Call Us Now (213) 747-7767 | U.S. Based

My Small Dog Has Separation Anxiety: What Can I Do?

My Small Dog Has Separation Anxiety: What Can I Do?

13 minute read

It’s no secret that small dogs can be prone to separation anxiety. 

In fact, some toy breeds (we’re looking at your chihuahuas!) are known as “velcro dogs” because of their clinginess to their owners. These dogs usually attach to one person and don’t like being away from that person for very long. 

While separation anxiety in dogs is nothing new, this is a topic of renewed interest because more and more dog owners are returning to work in-person.

So this raises the question: How can we help dogs with separation anxiety?

What Is Separation Anxiety in Dogs? Why Does It Matter?

To treat dog separation anxiety, it’s important to understand what it is in the first place.

It’s normal for dogs to miss their owners. There’s nothing to worry about if your dog is excited to see you after a long day at work. It’s an incredibly special feeling when your dog is happily running to greet you when you come back home. 

But it’s not healthy if your dog becomes upset and shows signs of distress every time that you leave the house. 

How can you tell if your dog has separation anxiety? You don’t need to go to the vet or visit a pet behavior specialist to find out. Here are some of the most common signs of separation anxiety in dogs:

  • Excessive barking, howling, or whining when you leave
  • Having indoor “accidents” after being fully potty trained
  • Destructive behavior such as chewing, digging, and scratching
  • Drooling more than normal
  • Heavy, loud panting
  • Trying to escape to follow you
  • Pacing (usually in an obsessive pattern)

The challenge is that dogs with separation anxiety won’t do these things while you’re around. When you’re home, they’ll feel safe and protected, so they won’t showcase any of these signs. However, you may notice destruction such as chewed up shoes, pillows, and clothes when you return home. 

If other people are home while you are away, they may witness these signs of separation anxiety. Velcro dogs want their “person,” so while people at home can help soothe your dog, the issue won’t resolve entirely until your home. 

When it comes to puppies, this is sometimes a phase. But most puppies eventually learn that their owners will come home. This is why so many people consider crate training for puppies.

But small dog separation anxiety lasts beyond puppyhood. For some dogs, this can be a lifelong issue if left untreated.

While it might not seem like a big deal, separation anxiety in dogs has many consequences. The biggest downside is the impact on your dog’s health. Elevated stress levels and increased blood pressure aren’t good for any animal, including dogs. Studies have shown that high levels of stress and blood pressure can lower one’s lifespan by a considerable amount.

In addition to health consequences, there are the financial costs of separation anxiety. To feel close to their owners, many dogs will find something – anything – with their owner’s scent on it. This might be a shoe, shirt, or even your socks and underwear. It’s not uncommon for dogs to chew on personal belongings if they have separation anxiety, as this helps them feel close to you when you’re gone. 

Sometimes, the damage goes beyond personal items. Property damage is even more costly. Dogs might scratch at doors, door frames, window sills, and may even try to dig through the carpet to escape so they can find you. 

It’s important to remember that in this situation, a dog isn’t being destructive for the sake of being destructive. Rather, it’s simply how the separation anxiety is manifesting in a real, tangible way. 

Here’s the good news: It is possible to treat dog separation anxiety. 

Consider the tips below.

separation anxiety in dogs

How to Treat Dog Separation Anxiety

If you’ve spotted the signs of dog separation anxiety, it’s best to take action immediately. Left untreated, this can be bad for your dog’s physical and mental health. If the problem is mild (the majority of most cases):

  1. Make sure your dog gets enough daily exercise. There’s a reason that veterinarians and dog trainers say, “A tired dog is a well-behaved dog.” It’s because it’s true! If your dog is tired from exercise, it’s more likely to sleep while you’re gone and is less likely to miss you. Because dogs need more sleep than humans in general, they’re especially tired after good exercise.

    The recommended amount of daily exercise is 30-45 minutes at a minimum. Without exercise, dogs can release their pent-up energy through destructive behavior. Exercise is not only good for their health, but can result in helping a dog overcome separation anxiety.

  2. Give your dog a treat every time you leave. Dogs have an amazing way of remembering emotions and connecting emotional cues together. If your dog is scared every time you leave the house, why not turn it into a positive experience? You can do this by giving your dog a treat.

    Better yet, consider a puzzle toy with a treat inside or a chew bone that will last a while. This way, your dog will be preoccupied and distracted when you leave. Your pup will eventually associate a positive stimulus with you leaving the house. Your dog will still miss you, but hopefully this will help quell any superfluous anxiety.

  3. Use an E collar for small dogs whenever you’re home. If your dog is well-behaved when you’re home, then it’s more likely to be behaved when you’re gone. The opposite is also true. If your dog misbehaves when you’re home, then he’ll also misbehave when you’re gone, especially if he has separation anxiety.

    Dog obedience and good behavior shouldn’t be temporary. It’s a lifestyle. E collars for small dogs will help you stop unwanted behavior when you’re home. This will help your dog understand what behavior is and isn’t appropriate. While this won’t directly cure separation anxiety in dogs, it can help modify behavior in general so that whenever you do have to leave, your dog knows how to behave when it’s alone.

  4. Leave out old belongings you don’t mind being destroyed. In an ideal world, your dog wouldn’t chew on any of your belongings. But sometimes baby steps are needed to treat dog separation anxiety. One such step is to influence what your dog can and can’t chew on. In other words, if your dog is going to chew on something anyways, why not leave out things that you don’t mind getting destroyed.

    For example, leave out an old gym shirt or old shoes that you were meaning to throw away. This way, your dog has something that smells like you to comfort himself. In the meantime, be sure to put away any items of value. Put your new shoes and clothes in the closet where your dog can’t get them. Your dog should eventually stop chewing, but sometimes it’s better to actively redirect the chewing towards your old belongings than to jeopardize everything else.

  5. Socialize your dog early and often. A lot of behavior problems in small dogs can be traced back to a lack of proper socialization. Dog behavior specialists recommend being intentional about giving your dog alone time (so it can learn to be by itself) and social time (so it can learn to interact with other animals and humans).

    Plus, socialization is a form of exercise! This will not only keep your dog healthy, but will also help your dog release pent-up energy, which will decrease the odds of destructive behavior when it’s home alone. If there are other family members (or roommates) at home, socialization will also help your dog bond with them so they won’t feel as lonely when you’re gone.

  6. Learn to ignore your dog. This might sound mean, but we’re not talking about giving your dog the “silent treatment.” Rather, we’re talking about not rewarding your dog for bad behavior. You see, your dog views attention as a “reward.” For example, if you pet your dog every time he barks at you, then your dog will eventually learn that if he wants pets, then he’ll need to bark.

    Dog separation anxiety can manifest in bossy behavior when you’re home. Your dog may be clingy when you’re trying to cook, do household chores, work from home, or relax. If your dog can’t be independent when you’re at home, then how can you expect it to be independent when you’re away from home? If you notice your dog is being bossy and clingy when you’re home, then learn to ignore those behaviors so that you aren’t unintentionally rewarding bad behavior.

  7. Stick to a routine whenever possible. Dogs are creatures of habit. They don’t have the same mental processing capabilities as we do, so they have to rely on routine. If something is “off” from their routine, then they’ll get anxious. So, if you’re returning back to work after having worked remotely from home, then try to establish a new morning routine for your dog – and stick to it.

    If you get a new job, start dating someone new, or move, this creates changes in your routine that can create anxiety in your dog, simply because it doesn’t understand why you’re behaving differently. It might take a few weeks, but establish a routine so that your dog has a new baseline of comfort and expectation. 

Curing separation anxiety in dogs doesn’t happen overnight. It requires patience, consistency, and love. 

In extreme cases, it’s recommended that you consult with a dog behavior specialist or your veterinarian. However, for the vast majority of dogs, the tips above will help you treat separation anxiety in dogs.

how to treat separation anxiety in dogs

Why Does My Dog Have Separation Anxiety?

When it comes to dog behavior, there’s a giant debate between nature vs. nurture.

How much of canine behavior is due to genetics and nature? And how much is due to their upbringing and life circumstances?

As in most circumstances, the answer is: Both.

You see, there are many unique considerations when it comes to small dogs, especially small toy breeds. Toy breeds, for example, are more prone to exhibiting the signs of small dog syndrome

Simply put, small dog syndrome is when a dog overcompensates for its size (or lack thereof) with a larger than life personality.

This is why many chihuahuas bark, so that they can make themselves appear larger than they really are. It’s a defense mechanism.

These same dogs that realize that they are small are more prone to experiencing separation anxiety. Why? Because they understand their smallness and want to be by their human for protection. Remember, dogs are pack animals. In the wild, dogs stayed in packs to hunt and keep each other safe. Even though humans have domesticated dogs for centuries, these instincts are still in their genes.

But dog separation anxiety is more than just genetics and nature. 

It can be due to nurture as well. 

If your dog was once fine whenever you left home but now experiences separation anxiety, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have we experienced a major change? Did you move, just have a baby, or start seeing someone new? A life change that seems “normal” to us can be scary for your dog. This can lead to feelings of insecurity or jealousy, especially if you have a rescue dog.
  • What’s the dog’s history? Dogs can experience trauma, just like humans. By knowing your dog’s history, you will be aware of potential triggers. For example, a dog that was abused by a man wearing a baseball hat might suddenly become clingy anytime it sees a baseball cap. This clingy behavior could potentially lead to separation anxiety. To treat this, you will want to work on desensitizing those triggers and associating them as positive stimuli.
  • Have we been to the vet recently? Dogs that aren’t feeling well become especially clingy. Since dogs are pack animals, they will rely on you for protection when they are feeling sick. If your dog has experienced a loss of appetite, weight loss/gain, lethargy, or vomiting or diarrhea, it could be a sign of a medical issue that’s causing clinginess and separation anxiety.
  • Was there a traumatic event? Separation anxiety doesn’t just happen whenever you leave the house. It can also happen when you drop your dog off at grooming or at doggie daycare. If your dog was hurt from a bad grooming experience or hurt at doggie daycare, then it may be fearful to go back to those places. This can trigger separation anxiety away from home. 

When it comes to treating separation anxiety in dogs, it’s all about knowing your dog and paying close attention to its behavior. 

Fortunately, even the shyest dogs can be taught to trust and love. It just takes someone (like you!) who’s willing to put in the time, effort, and patience to show the dog how wonderful life can be.

If your dog exhibits bad behavior when you’re home, it could be a sign that it’s time to get a training collar for small dogs. Bad behavior is bad behavior, whereas separation anxiety only surfaces whenever you’re away from your dog. 

Investing in a training collar will help you keep your dog on its best behavior, improving quality of life for the both of you!

For more tips on training dogs, we recommend reading our previous dog on how to get a dog to listen to you.

« Back to Blog