Dogs are pack animals who tend to become anxious and restless when separated from members of their family. For some dogs, this separation is so stressful that it causes separation anxiety. Dogs with separation anxiety may bark or howl constantly while their owners are gone, but the behavior is fixable.
Train your dog to view his crate as a safe space. Start by putting your dog in the crate with the door open for five to 10 minutes at a time and gradually increase the amount of time your dog spends in the crate. Then, begin closing the door for brief five to 10-minute periods. Reward your dog with a treat for going in the crate, and make the crate a comfortable location with a blanket and chew toy.
Put your dog in a crate when you are away from home. Crate-trained dogs tend to be more relaxed in their crates and are less likely to howl. However, this strategy will not work if your dog does not like his crate or is left in his crate for extended periods of time.
Give your dog plenty of exercise. Well-exercised dogs are less likely to suffer from separation anxiety, particularly when they get walks immediately before their owners leave them. Most dogs need a minimum of one 30-minute brisk walk per day, while active dog breeds, such as Border Collies and German shepherds require significantly more exercise -- two hours or more.
Teach your dog a "quiet" command when you are home. Dogs who howl when their owners are gone also tend to bark and howl a lot when their owners are home. When your dog starts howling or barking, ignore her. When she stops, say, "Quiet" and then click the training clicker and give her a treat. This helps her associate being quiet with getting rewards. It will also help her learn that howling and barking do not get her attention and are ineffective strategies.
Talk to your veterinarian about the behavior. Some dogs are so anxious that they need medication to get over their separation anxiety. Your veterinarian can prescribe drugs if training strategies aren't working.
- The Humane Society of the United States: Crate Training
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Top Tips for Overcoming Separation Anxiety
- Don't Leave Me!; Nicole Wilde
- Greet your dog calmly when you get home. Owners who run to their dogs with excitement may inadvertently teach their dogs rambunctious behavior and separation anxiety. Avoid giving your dog attention until she has calmed down.
- Never leave puppies in a crate for more than two or three hours at a time, and avoid leaving adult dogs in their crate for more than six to eight hours. Extended periods of time in the crate can result in accidents and increased separation anxiety.
Brenna Davis is a professional writer who covers parenting, pets, health and legal topics. Her articles have appeared in a variety of newspapers and magazines as well as on websites. She is a court-appointed special advocate and is certified in crisis counseling and child and infant nutrition. She holds degrees in developmental psychology and philosophy from Georgia State University.