If you have a dog, you are probably familiar with the term separation anxiety.

According to The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, over 23 million households in the U.S. welcomed a new dog. As we start to leave the house more, our dogs may be having a hard time with it.

Separation anxiety can be a serious issue for pets and their owners, but with the right training and resources, it doesn't have to derail you or your dog's life. This is what you need to know about anxiety in dogs.

What is separation anxiety?

When a dog is separated from their guardian, other close humans, or even another pet, it can lead to separation anxiety. In a study of over 4,000 dogs published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 13 percent were reported to exhibit overt separation anxiety.

Dogs are inherently social animals, which is why they are prone to separation anxiety.

The most powerful force is the environment, according to Dr. Nicolas Dodman, a renowned veterinary behaviorist and representative of the Humane Society. Many dogs with separation anxiety have a shelter background.

What causes separation anxiety?

Dogs experience separation anxiety when there is a disruption to the social bond. This could be moving homes, children going back to school, or changing their routines.

What are some signs of separation anxiety?

vocalization, destructive behavior, inappropriate elimination, and not eating are some of the most common signs of anxiety separation. The owners aren't there to observe the behavior in person and some of the symptoms can seem like problems with housetraining or boredom.

There are signs of anxiety separation listed by Dodman.

  • Following a dog.

  • anxiety before departure

  • Barking, whining is vocalization.

  • Destructive behavior.

  • Appropriate elimination.

  • It's called pacing.

  • Trying to escape is called Houdini Syndrome.

  • Self-destructive behavior.

  • It's Salivation.

  • Vomiting.

  • Not eating while you are gone is a psychogenic eating disorder.

  • Exuberant greeting

Image of dachsund surrounded by ripped up papers and toys

Make sure you rule out whether or not it's just puppy behavior or boredom. Credit: Getty Images

What should you do if your dog has separation anxiety

1. Consult with your veterinarian

If your dog is acting a certain way, it doesn't mean it's separation anxiety. It is important to get an official diagnosis for your vet so that you can rule out other issues.

2. Consult with a trainer or animal behavioral specialist 

Basinger recommends consulting with a trainer if your dog has no underlying health issues and may have separation anxiety, so that they can have a consultation that is based on the specifics of their lifestyle, where they live, and their dog. That way, they get the attention that they need for their particulars.

Many professionals are still offering services during this time, and separation anxiety is one behavior challenge that can be solved.

There is no legal requirement for dog trainers to be certified, but there are a number of qualifications that can help you figure out what is good and what is bad. If you want to find a dog trainer that is certified in canine behavior consulting or has a good track record, look for one that has testimonials from clients.

Image of woman kneeling on floor shaking hands with her jack russell terrier dog

Consulting with a behavior specialist can give you a specific plan that works for you and your dog. Credit: Getty Images

Helpful tips to prevent or curb separation anxiety

There are preventative measures you can take to prevent separation anxiety in dogs.

1. Practice healthy boundaries 

It's a good time to start preparing your dog for a change in routine because many people are still working from home in some capacity. Designating some alone time throughout the day is what Loyer recommends.

Try to leave your home throughout the week, go for a stroll outside or do some yard work without your pet. She said to practice with short durations initially so you can make sure your pet is comfortable with you being gone, gradually increasing the duration as much as possible to prepare for longer stretches of time.

Basinger suggests working in a separate room or crating your dog for alone time in an apartment.

2. Set your dog up for success

There are different approaches to separation anxiety. When you are out of the house, the experts interviewed all emphasized the importance of creating a safe environment where your dog will feel relaxed and comfortable.

Dodman recommends a confined space with an open crate if they want to go into it. He says to think of the five senses when creating this environment.

To make a dog lollipop, use food puzzles or toys stuffed with high value treats, like peanut butter, or frozen wet food. They both suggest hiding treats for them to find like a scavenger hunt. If you can stomach it, Dodman has an idea to make a toy smell like deer urine.

Give them access to a window if they turn on the TV. It could be from the TV, talk radio, or music designed for dogs. Make sure your dog has a good bed. The idea is to make it fun for them.

A tired dog is a good dog, so try and make sure your dog gets some exercise before you leave so they are mentally and physically calmer.

Golden retriever snuggling with plush toy on a couch

Make the environment so inviting that they look forward to you leaving. Credit: Getty Images

3. Don't ignore separation anxiety

You may have heard that ignoring your dog or letting them cry out will teach your dog to self-soothe or learn healthy boundaries, but for a young puppy or a dog with separation anxiety, this probably won't work. Dodman said that that was the right treatment.

They should be kept as close as possible, spoken to kindly and have all their needs met, Dodman said. Being too emotional when you leave will make them feel like a big deal.

Basinger suggests coaching them on how to self soothe and self suck, if your dog is in their crate or in another room. The key is to address it, not ignore it, because your dog's separation anxiety won't get better on its own.

Remember you're not alone

Shoshi Parks, a professional dog trainer who specializes in separation anxiety, said that getting your ducks in a row is the most important thing.

Having a dog with anxiety separation can be difficult, so look to your family and friends for support. Parks wants dog owners to know that getting help for their dog's separation anxiety doesn't mean they have to change their entire life.

Resources and products to help with separation anxiety 

There are tons of products and resources to help you with separation anxiety. Kongs, snuffle mats, and food puzzles can keep your dog busy. L-Theanine and melatonin can be used to help calm the mind.

The American Kennel Club, the ASPCA, and the Humane Society can be relied on for trustworthy information. Suggestions should not be used for actual training or advice.