1. Set a reliable daily ROUTINE. Some newly adopted dogs may vocalize at first when they are left alone, as they are getting used to their new home. Even dogs you’ve had for a while can be upset by changes in their routine, such as your work hours changing, a new roommate, etc. Put them on a very consistent, reliable routine and giving them time to adjust – at least one week of the same schedule (of eating, playing, & exercise) every day. That includes weekend days! Even if your hour-by-hour schedule varies day to day, make sure your dog’s stays exactly the same.
2. Give regular DAILY exercise. Unspent energy builds up in a dog (just like a human kid) and needs to come out somehow. Better it be running around the block with you, then singing the classics while you’re gone! Take him for a walk right before you leave. Or engage in an intense play session or other exercise. Make it long enough to tire him out, so he’ll be more likely to sleep while you are gone. And guess what – exercise releases serotonin in a dog’s brain, just like in humans! Serotonin causes a happy calming feeling, and exercise is a way to get it instantly and safely into your dog’s brain, without giving him any drugs.
3. Leave the TV or radio on when you leave. A talk radio station or a news TV channel with people talking general works the best. Put the volume as loud as people would be talking in your home. If you have a CD player, definitely check out Through A Dog’s Ear — the Adopt-a-Pet.com staff uses this for their anxious dogs and they really help!
4. Give him a “food puzzle” toy. Give it to him right before you go, so he will be busy trying to get the food out of them while you are gone. Make sure you get the right size toy for your size dog. Even better, buy four or more different toys, and rotate, so one “new” one each day, putting the “old” one away.
5. Desensitize him to your leaving. You want to “fake” him out the next dozen times you leave. Only go down the hallway to your front door, or down the driveway, then come back… then go down the hallway/block and wait 5 minutes, then come back… then actually leave. He will then think that you are coming back right away and will be less likely to cry. Make sure to combine this with #6….
6. Don’t make a big deal about leaving. When you are getting ready to leave, gather up your things and leave as if you are coming right back – NO hugs, kisses, or dramatic farewell. Don’t say “Goodbye sweetie pie! It will be OK! Mommy will be back soon!” This just gives him a huge alert that you’re leaving, possibly forever – an hour can feel like forever to a dog!
7. Don’t make a big deal when you come home. Follow the same low-key no big deal when you return. This is the hardest for humans! Ignore any attention-seeking (jumping, going crazy) and only reward your dog with calm love and affection when they are ALSO calm, at least 5 minutes after you’ve come home. (You can take them outside immediately if they have to go potty, but do so calmly without fanfare, as you’d do if you’d been home already.)
8. Crate train. Use our crate training article to see if you can crate train your dog. Some dogs become more anxious in a crate — so take the crate training slowly to see how your dog reacts and if helps the vocalizing or makes it worse. Adult dogs can often be crate trained for up to 4 hour stretches during the day. After you’ve followed the crate training steps, you’ll want to gradually increase the amount of time you’re leaving the dog in the crate, and then gradually increase the time (by 5 minute increments) the time you’re out of the house while he’s in the crate. You might want to try an airline crate so its darker and more secure feeling than a wire crate, or have the crate in a darker room. Don’t use a blanket to cover the crate – a dog can pull a blanket inside and eat it. Make sure you only use a chew-proof crate pad too.
9. Dog walker/sitter/day care. Doggie day care can be a daily or occasional way for dogs who enjoy playing with other dogs to get lots of exercise and be happier and less anxious on days when they are left at home. Daily dog walkers or sitters can also add just enough extra exercise and attention into your dog’s routine to alleviate crying when left alone.
10. Try natural homeopathic anxiety remedies. The brand that I’ve used that helps my thunderstorm terrified dog the most (and it helps humans too actually!) is Rescue Remedy. You can put it in your dog’s mouth, on a treat, or in their driking water. Some pets seem more affected by it than others, but it can’t hurt. You can also try a “DAP” (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) collar or plug-in, available at pet retailers or from your vet.
11. Thundershirt –— many rescuers report that a Thundershirt will work miracles on a dog that cries when left alone.
12. Adopt a friend! This can be an instant cure for some dogs – adopt them a canine friend! Some dogs, especially those with high pack instincts like Siberian Huskies, simply do not do well being left alone, ever. Finding a good match for your dog but who is calm and happy when you leave can have a wonderful soothing effect on a dog who vocalizes when left alone.
What about medication? There are a few medications (like “doggie prozac”) that your vet can prescribe that may help either relieve anxiety or sedate your dog. Some dogs experience aggression as a side-effect, so proceed with caution. In emergency situations (life if a dog is going to lose their home due to noise complaints) using a humane spray “bark collar” that sprays when the dog barks can work instantly. But with other dogs, a spray collar only increases their anxiety, and then there are others who quickly figure out just how loud they can cry & whimper without setting it off. I mention medication and the collars in case all the above has failed you, and are at the point where you will try anything to be able to keep your dog quiet, so you can keep your dog.
That’s a lot of ideas and you can try a combination to see what works best for your dog — every dog is an individual and responds differently! Crying when left alone is not an uncommon problem, especially for a dog in a new home. There are more complex “desensitizing” training that can be done too, but it takes more time – and instructions! How do you know if what you are doing is working? We know of one adopter who installed a web cam! Super smart, and they could see instantly how their new puppy was staying upset for less time each day – and when he’d put his Snoopy stuffed toy in the water bowl for a drink!
Don’t be too hard on yourself if these tips are not successful for you. There are dogs that have more severe anxiety and sometimes at home modifications and medications do not work. It also may not be possible to fully implement all of these ideas, for example, adopting a second dog may not be feasible where you live. If you are struggling with a more severe situation where your dog is injuring himself or the howling is causing landlord issues, it’s a good idea to seek out a certified animal behaviorist or a certified professional dog trainer.
But what if you sought out a professional and it did not help or you are unable to make the investment? Our experts at Rehome by Adopt-a-Pet.com and the Petco Foundation have talked to hundreds of pet owners with very similar dilemmas and understand how difficult it can be to figure out the best course of action. Rehome is a peer-to-peer adoption service that allows pet owners to post their pets on Adopt-a-Pet.com to be seen by millions of potential adopters. The Rehome team has encountered pet owners dealing with all kinds of behavior issues and can help navigate situations like this where you might be left feeling helpless and frustrated. When you’ve done all you can it’s important to remember that pets are individuals and sometimes your home might not be the right fit for either of you. If you’ve realized your dog’s anxiety is not improving or they are under a great deal of stress, rehoming your dog to a family that can better address these needs may be a very kind and responsible choice. If you’re in the difficult position of considering whether to rehome your dog, it’s important to take an honest look at the situation and to do your homework. Luckily, Rehome can help make the process easy and as safe as possible. Rehome also provides pet owners like you with all of the tools they need to review applications and choose the right new family for their pet. We know separation anxiety or fear issues can be very difficult to live with and modify, and we want you to have all the tools available to provide your pet with the happiest environment possible!
This article was updated from its original version on Dec. 7, 2018.