Separation Anxiety In Dogs: How to Make Coming and Going Boring
with Melissa Dallier of ACanineAffinity, Training Advocate
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If you're experiencing separation anxiety with your dog, the main door in your home has probably taken on an out-sized role in how both you and your dog (& every other family member) are doing at any given moment.


A big part of laying the groundwork for successfully treating separation anxiety in dogs is taking small baby steps to make what your dog associates with your sudden absence less of a big deal and less scary. For most dogs suffering with separation anxiety, the door is a major scary symbol of all that -- reduce that fear and you're already on your way to helping your dog with separation anxiety.


In this guide, you'll learn how to help your anxious dog become more comfortable with the door in a calm manner.


First, a word about separation anxiety, your dog, & you...


What are you seeing in your dog now and how is it going?


Before we get started with this separation anxiety guide, all dog owners should answer these questions:

  • Does your dog show anxious behaviors like constantly barking or whining, have inappropriate elimination or accidents in the house, pace, drool or more while you're away?
  • Are neighbors complaining about your dog's behavior, making comments or even threats when you leave your dog home alone?
  • Did you bring home a puppy during the pandemic and just realize your puppy has never been left home alone and may have puppy separation anxiety?
  • Can you barely make it out of the house without your dog trying to follow or dashing out in front of you?


You & your dog are not alone - help is on the way!


You are not alone! Many dog owners and many adult dogs and puppies are going through a similar scenario. If you are concerned about your dog's underlying anxiety you need to take action NOW. Working with a specialist trained in separation anxiety specifically (a Certified Separation Anxiety Specialist like me, veterinary behaviorist, or certified applied animal behaviorist) will give you and your dog the best chance for success with canine separation anxiety.


Why your dog can't just "get over" separation anxiety


Separation anxiety in dogs is a panic condition affecting many dogs, actually millions of dogs, and the dog owners who love them. Similar to extreme fears and phobias in humans, dogs who develop separation anxiety are often quite literally having panic attacks when left alone. They are in pain emotionally, they are afraid, anxious, and most importantly, their behavior is out of their control.


Dogs who have separation anxiety can’t just “get over it”. If left untreated, a dog's anxiety symptoms can and will usually worsen. Punishment for separation related distress often masks or worsens unwanted behaviors in pets. If you are using any form of punishment for your dog's separation anxiety please stop and seek professional help from a positive reinforcement trainer, behavior consultant, or veterinarian.


What's the door got to do with separation anxiety


The door is a symbol. A big one. It's the physical thing that happens right before you leave. It closes behind you and your dog is left alone. If your dog's mind associates the door with you leaving, it's going to be a big problem! So, we need to work on making the door a boring, non-event for your dog.


Here are some things you can do to help your anxious dog cope and become more comfortable with the door in a calm manner...


Getting started toward a solution: The Door


To start, we want to make the door a little less scary and focus on teaching your dog it's just another thing in your house. I promise if you spend time practicing the below as a routine, every day for 1-2 weeks, you will see a difference in your dog's response to the door and your walking toward it.


The below will not solve your dog's anxiety and fears, that is a gradual process, but these are some of the common first steps to take on the way to making it more comfortable for everyone when your dog spends time home alone.


**For these training sessions to take place, your dog needs to be able to see the door, if you are using confinement such as a crate, in a different room, ask me for modifications in the Community discussion in the Anxiety Channel**


Try this


Take 10-15 minutes daily to help your dog feel less worried when you approach the door with these training exercises.


In between each step, take breaks for short periods - a quick 30 second to 1 minute break, go about normal business etc. Don't ignore your dog, but try not to make a big deal about any behavior. Take note of behaviors or record sessions with a security/dog camera/phone. Complete all steps at once - do not just walk to the door randomly throughout the day; that's not effective desensitization.


Training steps are individual protocols. Each to be done individually, 1-2 times a day.


Separation Anxiety Training: Day 1 (Repeat for 1-3 days before moving on)


  • Step 1) Walk to door, jiggle door handle, return to normal activities
  • Step 2) Walk to door, do not touch door handle, return to normal activities
  • Step 3) Walk to door, open door just a crack (an inch or two) for a few seconds. Close door, return to normal activities.
  • Step 4) Walk to door, jiggle door handle, return to normal activities
  • Step 5) Walk to door, open door just a crack (an inch or two) for a few seconds. Close door, return to normal activities.


Separation Anxiety Training: The next "day"/ level 2 (a few days later)


After you've worked on the above for a few days, increase the challenge slightly. Same rules apply, this is a short 10 minute training session


  • Step 1) Walk to door, jiggle door handle, return to normal activities
  • Step 2) Walk to door, do not touch door handle, return to normal activities
  • Step 3) Put shoes on, walk to door, open door just a crack (an inch or two) for a few seconds. Close door, return to normal activities. Take shoes off.
  • Step 4) Walk to door, jiggle door handle, return to normal activities
  • Step 5) Put shoes on, walk to door, open door just a crack (an inch or two) for a few seconds. Close door, return to normal activities. Take shoes off.


Separation Anxiety Training: Level 3 -- if your dog responded well to level 2.


  • Step 1) Walk to door, do not touch door handle, return to normal activities
  • Step 2) Put shoes on, walk to door, open door just a crack (an inch or two) for a few seconds. Close door, return to normal activities. Take shoes off.
  • Step 3) Put shoes on, walk to door, exit and close door, immediately return. Take shoes off. (if your dog had any sort of panic response, go back to "day"/level 2)
  • Step 4) Walk to door, jiggle door handle, return to normal activities
  • Step 5) Put shoes on, walk to door, open door just a crack (an inch or two) for a few seconds. Close door, return to normal activities. Take shoes off.
  • Step 6) Put shoes on, walk to door, exit and close door, immediately return. Take shoes off. (if your dog had any sort of panic response, go back to "day"/level 2)


Separation Anxiety Training: Level 4


Finally, a bit more of a challenge. Remember we are working gradually. Adding in too much too soon is setting up for failure.


  • Step 1) Walk to door, jiggle door handle, return to normal activities
  • Step 2) Walk to door, open door just a crack (an inch or two) for a few seconds. Close door, return to normal activities.
  • Step 3) Put shoes on, walk to door, exit and close door, immediately return. Take shoes off. (if your dog had any sort of panic response, go back to "day"/level 3)
  • Step 4) Walk to door, jiggle door handle, return to normal activities
  • Step 5) Put shoes on, walk to door, open door just a crack (an inch or two) for a few seconds. Close door, return to normal activities. Take shoes off.
  • Step 6) Put shoes on, walk to door, exit and close door, wait 2 seconds, return, take shoes off. (if your dog had any sort of panic response, go back to "day"/level 3)


The goal of these exercises is to make the door boring with some added desensitization to your shoes. The goal is not adding in a lot of duration for longer periods outside of the door, this is laying incredibly important groundwork for comfort being alone. Try this out for a week or so. Some days just the initial level 1 easy steps and some days level 4 more challenging steps.


Next up in the Anxiety Channel on Dogly


Now that you've learned how to make the door a bore for your dog, you're ready for our in-depth support series on Separation Anxiety in the next guide here. Or jump to other step-by-step guides in the Anxiety Channel and learn how to help your dog stay calm outside of the house or what to do if your dog is barking at visitors in your 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, People 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!