May 12, 2023


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Your Guide to Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Separation anxiety in dogs is something I have worked with tons of clients on – and now I’m here to help you break it down. Whether you’re gone for five minutes or two hours, a lot of the dogs I work with can get really worked up when they are separated from their owners, and by extension, their pack.

Even if you wish you could take your dog everywhere, it’s super important to realize that making sure they have the skillset and comprehension to spend time alone without emotional distress is ultimately going to strengthen your relationship.

It sounds like a complicated issue, but shockingly enough there really is a single root cause that I see causing separation anxiety over and over again. Let’s demystify this behavior and help you build a healthy, understanding relationship with your canine.

What is separation anxiety and when does it occur?

First thing’s first: I’ve never met a dog without some degree of separation anxiety.

At its core, separation anxiety is a distressing emotional state your dog experiences when detached from their caretakers (you). Even if you’re just running out to the store, your dog has no idea how long you are going to be gone for, and seeing you leave can be a super scary experience if pack relationships are not clearly defined. Oftentimes, if not addressed, this can lead to a lot of behavioral problems – think scratching up the house, howling or barking, unexpected bathroom accidents.

Separation anxiety recently came to the forefront of the conversation as many pandemic puppies began to experience issues related to being away from their family members, or the members of their pack, during the transition out of quarantine. It’s super common for people to assume that these dogs are experiencing high levels of separation anxiety as a result of growing up in an environment where they were likely surrounded by their “pack” almost all the time, as many people were working remotely and spending significantly increased amounts of time at home.

Read next: Separation Anxiety Existed Long Before Pandemic Puppies

Why does separation anxiety happen?

It’s hard to believe, but there really is ONE root cause of separation anxiety that I encounter in my work.

When dogs experience high levels of separation anxiety, it is a result of their emotional connection and belief that they are the alpha and pack leader in the relationship.

Let’s delve into this idea of the pack a bit. Dogs initially descended from wolves, and the nature of these pack animals is strongly instilled in them. Having a pack mentality is not a bad thing at all – there are many ways to actually use this to benefit our dogs and promote comfort and social systems they already understand. But, the way we have socialized and domesticated dogs has completely changed their environment, it’s not their natural state to be isolated and surrounded by humans majority of the time rather than their pack.

Dogs inherently rely on a pack to support them and they are hardwired to feel this way. When their canine community is missing, they integrate themselves into a new pack: the people they actually encounter in their lives.

This is where your role becomes important. When your dog positions themselves as the alpha and leader of the pack, it completely shifts their mentality and sense of responsibility toward you. In their minds, they become the caretaker and it is their responsibility to take care of you to ensure the pack stays together.

Especially when they can’t get an accurate sense of where you are going or when you are coming back, this is pretty much terrifying for your dog and promotes extreme stress and anxiety.

There are so many benefits beyond easing separation anxiety that can be harnessed by really being that embodied alpha in your canine relationships. By taking charge and establishing a clear role as the pack’s leader, your dog can follow suit, leading to a much more grounded, happy canine.

How can I minimize separation anxiety when I’m leaving?

So how do you actually take on this embodied alpha role to take steps toward decreasing separation anxiety in dogs?

I like to break it down into two steps, and these are particularly helpful for cases when you are physically leaving your home.

First – Keep yourself calm and collected.

Pay attention to your unconscious expectations. Start really introspecting and considering the expectations you have for your dog and how they will react and behave while you are gone. What’s really important to understand here is that we project energy on our animals. If you find yourself mentally creating a sad narrative for your dog, things like your physical state and body language are communicating this to them.

Your energy is much more powerful than you realize, and it all starts with evaluating your own notions about separation anxiety and disassociating from these.

Second – Limit engagement and communication.

It’s not intuitive for many of us, who want to run to our dogs and coddle them when they appear sad or scared we are leaving, but it really is the best option to ensure a grounded, peaceful environment. Petting, playing, giving treats, and even just making eye contact all can have profound impacts on how your dog is feeling in the moment. By giving them this direct response, in many ways you are validating their fears that something bad may happen and actually bring attention to the fact you are leaving, which inherently leads to stress for them.

Our energy communicates! In this case, projecting positive and calming energy can actually convey that message to your canine and act as positive reassurance.

Ultimately, these two steps are really aimed at helping you take on that embodied alpha role. It’s all about taking control in our canine relationships in a way that promotes a safe and positive environment for them.


Separation anxiety is not a walk in the park, but a realistic part of almost all human-canine relationships. Knowing how to harness it and more importantly, understanding the root causes and your role as an Embodied Alpha is the key to success in this process.

Your dog is a pack animal – and when they are forced to position themselves as the leader of their pack, it amplifies their sense of responsibility and general anxiety. Aligning the pack hierarchy is the number one way to address this stress and anxiety.

By occupying this position as the leader of the pack yourself, we take so much stress and worry away from our dogs and open the door for healthy growth and development. A grounded dog is a happy dog.

I’ve created a free guide to healing separation anxiety in dogs from the root – download it here.

separation anxiety in dogs

Sasha Armstrong

Founder of Canine State of Mind

A place where dog parents can learn more about canine behavior and how to create the environment for a closer relationship with their dog.



Understanding Energetic Cues and Expressions in Dogs

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