 5:27 pm

    Hey Aileen,

    I believe that you have missed your calling as a “dog whisperer”! You have incredible insight into what it “really” takes to get your Sam playing on the same page as you. So many misdiagnose a bit of destructive behavior as being an unruly dog. When, in many cases, it’s the owner that needs a bit of puppy counseling. I think you did a really great job with “Sam” from what you are sharing with the rest of us. And, if we – as dog owners, all demonstrated a bit of patience and consistency mixed in with a ton of love and understanding – this world would be a much better place for all of our furry friends. I really enjoyed your article – well done Aileen! Thanks for sharing your insightful gifts with the world – be well!


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