Separation Anxiety

The dog in the photo is Charlie, the dog who introduced us to rescue. He was also the dog with the most challenging case of separation anxiety we have experienced in 20 years and 200+ dogs. When we went to meet him, we were told he had “eaten his way through the family room” in his effort to be with his family. When they were home he behaved perfectly, a mellow dog who loved the whole family. We had never experienced separation anxiety so we said yes and took him home. We naively expected no problems because we were home most of the time.

That night we had our first lesson. Before that day, our dogs had beds in the kitchen and spent nights there. A few minutes after going to bed we heard a door banging, and when we checked we found Charlie digging and biting the door, trying to get to us (there are still scratches on the woodwork). That night, and for the last twenty years, dogs have slept in our bedroom. We began looking for advice the following day, and this is what we ended up doing.

Both of us walked together to the door to the garage, went out, and closed the door. Ten seconds later we came back in the house. We must have repeated that at least ten times that day and hundreds of times the first week. Every day, same thing, going out and back in. As the days went on, we added a little time, and repeated the process dozens of times until Charlie barely looked up as we left. When we were able to disappear from his sight for five minutes without consequence, we started going out to do yardwork, never staying out very long.

I should mention that this wasn’t without a few failures, when he got anxious again. When that happened, we shortened the time and lost a few days of training. It’s inevitable.

During all of this, we paid no attention to Charlie before we left, or for ten minutes after we returned. This is important. The dog is anticipating your return, and that greeting when you walk in the door is exactly what he wants to experience. I know it’s as much for you as your dog, but you have to stick to this. Don’t greet him. After you put away your things and sit quietly for a little while, then call your dog.

The next step was to grab keys and give Charlie signs that we were really going to leave. Repeat, repeat, repeat. When he stayed calm, we got in the car and started it, then turned it off and went back indoors. Repeat again. And again. We opened the garage door and left, then drove back in again. This whole process took about three months until Charlie was comfortable.

This training, and the time we spent doing it, was more than successful. For the rest of his life, Charlie was literally the best dog we ever had.

For more advice about separation anxiety, I recommend the Denver Dumb Friends League. They have many good articles on other kinds of training, too. Visit

by Ron Manor, Northwest Samoyed Rescue

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