Why does my dog get so upset when I leave the house?

For some dogs, saying goodbye feels like the worst thing in the world. You’re cruelly abandoning them! And never coming back! They’re trapped forever! They miss you! We all hate leaving our dogs, but separation anxiety is a very real problem – especially after lockdown, when our dogs have become so much more used to us being around.

So if your usually happy and well-behaved dog starts getting distressed or destructive every time you leave them – they could be suffering from separation anxiety.

Here’s what it is, when it starts, what causes it, and some great tips on how to tackle it.

Does my dog have separation anxiety?

It’s normal for your dog to miss you when you leave. Separation anxiety is different – because the response is more extreme. Symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs include:

  • Barking, whining, howling or crying (the sort that neighbours will notice)
  • Pawing or chewing at doors, fences or their crate
  • Breaking toilet training 
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Panting or salivating
  • Overenthusiastic welcomes
  • Following you around (you’ve got a constant shadow)

Bear - separation anxiety

What is separation anxiety in dogs?

Separation anxiety is the name given to the distress some dogs feel when they’re alone, or away from a person or dog they’re close to. What’s more it can start as soon as puppies are removed from the litter. Remember those sleepless nights listening to your tiny puppy howling when you brought them home? Puppy separation anxiety. Regardless of their age, here’s how to create great habits and work towards a calmer, happer dog.

How do you train a dog with separation anxiety?

Easing your dog’s anxiety starts with gently teaching them they can be OK on their own. Encourage independence from a young age, and resist the urge to have your pup at your side 24/7 when you first bring your dog home. 

Whether you’re a puppy owner or your dog has suddenly started getting anxious, the key is to build up time they spend away from you. Do it gradually, so your dog doesn’t realise it’s happening – and doesn’t get distressed.

Here’s how to do it:

Start small. Leave the room and close the door behind you. Wait 30 seconds, then go back in. Repeat this over and over again until your dog doesn’t even react. 

Over a few weeks, build up the time and distance you’re apart:

1 minute – you outside the door

2 minutes – you in a separate room

3 minutes – you upstairs, your dog downstairs

5 minutes – you walk around the block, your dog stays at home

Yikes. You get home to find scratch marks on the door and a poop on the floor. And your dog looks guilty. Telling them off seems like an obvious response.

But unless you tell them off in the moment, your dog is unlikely to link the punishment with the ‘crime’. That guilty look on your dog’s face? Probably not guilt at all – dogs pick up our frustration and adopt the appropriate response. Despite appearances, the time they spent scratching the door is long forgotten.

Top tip: don’t reward anxious behaviour

We know it’s hard. You want to make them feel better. If you shower your dog with affection now their anxious behaviour gets attention – and that can make their anxiety worse.

Keep your focus straight ahead and don’t give your dog attention until they’re calm. Then shower them with affection as a reward.

How else can you help a dog with separation anxiety?

Shoes on. Coat on. Keys in hand. Our dogs recognise signs we’re getting ready to leave. Before long, those actions start to cause anxiety on their own. But do them often enough without going anywhere, and you’ll disrupt the link in your dog’s mind. No more anxiety.

  • Tire them out with mental and physical exercise
  • Occupy their minds and banish boredom with toys 
  • Rotate toys (2 a day is plenty) to keep them interested
  • Try calming products for dogs, like herbal sprays or pheromone diffusers
  • Talk to your vet about tryptophan – a building block for serotonin – can have a calming effect on dog anxiety
  • Ask for help.

Ask your vet, or ask a specialist. If your dog’s anxiety is severe and all attempts to ease it don’t work, a dog behaviourist will help. They can often spot seemingly small things that make your dog more anxious.

How long will my dog have separation anxiety?

Unfortunately it’s not a quick fix, but with a bit of perseverance and a lot of patience, it should get better. You’ll need to work on it over several months. But you’re not in it alone, our veterinary and nutritional team has lots of advice on the blog. 

18 comments

  1. One of my dogs has started to follow me when I go upstairs and he sits at the top stair
    He is 3 years old and has only been doing this for the last 7 months
    Never been any issues with anxiety that I am aware of

  2. Hi I have a Lowchen male dog.and when any company I have in the house go to leave he kicks up a terrible fuss . Shaking a toy and barking like mad and tries to stop them leaving. . It is very distressing for him and for me , help as otherwise he is a lovely dog.

  3. Thanks, Sophie… I appreciate our insight regarding the separation anxiety in dogs. Loneliness triggers separation anxiety in the dogs which is considered as a mental disorder. Suitable initiatives should be taken into consideration to deal with such situations. A pet owner should do a lot of research on the internet to learn more about the separation anxiety and factors which should be taken into consideration to deal with it.

  4. Thanks for sharing best information.I like this,i follow it.
    “If your dog seems to worry when you’re heading out, destroys stuff when you leave the house, follows you from room to room when you’re home, goes berserk when you come back and seems to be eyeing you suspiciously even before you leave—you may be dealing with a case of separation anxiety.”

  5. My staffie/patterdale barks when I leave the house am I have to tie her up outside the shop, she has even managed to get loose and follow me. When I have left her and come home I found she had urinated and left a present on a lovely rug which had to be thrown out. She goes upstairs to sulk on my bed. Leaving toys out has not been successful as I am finding them hidden behind and wedged between my bed headboard or in my wardrobe. She is nearly 3,

  6. My wife’s dog has quite a bit of separation anxiety. When I moved in with her, I brought my dog with me, and that has helped with my wife’s separation anxiety a bit.

  7. Although it is a disorder that occurs most frequently in children, it can also be suffered in adolescence, youth and even during adulthood.
    Its symptoms may be related to the characteristics of panic disorder since there are episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety.

  8. Hi Sophie,
    My dog kept following me everywhere I went. And if there was any time apart he would show over-enthusiasm when he saw me.
    I thought something was wrong with him.
    But it turns out that it’s totally normal, he just loves it when I pat him or play with him.
    No anxiety issues.

  9. My dog always shakes when my husband leaves for work. I comfort her while he is at work and it seems to not help. I am home all day. She is only left alone when we take a grocery run. She has gotten to the point where she has to go to bed with him before i go up. I want to try and help to get her back to the dog I once knew. This is something new with her. I have two dogs. One does this and the other one can care less. I am at my wits end. Can anyone give suggestions.

  10. Hello! I have 4 years old shih tzu and hates to be left at home alone. I didn’t know how bad it was for him till I received complain from our neighbours. I am afraid that after this lockdown will end situation with him will be even worse. Yesterday we left him alone for 40 min and he bark and cried almost all that time. What can I do to change this behaviour?

    1. Hi. My dog Bella was doing the same. So I bought a camera off eBay for £19. It is movement dectected and I get alerts when she moves or there is a sound. I can then press the microphone on the app and talk to her. It’s stopped my dog barking and I can see what she’s up to. I can press on the app anytime nd it shows me what she’s doing. You can also add multiple cameras for different rooms. Bella has now started going in the lounge instead of the bedroom so I need to get another camera now 🙈

  11. Hi! I have a miniature schnauzer. He is fine with me leaving, but if I am home and my son tries to leave he goes ballistic… barking and racing to the door, seems to want to bite him. My son says he does not do this if I am not home. He does carry on with others leaving as well, just not as intense. But only if I am home.

  12. I currently have a micro mini Daschund hound.He had severe seperation Anxiety when we first rescued him. After working on lowering his Anxiety for 5 months he was great‼️ But we recently moved and I feel like I’m right back where we started barking ,whimpering, pooping , scratching at the door ‼️ while we are out. How do I get him back to the good boy I know is in him.We worry that our landlord is not going to allow us to have him if this isn’t corrected soon.When we got him I was warned NOT to put in create because he will scratch it till his little paws bleed . Signed please help me.

  13. HELLO! MY FUR BABY MADDIE IS STARTING SOMETHING NEW, LIKE WHEN I LEAVE TO RUN IN THE STORE FOR JUST A MINUTE!!! SHE STARTS TO SHAKE BAD!! SO WHAT DO YOU THINKS GOING ON? AND TO ADD TO THIS SHE GOES “EVERYWHERE” WITH ME, EXCEPT DOCTOR VISITS!! LOL PLEASE HELP !!!!!

  14. Has anyone tried calming CBD chews for dogs? My dog pants and leaves a puddle of drool on the floor when I leave. He’s 5 and just started doing this about 7 months ago.

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