7 Tips from a Dog Separation Anxiety Trainer to Set Your Home Environment Up for Success
Step 16 of 23 in the Dogly Anxiety Channel
with Melissa Dallier of ACanineAffinity, Training Advocate
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Recorded on
Thursday, Nov 11, 8 PM EST

This support group is for people who Want to best prepare for a successful separation anxiety training plan Choose how you would like to access the recording below

As you work on your dog's separation anxiety, how your home environment supports you and your dog is an important nuance in smoothing the path to treating separation anxiety successfully.


Before beginning training and starting a plan to address your dog's underlying anxiety and anxious behaviors, any certified separation anxiety trainer* first will help you assess your situation and that includes how your home is laid out.


Being aware of how your home layout supports or distracts from your objectives can make your separation anxiety training so much easier whether your dog has severe separation anxiety or mild separation anxiety.


*As we've talked about throughout this series, if your dog suffers from separation anxiety, you will want to work with a force-free certified professional dog trainer who is also a CSAT (Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer, like me) or a board certified veterinary behaviorist/certified applied animal behaviorist, a professional specifically trained in the complexities of being a dog separation anxiety trainer to help you reduce your dog's anxiety and support your dog successfully.*


Let's take a look at your environment - starting with 7 key questions & tips:


#1. Where are your dog's favorite resting/napping places in your house?


Think about where your dog likes to hang out when napping for long periods of time, when your dog is relaxing, a retreat where your dog feels safe. Does your pup have a favorite bed, couch, corner, rug, or crate? This will be where your dog will want to hang out when he or she is comfortable.


Does your dog have access to this spot when you're gone? (Not blocked by a door, baby gate, etc.) We're dealing with anxious dogs suffering from panic and not feeling safe at being alone, so to help your dog overcome separation anxiety, we want to make sure your pup can easily settle into a familiar safe haven that's always there.


If your dog's preferred napping spots are currently not accessible when you're gone, that can be one of the first changes you make to support your training and success.


#2. Are your dog's favorite spots in view of the exit point?


Is your dog's favorite resting place (or places) in view of the door you'll use when leaving your home (without your dog)?


Having your dog's safe comfort spot in a sight line with the door you use to leave can significantly reduce following behavior. Most dogs may decide that seeing their person come and go many times while they can watch from their favorite spot is comforting and a way to be okay with what's happening.


Pick a single door for your exits


If you currently use two doors as your exit doors, plan to decide which is needed more for "real life" exits and use that one for now for exits without your dog and training. Some environments are challenging, but we can find modifications to make it work.


#3. Is your dog reactive/sensitive to outside noises?


If your dog's anxious behavior tends to get triggered to become reactive (excessive barking, for example) and your pup is unlikely to remain calm with any of the outside noises below, we'll want to create ways to mitigate them:

  • People/dogs/cars
  • Deliveries/mail carriers /garbage
  • Apartments where there are lots of unpredictable sounds
  • Storms/fireworks


There are many ways to mitigate outside noise: provide safe places where your dog can't see or hear the noise, use sound-proofing materials, or desensitize and counter-condition to help your dog remain calm with these noises. It's just about figuring out what works for your specific dog.


#4. What can you put in place to make management & training easier?


Know which triggers might interrupt your dog's calm in alone-time and make it harder to have your separation anxiety training stick.


Here are a few ideas to make behavior modification easier:

  • Adding in white noise/music/tv to your environment for alone-time
  • Lowering arousal around triggers by also working on desensitization & counter conditioning outside of alone-time training
  • Removing access to or distractions in windows: try shades/blinds/window film to limit the view
  • Speaking to your veterinarian/veterinary behaviorist about anti-anxiety medication (especially for thunder/firework phobia... events you're able to anticipate). Doesn't mean you have to decide to use it, but a good conversation to have.


#5. How can you adjust your alone-time training sessions to reduce stress?


As you start your separation anxiety training, considering situational factors such as time of day can help set you and your dog up for a more successful training program.


Things to think about as your plan your training sessions and timing for a dog with separation anxiety:

  • Is it a high traffic time for noise?
  • Is it garbage day? Many dogs get distracted by a negative reaction to garbage trucks and the sound of moving garbage cans.
  • What is the weather that day? Thunder, wind... all can interfere with your dog feeling safe.


Plan training sessions at times your dog can be most successful first, and then work toward times that may be more challenging as you both become successful at working toward the desired behavior.


#6. Can you see your dog when you leave?


Setting up your home environment for success means being able to actively observe your dog when you are away. You'll want to know how your dog is reacting and if your dog doesn't remain calm, you want to be able to return before your dog's threshold is close to being reached.


However you achieve visibility on your dog (cameras, etc), here are the must-have features of your home set-up for dogs experiencing separation anxiety:

  • Ability to watch your dog while away
  • Ability to see exit door and space your dog may move around in
  • Ability to hear sounds
  • Ability to share access with trainer (if working with one) for review


Some options:

  • Free web viewers & stand-alone cameras
  • Zoom (free up to 40 mins)
  • FaceTime/Skype - easy set-up but may have service issues
  • Google Meet - same as above
  • Several options for stand-alone cameras: Ring, Nest, etc.
  • Other factors with cameras - ability to pan/tilt, to detect motion/sound. Some require cloud/sim cards/fees to record or save data.


#7. To crate or not to crate?


That's a question many dog owners ask. And the answer: It depends... but I lean toward no.


Here's why:

  • Many dogs with separation anxiety also struggle with confinement fear/anxiety in crate training.
  • Dogs who display destructive behaviors can be free in the house successfully with gradual desensitization training.
  • Puppies may need confinement to prevent accidents, but "it depends."
  • Often, a much higher success rate is seen with gradual desensitization protocol when not using confinement.
  • Confinement can extend training time necessary to overcome separation anxiety.


All cases are different and if you want to use crate/confinement with canine separation anxiety - that's ok, just be realistic about why and your goals.


One bonus key tip...


Why I don't use & recommend food treats for alone-time training


A few reasons actually...


Food can be a distraction/crutch

Some dogs who experience separation anxiety will eat even in extreme stress. However, as soon as the food/chew is gone, the outward panic sets in. This gives a false sense of success for dog owners or a dog sitter and a false threshold.


Food becomes a "cue" of alone-time

If we present a dog with a food-stuffed toy, etc. every time we leave, that item becomes a negative environmental cue in your dog's mind. Dogs will often begin to refuse food when they perceive they may be left.


Many dogs won't eat

Most separation anxiety dogs simply will not eat in the times before or during alone-time due to physiological responses. The digestive system slows or shuts down during extreme states of stress for many dogs.


Food isn't always +R

When used to try to coerce behavior, food can be punishing. It is too valuable a resource to use in this manner. Save it for when it can be helpful in other situations!


Remember to celebrate every step of good work with your dog!


An inspirational reminder to remember to celebrate every baby step of progress along the way with your dog. Even more so than most dog training, getting beyond separation anxiety in dogs takes time, patience, and love:


"Never discourage anyone who continually makes slow progress, no matter how slow." ~ Plato


If you'd like more detail on setting up your environment for success, you can watch the live recorded version of the learning group on this topic, including Q&A with dog parents like you by registering at the link at the top of this page.


Next up in the Anxiety Channel on Dogly


Now that you've learned how to best arrange your environment for success, you're ready to learn how to desensitize your comings and goings, so they become no big deal to your dog in the next guide here. Or jump to other step-by-step guides in the Anxiety Channel and start teaching your dog how to stay calm outside of the house.


Hop over to the Anxiety Channel if you'd like to ask any of the Dogly Training Advocates who are all certified dog trainers a question in the Community discussion or start any of the step-by-step guides in Environment Anxiety, Crate Anxiety, or Understanding Anxiety.


And if you ever need more personalized training help, please reach out to work with me one-on-one here on Dogly!