Dog Behaviorist Techniques for Separation

TV trainer Victoria Stilwell uses simple routine adjustments to tackle separation anxiety.
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As pack animals, dogs are instinctively averse to isolation. When separated from you, they feel vulnerable. In the wild, dogs rely on their pack for protection, so it’s understandable that Lucky might get a little agitated if he thinks you’ve left him behind. Symptoms of separation anxiety include whining, howling and destructive chewing. There is no one cure, but you can help Lucky cope with being alone using the many effective techniques used by dog behaviorists and training specialists such as Cesar Milan, Victoria Stilwell and Brad Pattison.


Noted dog behavior experts Cesar Milan, Victoria Stilwell and Brad Pattison all recommend exercise as a solid preventative technique. An under-exercised dog is more likely to display physical signs of separation anxiety than a dog that is exhausted. The tired dog will typically use his time in isolation to sleep. The under-exercised dog will have energy to burn off, and it’s probable he’ll divert that energy into coping with his feelings of separation anxiety.


Cesar says when you return home, it’s best to ignore your dog. He explains that in doing this, you show the dog that time apart is “no big deal.” Victoria has a similar approach, as she believes that fuss when you return actually reinforces the anxious or distressed behavior. Both trainers believe that not giving the dog attention, no matter how tempting, will help him cope with his distress.

Desensitizing Triggers

If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, he’s most likely developed an aversion to a set of triggers. For example, when you put on your coat or pick up your purse, Lucky thinks “oh no, she’s about to leave the house, now I feel anxious.” Both Milan and Stilwell see the triggers as a big part of the problem. Cesar recommends adjusting your routine so you perform all of the necessary tasks that lead up to you leaving long before you actually leave. Victoria has a slightly different approach. She recommends performing the actions repeatedly over the course of a few days without actually going out to desensitize Lucky to the triggers.


Brad Pattison advocates involving your dog in as many of your daily activities as possible to provide extra stimulation. He recommends taking your dog with you when you run errands and make short journeys. This provides mental stimulation for your dog, so when he is left alone, he is less likely to be bored. Brad believes boredom plays a big part in a separation anxiety and claims that 90 percent of separation anxiety cases can be tackled with extra stimulation. Victoria recommends leaving lots of toys for your dog to play with while he is alone to keep him stimulated.

Gradual Exposure

A popular technique for tackling separation anxiety involves leaving your dog alone for short periods, then gradually extending these periods as he gets used to the isolation. Cesar uses this technique when helping dogs with separation anxiety. He strongly advocates starting off by leaving the dog for 5 minutes to begin with, then 20, then an hour gradually working up to a full 8 hours separation.