Dogs good with anxiety

14 Best Dogs For Anxiety: The Most Comforting Canines!

Few things calm nerves and lift spirits like the unconditional love, attention and security provided by a good dog.

But while you can probably bond with any dog breed (or combination thereof), some are dogs are better suited for reducing anxiety than others. We’ll try to help below, as we share some of the breeds that can be beneficial for your mental health and help ease any anxiety issues you face.

  • Dogs are often very helpful for reducing the anxiety levels of their owners. There are a variety of reasons they’re so well-suited to provide this service, including the unconditional love and physical contact they provide.
  • While just about any dog can help reduce their owner’s anxiety, the best four-footers for the job often share a number of traits. This includes things like a calm, friendly demeanor, as well as an affectionate nature.
  • Any dog breed can help to sooth anxiety, but some breeds are typically better suited for the task than others. This includes breeds like Labrador retrievers, poodles, and Great Danes, among others.

Watch Spot Soothe: How Dogs Reduce Anxiety in Humans

Before identifying the best breeds for reducing anxiety, it is important to understand why dogs have this ability in the first place.

In a word: hormones.

According to a 2012 study, published in Frontiers of Psychology, human-animal interactions are thought to activate the oxytocin system. Oxytocin helps regulate the social bonding process. It is the reason that a baby’s gaze fills a new mother with joy; and, it turns out, it’s also the reason a loving look from your pup gives you warm and fuzzy feelings.

And this isn’t a one-sided interaction: As determined by a different 2012 study, your puppy’s oxytocin levels also rise when you are affectionate with him. So, while your puppy is making you feel good, you are making him feel good too.

But hormones aren’t the only reason that dogs help reduce anxiety. They accomplish the task in other ways too:

  • Physical Contact Feels Good. Simple physical contact helps to ease anxiety (and this isn’t limited to humans – other animals fight stress with touch too). Some breeds are particularly effective in this regard, as they tend to remain in nearly constant physical contact with their owners.
  • Unconditional Adoration. Unlike even your closest friends and family, dogs lack the capacity or willingness to judge. Your dog will remain firmly in your corner while you confess your darkest secrets or behave in ways you’d never do in front of other humans. You are completely free to be you when in the company of your pup.
  • Sense of Security. Some dogs make their owners feel safer (thereby reducing their owner’s anxiety levels), either by virtue of the dog’s intimidating appearance or propensity to bark at strangers and strange noises.

However, despite the mountain of supporting evidence, dogs are not a magic bullet in the fight against stress and anxiety.

While many studies have found that dogs are capable of providing significant emotional benefits for their humans, some studies have found that conventional stress-and pain-management techniques probably perform equally well.

But come on, do you want to meditate and chant soothing words while thinking about your happy place, or do you want to scratch a dog’s belly while he licks your face?

That’s what I thought.

What Personality Traits To Look For In Anxiety-Lowering Dogs

Obviously, some dogs are more effective at reducing your anxiety than others are. This is true at both the breed level and the individual level.

Dogs that constantly bark and yip, run full speed through your house or have hyper-needy personalities may lead to more anxiety than they allay. These kinds of traits won’t help calm your frayed nerves or stave off an anxiety attack — they may even have the opposite effect.

Accordingly, it is important to familiarize yourself with some of the personality traits associated with good anxiety-lowering dogs to help you select a good one.

Generally speaking, the most soothing dog breeds and the best dogs for anxiety are canines who are:

  • Friendly
  • Outgoing
  • Calm
  • Affectionate
  • Confident
  • Loving
  • Loyal

Note that intelligence is not listed above; in fact, highly intelligent dogs can cause headaches for some owners. After all, it doesn’t take a genius to follow you around and shower you in unconditional love.

Of course displaying these qualities alone isn’t enough – most official anxiety therapy dogs need to undergo some basic training programs, such as the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) Test, and demonstrate good behavior skills.

Don’t forget about your canine’s care requirments

There are a lot of things to consider when picking up a pooch to help treat your anxiety, including all of the things mentioned above.

However, there’s one more thing you should think about when picking a four-footer: the amount of care and maintenance the dog will require.

Simply put, some dogs are “high maintenance,” and require a ton of care. These pooches can be helpful for some owners with anxiety, but they will make a poor fit for most.

Generally speaking, owners struggling with anxiety will be best served by selecting a low-maintenance dog breed, with moderate exercise requirements and minimal grooming needs.

A Therapy Dog in Action: Seeing What Support Dogs Do

Curious what life is like for an anxiety-fighting pooch? Check out this video following therapy dog Fraiser on one of his average days.

Small Dogs Vs.

Large Dogs For Anxiety: Which Are Best?

One of the first things you’ll want to consider when trying to pick out a canine to calm you down is size. Some people may find that a big dog helps reduce their anxiety level, while others will find a tiny pooch fits the bill better.

Obviously, neither option is inherently better than the other; you must simply pick the best-sized pup for your wants, needs, and lifestyle.

However, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind when making your choice:

  • If you want to take your dog with you everywhere, a small breed may be the better option. Small dogs are easy to carry around in a bag, they can sit on your lap comfortably, and they’re typically welcomed in more places than large dogs are. Extremely well-behaved big dogs may be suitable for constant companionship, but you’ll likely find doing so to be more difficult.
  • If you are a touchy-feely type of guy or gal, you may appreciate the whole-body snuggling opportunities big dogs present. Snuggling up with a big pooch on the couch can be very soothing, and many large dogs will even “spoon” with you during naps.
  • If your anxiety stems from concerns about your personal safety, a big dog is probably the best option for you. Few people with bad intentions will pick on a person with a dog – they’ll usually look for an easier target who is not accompanied by a canine. Pet parents typically find that many “scary looking dogs” are in fact big softies, who do a great job at making their people feel safe without being much of an actual threat at all.
  • If financial challenges are exacerbating your anxiety, you should probably opt for a small dog as they’re generally cheaper to support. Bigger dogs need more food, bigger toys, larger crates, and stronger leashes, all of which will increase the costs of ownership. You’ll even find that veterinary care is more expensive for large dogs than small dogs in most cases.
  • If you’ve never had a dog before, or you aren’t already comfortable with canines, you should probably start with a small dog. Smaller dogs are simply easier to care for and control than their larger counterparts. They’re also easier to rehome if you discover that you are not cut out to be a pet owner.
  • Are peace and quiet important for controlling your anxiety or preventing an anxiety attack? If so, you may find that a large dog is the better option. There are certainly myriad exceptions, but, as a general rule, smaller dogs tend to be a little more excitable and vocal than big dogs. Make sure to check out our list of the quietest dog breeds if silence is essential for you!

14 Best Dogs For Anxiety: Anxiety-Battling Breeds

While every dog is an individual and there are no guarantees, the following breeds are generally considered some of the best dogs for anxiety — these canines are especially well-suited for reducing stress and providing comfort.

Best Large Dogs For Anxiety: Big & Mighty!

These popular and large emotional support dog breeds will excel at comforting you in times of stress.

1. Standard Poodles

Standard poodles make great companions for those in need of stress reduction, and their tidy coats make them a breed welcome in homes with allergy sufferers. Standard poodles are very smart, friendly and have optimistic demeanors, which can’t help but rub off on their owners.

2. Labrador Retrievers

Labrador retrievers are well-suited for so many different purposes that it should come as no surprise that they also excel in therapy contexts too.

Few dogs are as loving as Labs, and even fewer are as gentle; they are typically wonderful with children, the elderly, handicapped individuals, and even strangers. This makes them a very popular breed for service work.

3. Golden Retrievers

Golden retrievers are quite similar to Labs in many respects, and they are equally well-suited for eliciting smiles and soothing frazzled nerves. The UKC characterizes them as calm, compliant and compatible – traits which are utterly obvious to anyone who’s ever met one.

Like many of the dogs on this list, they can often pass the Canine Good Citizen Test with a little training, proving just how great these four-legged furry pals can be.

4. Great Pyrenees

Described as “calm, patient and smart” by the AKC, Great Pyrenees are affectionate dogs who are wonderful for reducing anxiety.

Just understand that these are big dogs, so you must have enough space for them. Females often weigh about 85 pounds, while males tip the scales at 100 pounds or more.

5. Great Danes

Great Danes are confident, calm dogs that are great for anxious owners. But you better be sure you are ready to welcome such a big critter to your family – large males may stand nearly 3 feet high at the shoulder.

But for those undaunted by their large size, Danes provide a type of affection and companionship few other breeds can provide.

6. Greyhound

Greyhounds are very sensitive dogs, who are very good at picking up on their owner’s emotions. They also love snuggling on the couch with their pet parents, so they are a great choice for people who want a lot of physical contact with their dog.

Note that retired greyhounds are often put up for adoption, but these dogs often come with emotional scars. So, while these dogs can make great pets for some owners, people with high anxiety levels are often better served by adopting a young greyhound puppy instead.

7. American Pit Bull Terrier

I know this recommendation may shock those who’re unfamiliar with pitties, but those who have experience with the breed won’t find this the least bit surprising.

After all, pibbles (as they’re often called by their people), are often ridiculously loving and affectionate dogs, who’s favorite pastime is doling out cuddles and kisses. They’re also confident, outgoing, and loyal — all things that make them great for people in need of an ESA.

However, they do present some challenges (as all breeds do). Many pit bulls are power-chewing puppers, who will need nearly indestructible chew toys, and they also need plenty of stimulation to prevent boredom (which may cause them to use their chompers on your stuff).

Pibbles also have pretty high energy levels, so they aren’t the ideal choice for apartment life, unless you plan of making park trips a daily endeavor.

Best Small Dogs For Anxiety: Tiny & Terrific!

These pint-sized pooches are great companion animals for comforting people with anxiety.

Just remember to consider all of their requirements in mind — including everything from the level of mental stimulation they need to the the health conditions they often experience — before making your choice.

1. Pugs

Pugs aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but those who give them a chance will be rewarded by ridiculous amounts of love and entertainment.

The Canadian Kennel Club describes their expression as “human-like,” which may be part of the reason it is so easy to bond with these little lovers (but they’re big hearts certainly don’t hurt).

2. Yorkshire Terriers

Yorkshire terriers (often simply called Yorkies) tend to bond very strongly with their owners and shadow them whenever possible. In fact, they’re at their happiest when they are lavishing love and affection upon their person.

Although Yorkies are on the small side, they have a rough-and-tumble personality that the AKC describes as “tomboyish.”

3. Pomeranian

Pomeranians are great for people who want a dog that prefers to stay by your side 24-7 while lavishing you with love (and a bit of entertainment). Most Pomeranians will gladly accompany you everywhere you go, although you may want to invest in a carrying bag of some type, as these little guys and gals have tiny legs.

Just make sure you socialize your Pomeranian early and often, as they’re sometimes distrusting of strangers and kids can make them a bit nervous.

They are pretty sharp pups though, and they don’t exhibit some of the training difficulties that some other tiny dogs do.

4. Bichon Frise

If you need a few more smiles in your life, a bichon frise may be just what the doctor ordered.

These little happy-go-lucky cuties are among the friendliest breeds in the world, and they usually greet everyone they encounter with a big set of puppy eyes and a wagging tail. However, they’d always rather be beside their pup parent than anywhere else.

Bichon frises are also smart and easy to train, so they’re unlikely to cause you many headaches. They do require rather elaborate grooming, so you’ll need to build some room for regular trips to the groomer in your budget. They do not, however, shed very much. So, allergy sufferers may want to give them extra consideration.

5. Pembroke Welsh Corgi

The Pembroke Welsh corgi is one of the most affectionate and devoted pets a dog lover could want, and they’re commonly used in therapy contexts.

Pembroke Welsh corgis (and, to a lesser extent, their larger cousins the Cardigan corgis) are incredibly friendly with most people (and kids), although they can be a bit prickly with other dogs.

Corgis are pretty smart and easy to train, but they are pretty energetic little pups, so they aren’t great for homebodies who live in small apartments.

Weighing up to about 30 pounds, we’d consider them small dogs, but they’re certainly not small enough to carry around in a bag with you or sit in your lap the way Pomeranians or Yorkies can.

6. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Cavalier King Charles spaniels were bred to be lap dogs, and they love nothing more than relaxing in mom or dad’s lap all day. In fact, they may be the very best choice for owners who just want calm, consistent love from a pet.

But this doesn’t mean their prissy – these spaniels still have all of the pluck and energy that characterizes their bird-flushing ancestors.

These pups make great pets for first-time dog owners, and most have never met another person or dog they didn’t like. They’re also smart and easy to train, and they don’t even require much grooming to keep their luxurious coats looking great.

7. Havanese

If you want a dog who is gentle and loving, yet full of energy and gumption, you’d be wise to consider the Havanese.

Sometimes called “Velcro dogs,” thanks to their desire to stay at their owner’s side as much as possible, these dogs are great for owners who suffer from anxiety and will benefit from the endless buckets of love they have for their people.

But, you’ll have to be OK with your dog loving everyone else too, as the Havanese is a bit of a social butterfly. However, this makes them great companions or therapy dogs for owners who want constant support, as they’ll usually behave quite well while traveling by your side.

Where to Find a Good Dog For Anxiety

You can find a good dog to help curb your anxiety through all the typical avenues. Rescues often have a wide selection of mixed-breed dogs, while breeders and retailers typically offer purebred varieties.

Give some thought to adopting an older dog if this is your first pet. Young puppies require much more time, effort, and patience than adult dogs do, which may move your stress level in the wrong direction.

Adult dogs available at rescues are often housebroken and many have received at least a minimal amount of obedience training. Senior dogs aren’t as popular as puppies, but they still have boundless amounts of love to give and are often more laid back than their younger counterparts.

In all cases, it is wise to do your homework on the charity or breeder with whom you intend to do business.

Emotional Support Dogs vs The Stress-Reducing Benefits of Canines

Just about anyone can benefit from adding a new dog to the family. Pets (well, properly trained pets anyway) offer a wealth of health benefits, including, most notably, the ability to reduce your stress level.

But there’s a big difference in a standard-issue pet and a dog that is capable of being a bona fide emotional support dog. So, it is wise to be clear about your goals when trying to pick a pup. And although many rescue dogs can be trained to perform therapy work, top-tier support dogs don’t exactly grow on trees.

Minimally, you’ll need to get a dog that demonstrates phenomenal obedience and the ability to pass the Canine Good Citizenship Test mentioned above. And, of course, you’ll need to select a dog with whom you connect – if you two don’t get along like old pals, the relationship may be doomed from the start.

The Difference Between Service, Support and Therapy Dogs

Alright, so you’ve decided that a dog may be just what you need to help cope with your anxiety. What do you do now?

The answer depends, in part, on your goals.

The laws, regulations and working practices involving assistance animals is a tangled web that can be difficult to decipher. But, terminology matters, and there’s a difference between a therapy dog, an emotional support dog, and a service animal.

You need to understand the differences between these types of companions, so that you can select the best one for your needs.

Service Dogs

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, a service animal is “a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.”

A guide dog who leads his blind owner around is the classic example of a service dog, although other service dogs are trained to monitor their owner’s blood sugar levels, alert their deaf owner to danger, or perform similar tasks.

And yes – you can get a service dog for anxiety, so long as the dog is trained to perform specific tasks to alleviate your anxiety.

Service dogs usually receive a ton of training (which may take years to complete), and they are generally allowed to go anywhere their owner goes, as they are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They can walk alongside you at a buffet, they can sleep on your hospital bed, and they can rack up miles while flying around the world with you.

Certification isn’t necessary for service dogs, and you can actually train a service dog to perform the necessary tasks yourself. In other words, while your service dog must be trained, you needn’t necessarily have him trained by a professional.

In fact, the employees of “covered entities” cannot even demand to see proof of your dog’s training. Legally (at least as far as I can tell by reading the DOJ publication referenced above – I’m no lawyer), they can only ask you two questions (paraphrased for brevity):

  • Do you need the dog because of a disability?
  • What service has the dog been trained to perform?

Therapy Dogs

Therapy dogs are usually trained to provide gentle love and affection to people in hospitals, schools, retirement communities and other places where people often experience stress or anxiety. They are also commonly used following traumatic events to help survivors feel a bit better.

While service dogs and emotional support animals are generally used to provide their owner with support or assistance, therapy dogs are generally used to help other people feel better.

Because they aren’t expected to do anything extraordinary, therapy animals don’t need the kind of ultra-specialized training service dogs do. They must simply be well-behaved, gentle and comfortable with receiving love and attention from a variety of different people.

Therapy dogs are not covered by the ADA, they aren’t legally entitled to accompany you on an airplane, and landlords are not required to make special accommodations for them.

Generally speaking, therapy dogs are treated like pets. However, some businesses will welcome them anyway – it just varies from place to place.

Therapy dogs needn’t be certified, but paperwork documenting a therapy dog’s training will likely improve the odds that businesses, schools, and other locations will invite your dog inside.

Emotional Support Dogs

Emotional support dogs provided disabled owners with comfort or support. They needn’t be trained to perform specific tasks; they simply help their owner to feel better by being a dog (or cat, or ferret, or hippopotamus – technically, any animal can be an emotional support animal).

That being said, there are certain skills that we certainly recommend you train your emotional support dog to perform. Especially because, with enough training, your dog might even be able to qualify as a full-on service animal down the line.

Emotional support dogs enjoy more legal protections than therapy dogs do, yet they do not enjoy as many legal protections as service dogs do.

For example, airlines must allow your service dog to accompany you on a flight (update: this is no longer the case for most airlines), and your landlord will have to make special accommodations too. However, you can’t take an emotional support dog with you into most other private businesses, unless the owner voluntarily allows you to do so.

Emotional support animals needn’t be registered, although there are organizations that will register your emotional support animal if you’d like to have some paperwork on hand to demonstrate your pup’s importance.

However, to force your landlord to allow your dog to live with you, you’ll need a letter from your doctor, psychologist or therapist.

Note that none of these dogs are required to wear a vest or badge identifying them as a working animal. But, it’s not a bad idea to outfit your pooch with a service dog vest, as long as he doesn’t mind wearing such a uniform. This may help diffuse social tensions that occasionally arise when people bring dogs to public places.

A Word of Caution (and Karma)

Over the last few years, a number of stories have appeared in the press involving people trying to take advantage of the laws protecting emotional support dogs (and other animals).

Often, these people do not have a legitimate need for a support animal. They are just trying to work the system, so they can take their dog with them on a flight without jumping through the hoops typical pet owners must.

Don’t be that guy or gal.

Accommodating animals on a flight is not exactly easy for an airline, and it often generates plenty of stress for the other passengers on the flight.

And while most people are certainly understanding of those who legitimately need the help of a support animal, few will take kindly to those who try to skirt around the rules for no good reason.

Trying to push these boundaries will only make it more difficult for those with disabilities to travel with their support dog. Just don’t do it.

If you want to take your dog with you on your flight and have a legitimate need for the emotional support your pet provides, you’ll want to obtain a note from your therapist or doctor.

Then, you’ll want to contact the carrier and verify that your dog meets the size requirements some carriers impose (some airlines also have species restrictions, but we’re talking about dogs here).

Where Can I Get a Service, Emotional Support or Therapy Dog?

If you just want a pet to love you and lower your blood pressure when you’re tense, just head down to the local shelter or start perusing breeder advertisements.

Stick with one of the breeds above (or some combination thereof, if you go the shelter route), and you’ll likely find that your new pet helps you relax.

On the other hand, if you want a service dog, you’ll probably want to contact a local organization that provides training programs or sells dogs who have already been trained. Because you’ll want to speak with a group in your area, you’ll want to just start Googling and see what you can come up with.

However, you can also start with the AKC, as they offer a certification program and other resources.

Don’t Forget to Factor in the Challenges of Pet Ownership

As wonderful as they are, dogs also present challenges to their owners. Most people well suited for dog ownership learn to cope with these challenges easily enough, but for others, dogs may bring more stress than they resolve.

For example, you will need to feed your dog on a regular schedule and give him plenty of bathroom breaks throughout the day. This may lead to additional stress for those who work long hours or have other responsibilities keeping them away from the house for long periods of time.

And if you have a large or active breed, you’ll have to be willing to take long, frequent walks with your pooch.

You will also have to shoulder the considerable financial burdens associated with dog ownership. In addition to the weekly expenses of food, treats, and incidentals, you’ll have to be ready to cover any necessary veterinary bills. 

Even the healthiest of dogs require periodic immunizations, checkups, and regular teeth cleanings.

The Best Dogs for Anxiety: FAQ

We’ve explained just about everything you need to know about dogs that help treat anxiety, but we’ll revisit a few of the most common questions people have, in case you missed the answers above.

What is the best dog for someone with anxiety?

Ultimately, you’ll need to consider your own personality, the nature of your anxiety, the kind of care you’re capable of providing, and the type of support you want from your dog when making your choice. Some breeds (including those detailed above) are typically good choices, but it will always end up being an individual decision.

Do dogs really help with anxiety?

In some cases, yes — dogs can significantly reduce their person’s anxiety. However, this is certainly not guaranteed; in some cases, dogs can exacerbate their owner’s anxiety level. The key to success is finding a breed — and a specific dog — who works well with your life and satisfies your individual needs.

Do emotional support animals need to wear a vest?

No — emotional support animals do not need to wear a vest or other garment identifying them as such. That said, it is often helpful to hook up your emotional support dog with a vest to help inform others that he is more than just a pet.

Can an emotional support animal go anywhere with you?

No. While emotional support animals are granted access to more places than typical pet dogs are, they are not allowed unfettered access to public places in the way service dogs are.

Are small dogs good for anxiety?

Small dogs can absolutely be helpful for some owners with anxiety — it all depends on the things you’re looking for from your canine companion. Many people find small dogs fit the bill perfectly, while others prefer the traits of larger pooches.


Remember that each dog is an individual, and even the twitchiest Chihuahua may help alleviate your anxiety – you have to match your personality to that of your pet.

Have you been able to lower your anxiety by acquiring a dog? Which breed did you choose, and how has that worked out for you? Let us know in the comments below.

The Best Dogs for People with Anxiety


By Sarah Ashley

Published May 11, 2021

Additional contributions by

Suzanne Zuckerman

A little bit of anxiety is good. It helps us stay alert and survive potentially life-threatening situations. A lotta bit of anxiety? Not so much. If you’re looking for a healthy way to manage general anxiety, heightened anxiety disorders or emotional distress, suggests (drum roll, please) pets! Yes, animals could be the difference between controlling anxious feelings and letting them take over. Dogs have been used as therapy and companion animals for centuries. The best dogs for people with anxiety will help their owners feel more confident, calm and able to cope with stressful situations.

How dogs can benefit people with anxiety

Aside from being adorable and fluffy, dogs can help people with anxiety on a physical level. Studies have shown pet owners have lower resting heart rates and blood pressure levels than people without pets. Pet people also have less intense reactions to aggravating events and faster recovery time after experiencing psychological or physical stress.

Harvard Health also mentions dogs can help a person stay active (hello, early morning dog walks) and feel less isolated (hello, constant roommate). A Human Animal Bond Research Institute survey discovered 80 percent of pet owners feel less lonely with a pet. Dogs can be excellent ice breakers when meeting someone new; pups don’t mind being center stage.

Even spending time with a dog is good for stress reduction. One study found university students who participated in an animal visitation program exhibited lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels after just ten minutes petting a dog! Staring at pictures of animals did not achieve the same results.

Types of support dogs

Dogs are so good at supporting humans when it comes to mental health, we’ve given them official titles! There are emotional support dogs, therapy dogs and service dogs, just to name a few. These are all different in the eyes of the law - and a person can definitely adopt a dog specifically to help ease anxiety without having to register the animal anywhere as such. These designations come in handy primarily when it’s time to travel or visit a public space.

Service dogs are top tier. They’re highly trained animals recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act that not only provide emotional support but also perform a function that their human owner cannot. Service dogs are trained—and legally allowed—to go everywhere with their owner.

Therapy dogs also go through rigorous training and testing to get certified, but aren’t usually employed full-time by someone in need. Instead, they provide social-emotional benefits to a variety of people like students, hospital patients and nursing home residents. Therapy dogs do not have the legal access or privileges that a service dog has.

Emotional support animals are companion animals medical professionals (such as psychiatrists) prescribe to patients with physical, psychiatric or intellectual disabilities, like anxiety or PTSD. ESAs receive no special training or regulated certification, nor are they required to by law. However, ESAs are protected under the Federal Fair Housing Act, which says landlords cannot discriminate against tenants who have an emotional support animal. (Also, they can be any species! Dogs, cats, even horses have served as emotional support animals.) A note from a licensed medical professional is usually required to bring an ESA on an airplane or into a public business.

Finally, there are companion pets. Companion dogs are similar to emotional support and therapy dogs but are different in the eyes of the law. Aka, these pets do not have legal access to the same areas that emotional support, therapy and service animals do. People suffering from anxiety, depression, PTSD and similar ailments that prevent them from enjoying life are ideal candidates for companion dogs.

How to choose the right breed

Now, the tricky part: Choosing the best dog to help reduce anxiety. The CDC advises doing significant research before adopting the first pet you see. All individuals—human and dog—have needs that must be met. The best match might take a while to find. Be patient! Visit local shelters or reputable breeders to experience a breed first hand.

Key elements to consider are:

  • Temperament: Dogs who are less reactive with lower prey drives won’t bark at the drop of a hat or take off running when they spot a squirrel. Calm breeds who can adapt to their human’s lifestyle are ideal.
  • Energy Level: If exercise keeps a person’s anxiety at bay, get a dog who has lots of energy! If introversion and being a homebody is the name of the game, stick with breeds who are content lounging at home.
  • Size: Folks who want a companion dog that can travel anywhere with them should focus on smaller breeds.
  • Grooming needs: Do regular (expensive) trips to the groomer’s sound anxiety-inducing? Opt for a low-maintenance breed and relax knowing all it takes is a weekly brushing to keep their coat in check.
  • Trainability: Ideally, a canine who reduces anxiety will learn quickly, retain commands and respond when called.

Remember, focusing solely on breed may not be the best route. All dogs have unique personalities. The breeds on our list are ones we know to be soothing presences, eager to please and fairly low-maintenance.

Jan Rozehnal/Getty Images

1. Chihuahua

Temperament: Charming, Independent

Energy Level: Moderate

Average Height: 6.5 inches

Average Weight: 5 pounds

Grooming: Low Maintenance

Trainability: 6/10

At six pounds max, they’re as low maintenance as dogs get, requiring little exercise beyond shopping for sweaters. Small enough to snuggle in bed and sympathetic enough to nurse Elle Woods through heartbreak, they will follow you from room to room looking for attention. An ideal distraction from your inner monologue.

Дарья Амосеева/Getty Images

2. Pembroke Welsh Corgi

Temperament: Adaptable, Sweet

Energy Level: High

Average Height: 11.5 inches

Average Weight: 30 pounds

Grooming: Low Maintenance

Trainability: 8/10

Obedient and loyal “without being needy” (according to the American Kennel Club)—is it any wonder Queen Elizabeth can’t get enough? Quick to bond with humans, they are often tapped as companion dogs for nursing home residents and people with disabilities. They’ll adore sitting at your feet while you sip a comforting cup of tea. Right, Liz?

fotokostic/Getty Images

3. French Bulldog

Temperament: Affectionate, Even-tempered

Energy Level: Low

Average Height: 12 inches

Average Weight: 22 pounds

Grooming: Low Maintenance

Trainability: 7/10

This squishy-faced lapdog deserves its popularity. Frenchies are flexible, even-tempered and all about snuggling away a bad day. Training can be tricky because these sweeties are stubborn, but they make great roomies for homebodies.

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4. Cocker Spaniel

Temperament: Sweet, Happy, Obedient

Energy Level: Moderate

Average Height: 14.5 inches

Average Weight: 25 pounds

Grooming: Brush Regularly

Trainability: 10/10

Sweet and extremely child-friendly, Prince William and Kate Middleton’s preferred breed is known to connect with kids facing mental health or emotional challenges, per Animal Planet. Plus, their fluff factor is off the charts. Just bury your nose—and your worries—in their long, silky fur.

DevidDO/Getty Images

5. Dachshund

Temperament: Curious, Sensitive

Energy Level: Moderate

Average Height: 8.5 inches (Standard), 5.5 inches (Miniature)

Average Weight: 24 pounds (Standard), 10 pounds (Miniature)

Grooming: Low Maintenance

Trainability: 5/10

Playful and affectionate, wiener dogs are also innately hilarious. You’ll be so amused by their everyday ambles around town, fear won’t have room to rear its head. (Hey, there’s even a museum dedicated to them.) They’re smart, but sensitive, so be nice with training tactics.

Mike Ko/EyeEm/Getty Images

6. Golden Retriever

Temperament: Friendly, Loyal

Energy Level: High

Average Height: 23 inches

Average Weight: 65 pounds

Grooming: Brush Regularly

Trainability: 10/10

There are many reasons why Goldens (and their various doodle hybrids) are some of the most popular therapy, guide and rescue dogs, alongside Labradors. They usually ace the Canine Good Citizen test—the gold standard for certifying emotional support animals. Highly intelligent and easily trained, their always-happy temperaments can shift from playful to placid with ease.

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7. Labrador Retriever

Temperament: Playful, Obedient

Energy Level: High

Average Height: 23 inches

Average Weight: 67.5 pounds

Grooming: Low Maintenance

Trainability: 10/10

See above (and know that Labs are just as keen on learning commands and pleasing humans as Goldens are).

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8. Yorkshire Terrier (yorkie)

Temperament: Feisty, Doting

Energy Level: Moderate

Average Height: 7.5 inches

Average Weight: 6 pounds

Grooming: High Maintenance

Trainability: 5/10

According to Animal Planet, during World War II, Dr. Charles Mayo of Mayo Clinic fame took a Yorkshire terrier on his rounds to see injured naval officers. The Yorkie so lifted the soldiers’ spirits, he became the first-ever therapy dog. With a pedigree like that, a tendency to establish tight bonds with their owners and a willingness to travel anywhere by shoulder bag, this little breed has a whole lot to offer.

Zbynek Pospisil/Getty Images

9. Greyhound

Temperament: Independent, Sweet

Energy Level: Moderate to High

Average Height: 27.5 inches

Average Weight: 65 pounds

Grooming: Low Maintenance

Trainability: 7/10

Despite being able to sprint up to 35 miles per hour, these gentle giants—many of them retirees rescued from racetracks—prefer to lie around. Incredibly sweet and docile (they rarely bark), with smooth soft coats, they make ideal roommates. Bonus? They “hug” by leaning their often-hundred-pound bodies against their human’s legs.

Justin Pumfrey/Getty Images

10. Saint Bernard

Temperament: Playful, Patient

Energy Level: Moderate

Average Height: 28 inches

Average Weight: 140 pounds

Grooming: Low

Trainability: 8/10

Loving, eager to please and tolerant of even the wildest domestic animals (small kids), it’s no wonder J. M. Barrie said a Saint Bernard inspired the Darling children’s nanny in Peter Pan (yes, even though Nana was a Newfoundland). These massive teddy bears can reach 180 pounds but only require moderate exercise. With their deep soulful eyes and patient demeanors, they’re like ashwagandha in dog form.

Tomas Rodriguez/Getty Images

11. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Temperament: Adaptable, Affectionate

Energy Level: Low

Average Height: 12.5 inches

Average Weight: 15.5 pounds

Grooming: Low Maintenance

Trainability: 9/10

Known for their adaptability to their owners’ routines, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels will happily bend to meet you where you are on any given day—it's why we consider them the single best dogs for renters. Soft as silk and eager to snuggle, Cavs are soothing creatures to have around. Plus, their low prey drive makes them ideal walking buddies.

Yuttana Jaowattana/EyeEm/Getty Images

12. Pug

Temperament: Adaptable, Charming

Energy Level: Low to Moderate

Average Height: 11. 5 inches

Average Weight: 16 pounds

Grooming: Low

Trainability: 9/10

These tiny—yet sturdy—dogs were bred as companions dogs for emperors in ancient China. Later on, they were the favorites of Dutch and British monarchs. Known for their goofy personalities, Pugs can go with the flow and offer nothing but love and devotion.

Westend61/Getty Images

13. Bernese Mountain Dog

Temperament: Calm, Affectionate

Energy Level: Moderate

Average Height: 25.5 inches

Average Weight: 92 pounds

Grooming: Brush Frequently

Trainability: 8/10

Gentle souls like Bernese Mountain dogs get along swimmingly with kids and other animals. Often, they’ll pick a favorite person and won’t be afraid to show it. While they need ample exercise, they’re also content lounging around with said favorite person, meditating or quietly contemplating life’s little joys.

ucpage/Getty Images

14. Miniature American Shepherd

Temperament: Smart, Easy-going

Energy Level: High

Average Height: 15. 5 inches

Average Weight: 30 pounds

Grooming: Brush Regularly

Trainability: 9/10

These stunners are ideal medium-sized dogs for folks who enjoy constant companionship but aren’t eager to have a giant Saint Bernard roaming their home. The Miniature American Shepherd is incredibly loyal and even keel. Their intelligence makes training a breeze.

Mathias Ahrens/Getty Images

15. Newfoundland

Temperament: Patient, Sweet

Energy Level: Moderate

Average Height: 27 inches

Average Weight: 125 pounds

Grooming: Low Maintenance

Trainability: 8/10

It’s hard not to feel safe and secure around a giant, fluffy Newfoundland. These dogs may look intimidating, but they’re known for their patience and ability to bring joy and comfort to people of all ages.


Author: Debra Horwitz DVM, Dipl. ACVB. St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Dr. Debra Horwitz graduated from Michigan State Veterinary College in 1975 and received her American College of Ethology degree in 1996. Her ethology center is located in St. Louis, Missouri. Dr. Horwitz lectures both in North America and internationally, is a frequent television and radio speaker, and works as an animal behavior consultant for the Veterinary Information Network (VIN). Author and editor of a number of articles and books, including the BSAVA manual on the ethology of cats and dogs (1st and 2nd editions).

Dogs can have a hard time even a short separation from the owner. How to identify this problem and minimize its consequences for the animal itself and for others?


When considering separation behavioral problems in dogs, it is necessary to separately study the behavior patterns that manifest themselves in the absence of the owner.

The motives for such behavior may be fear, anxiety, excessive attachment, arousal due to external stimuli and/or lack of adequate stimuli. The classic symptoms of separation anxiety are disruptive behavior, vocalization, and urination/defecation in inappropriate places. But individual manifestations can also occur, such as increased salivation, anorexia, attempts to escape, or depression.

Separation anxiety (TS) is stressful for both dogs and their owners. Chronic stress leads to a decrease in resistance to disease, and because of the things spoiled by the dog, the relationship between the owner and his pet can be disrupted.

Classification, definitions and prevalence

Key statements

  • Separation anxiety refers to a set of disorders associated with separation. In the absence of the owner, vocalization, the administration of natural needs and destructive behavior take place.
  • Studying the anamnesis will help to make a correct diagnosis.
  • The use of pheromones and medications combined with behavior change work can lead to an improvement in the dog's condition and possibly a full recovery.

Separation anxiety is usually referred to as the stressful state exhibited by an animal during separation from those to whom it is attached. It should be noted that some animals experience stress primarily from separation from humans, while others experience stress because something bad happened to them when they were alone. Animals of the last group usually suffer from various phobias, especially those associated with noise or thunderstorms. Some veterinarians emphasize the so-called "overattachment" as a necessary element of the diagnosis, while others do not use this term. It is believed that over-attachment occurs when the primary attachment of a young dog to its mother persists, which leads to separation anxiety.

Other frequently cited factors are the adoption of an adult dog from a shelter and the intense stress of over-attachment, which may play a role in the development of separation anxiety later on.

Separation anxiety is a very common diagnosis in dogs whose owners seek advice from specialized centers because of behavior problems in their pets, and the proportion of dogs suffering from this disorder increases with age.

Specific causes of this disorder have not been found, but there are a number of assumptions about the factors that cause it. The high social activity of domestic dogs developed as a result of selection contributes to a strong emotional attachment to people and causes stress during separation from family members. The puppy's early memories, such as premature weaning or severe illness, can also be negatively affected. There is currently no definitive evidence that spoiled dogs often develop separation anxiety.

Signs of separation anxiety

It is impossible to say specifically what age or breed dogs are most often subject to separation stress, but among the examined patients with this diagnosis, male dogs predominate. Owners of very young puppies are much less likely to report this problem to the veterinarian, but this may be due to the owner's inability to recognize stress in the face of other behavioral problems common in puppies and young dogs. Separation anxiety can manifest itself in a dog, whether it lives alone in the family or there are other dogs there.

Usually, owners complain about their pet's destructive behavior, urinating in the wrong place, and/or vocalizing when they are not at home. Symptoms are not permanent, they may come and go. Difficulties may arise from an early age, or manifest themselves in connection with changes in the family's lifestyle (other working hours, relocation) or in its composition. Symptoms are most noticeable during the period of close bonding between owner and dog. A change in daily routine, coupled with destructive behavior, vocalization and / or dog defecation in the wrong place, clearly hint at separation stress. Sometimes it is impossible to establish the situation or trigger that provoked its development, and sometimes it is useless to know the exact duration of the disorder. The age of the animal matters: the sudden onset of symptoms in adult dogs may indicate veterinary or cognitive changes, while young dogs may simply be too active. Some animals show symptoms during all the absences of the owner, while others tolerate some of them. Stress responses generally fall into the following categories:

  • Anxious reactions in the presence of the wearer.
  • Anxious reaction to the preparation of the owner for departure and the departure itself.
  • Continued stress after owner's departure. Some dogs may exhibit other anxiety disorders at this time that are not necessarily related to separation stress.

Questions to Identify Separation Anxiety

Important topics for diagnosing separation anxiety

  • Questions about strong attachment between owner and pet
  • Questions relating to the behavior of the dog when the owner is about to leave
  • Questions about what the pet does while the owner is away
  • Questions about how the pet behaves when the owner returns
  • What does the owner do to cope with the dog's disorder?

Information about the interaction of the owner and his pet during the day can shed light on the sources of anxiety and anxiety. It is necessary to carefully read the schedule of feedings, toileting, training and games, and find out what time the dog is left at home alone. Defecation and urination in the home and destructive behavior of some dogs can be attributed to a lack of walks and exercise. Understanding the owner-pet relationship helps to establish the impact of over-attachment in cases where the pet does not normally show it but is stressed when left alone at home.

Most of the reactions begin when the owner is about to leave, so asking questions about this situation can provide useful information. Some dogs get stressed every time they are apart, while others are fine with leaving for work but show anxiety at other times, or vice versa.

It is important to know what the dog does when left alone at home. Common stress responses to the absence of the owner are: destructive behavior, defecation and urination at home, vocalization, locomotor activity (circling, trembling, shaking), gastrointestinal disturbances, and self-inflicted physical injury.

Examples of pet-owner relationship questions

  • Does your dog follow you all the time, does he need to be near you or keep you in sight?
  • Does your dog only eat when you are around?
  • Will your pet eat if you are going to leave?
  • Does your pet have a need to attract attention or constantly interact with you at any cost?

Destructive behavior is usually directed either at windows and doors, or at the owner's belongings, or both. It is not entirely clear whether the choice of object depends on the motives of the dog. If the dog is locked in a cage, the animal may try to move it and even get injured while trying to escape. Again, the motivation for this behavior is not entirely clear: is it a response to loneliness or to being caged? There are dogs that will actively try to prevent the departure of the owner, sometimes even quite aggressively. There are frequent complaints of urination/defecation in the absence of the owner, even in cases where, just before the owner left, the animal was taken outside and made sure that it "did its own business. "

Questions about the dog's behavior when the owner is about to leave

  • What does your dog do when you are about to leave?
  • What reactions does your dog show as the end of the training camp approaches?
  • Has your dog ever tried to stop you from leaving?
  • Where does your pet stay when you leave?
  • If you lock up a dog, how do you do it?
  • How does your dog handle being locked up?
  • When you have already left the house, does the dog show any signs of anxiety: whining, barking, scratching the door, etc.?

Vocalization usually consists of whining, howling and barking. Motor activity is expressed in the fact that the dog rushes about, circles near the owner or trembles immediately before and after his departure. Other signs may include gastrointestinal disturbances (lack of appetite, vomiting, or diarrhea), self-inflicted injury or damage while trying to escape detention. Many dogs show very strong excitement when the owner returns - jumping, running, vocalizing.

Analysis of behavior patterns

Tracking patterns of behavior over time will help you better understand the situation. In separation anxiety, unlike other separation problems, the behavioral response occurs within 5 to 30 minutes of the owner leaving. Helping in determining the time frame is the question of the shortest time of absence when the problem behavior (defecation, disruptive behavior, etc.) was detected upon return. Dogs with TS show problem behavior shortly after the owner leaves and later in the day. The reaction of fear to various events (thunderstorms, loud noises, intrusions into the territory) in the absence of the owner can manifest itself more diversely and blurry in time. Video recordings made while the pet was at home alone can be an invaluable aid in making and verifying the diagnosis.

It is necessary to carefully study the possibility of the influence of existing pathologies. Anxiety may arise from the fact that the animal suffers from a chronic disease (for example, a skin or intestinal disorder). Metabolic disorders that affect the psyche (Cushing's syndrome, thyroid disease, Addison's disease) can also cause changes in the behavior of the animal. Long-term care of a sick animal helps to strengthen the relationship between the owner and his pet, but after recovery, when the animal should become more independent, problems can arise. Illnesses and medications that cause increased water intake or frequent stools can cause you to urinate or defecate at home unrelated to stress. It is especially difficult to diagnose animals in which TS began at an early age. Owners often attribute the observed symptoms to young age, lack of exercise or physical activity. Video filming an animal at home alone will help to understand whether the animal is really stressed or behaves in an undesirable way just “out of boredom”.

Other factors

Other causes of unwanted behavior

  • Vocalization: external stimuli, social interaction, other fears and anxieties
  • Destructive behavior: external stimuli, lack of physical activity, loud noises, anxiety
  • Inappropriate urination/defecation: lack of proper education, inability to use normal toilet areas, veterinary problems

Separation anxiety can occur along with other similar reactions, such as fears or phobias, so stress sometimes occurs not because of separation anxiety, but as a reaction to something else. Dogs suffering from fear may experience a fear-inducing stimulus when left alone and consequently exhibit fear-motivated behavior. It is necessary to clarify how the animal reacts to loud noises, thunder and lightning, fireworks and other external stimuli, because all these anxiety disorders can contribute to the stress response.

Some types of behavior can also affect the relationship between an animal and a person. Pertinent questions here include aggressive behavior related to food, possessions, touching, trying to take something away from the dog, discipline, and displays of territoriality towards guests. To distinguish separation anxiety from a problem of defecation and urination inside the house, you need to make sure that during walks the dog really sends out natural needs. Instances of disruptive behavior while the owner is at home but busy may be indicative of problems other than separation anxiety. Owners of older dogs should be asked if they have noticed signs of dementia such as loss of learned skills, changes in sleep/wake cycle, changes in social interaction, disorientation and confusion.

To make a diagnosis of separation anxiety, the medical history must include evidence of urination/defecation in the wrong place, vocalizations, disruptive behavior and/or other previously listed signs, as well as a check of what kind of behavior and how often occurs in the absence of the owner.

Destructive behavior

Destructive behavior (such as doors, furniture, shoes, etc.) may be due to separation anxiety, but may also be the result of play or curiosity of young and active animals not getting proper exercise. Such behavior can manifest itself during the demonstration of rights to the territory near windows and doors, during bouts of phobia due to thunderstorms and loud noise, and also due to dental problems. In these cases, the problem often occurs regardless of whether the owner of the house or not. However, an attempt to suppress territorial reactions can lead to the fact that they will only manifest more often when the owner is not around. Some dogs may become anxious when they are locked in a cage or alone indoors and start chewing and ruining things. Usually they are just as difficult to endure the restriction of freedom and when the owner of the house.


Vocalization (howling, barking) is common in dogs and may be due to external stimulus, social interaction with other dogs, territorial displays or play, however, all of these occur both in the presence of the owner, and in his absence. Audio recordings can be very important in determining the initial cause: background noises, intonation, pitch, and frequency of vocalizations are useful in identifying causes. High-pitched vocalizations are associated with stress and are distinct from sounds made during territory defense, games, and other activities.

Departure of natural needs in the wrong place

The administration of natural necessities in the house in the absence of the owner can occur due to improper upbringing, diseases of the urinary tract and gastrointestinal tract, as well as due to endocrine dysfunction causing increased water consumption. Urination may also occur as a sign of arousal or submissiveness, to mark territory, out of fear, and as a result of perceptual disturbance.

In the presence of veterinary problems, urination / defecation can occur both in the absence of the owner and in his presence. In this case, the animal is tense, it may have blood in the urine or feces, frequent urination, diarrhea or constipation. If veterinary causes of such behavior are suspected, the usual methods of investigation should be used.

Urination in arousal and as a sign of submission usually happens in full view of people. It is difficult to tell if this is due to ST or due to lack of training and inaccessibility of walking areas, unless the owner observes the animal on the street or inspects the house daily for signs of contamination. If it is not clear how often urination/defecation occurs, keeping a diary, which should record the time and place of the dog's bowel movements, as well as video recordings of the behavior of the animal when the owner is not at home, can help. Perceptually impaired dogs often show other signs of dementia as well, such as confusion, disorientation, and changes in the sleep/wake cycle.

Other fears and anxieties

Separation anxiety can coexist with other anxiety disorders. Fear of new, unfamiliar situations, fear of strangers, aggression, compulsive (compulsive) behavior, and aggression towards the owner's family members may manifest in conjunction with ST or other behavioral problems associated with separation. These types of responses can occur in response to a variety of stimuli, including mail delivery, garbage collection, thunderstorms, roadworks, or nearby construction. This can lead to the owner not suspecting separation anxiety in their pet, not only in the absence of daily destructive behavior, but even worse, when the dog exhibits characteristic behavior when frightening events occur. However, for successful treatment, all associated fears and anxieties must be identified and treated. In cases where several diagnoses are made at the same time, it becomes necessary to prioritize their treatment in order to effectively use the time and effort of the owner. If the dog is aggressive, the safety of people who may interact with it should be ensured.

Emergency Methods

A comfortable environment can make life easier with a dog with TS until he learns to stay at home alone. More frequent walks and games are also beneficial because increased activity often makes pets calmer. If possible, it's best not to leave your dog at home alone, because every anxious moment of separation reinforces the stress response, and the dog continues to defecate in the house and ruin things. Obfuscating the signs of impending departure, or even avoiding them entirely, can reduce anxiety. For example, prepare the car in advance in the evening, leave the house in casual clothes and change at work, mask the departure with sounds (of a washing machine or dishwasher) while the dog is busy with a chew toy.

Gradually becoming accustomed to a confined space or room can alleviate the anxiety associated with leaving the owner, but one should not expect immediate results. Care must be taken when locking up the dog, as if the animal becomes restless in a confined space and tries to escape, it may injure itself. Medications and pheromones have a calming effect on some dogs, but again, they may not be the only way to treat them. Many animals may be relieved by the sight of an owner-owned item or piece of clothing as a comfort signal, but this author's experience shows that this is not very helpful in highly agitated patients.

Long-term treatment strategies

Since dogs with separation anxiety are already stressed, punishment is contraindicated and owners should stop all punishment for problematic behavior in their absence.
Treatment for separation anxiety should focus on the areas listed in the Targets of Treatment Steps table.

Targets of treatment steps

  • Development of greater independence in the dog
    - Creating a predictable environment and routine can reduce anxiety
    - Clear ways to achieve the desired
    - Teaching calmness in the presence of the owner
  • Signs of impending departure
    - Teaching that certain actions do not pose a threat
    - Reduced need to watch the owner and follow him everywhere
    - Possibility to relax for the dog
  • Edible toys that the owner leaves when he leaves
    - Creating pleasant associations with activities related to care
  • Gradual adjustment to departures and absences
    - Teaching your dog that loneliness is not a cause for alarm

Change in relationship between animal and owner

Creating a more predictable and reliable interaction between owner and dog is especially helpful for anxious animals. This approach will make the dog more independent, able to calm down and relax apart from the owner when they are at home together, which will be the first step towards a more balanced behavior of the animal in solitude. Owners are advised to establish a "command-response" relationship with their dog, requiring the dog to execute a command before it gets what it wants. The dog just needs to follow the command before going outside, before being petted, before being fed, etc.

Dogs often have symptoms such as a tendency to follow the owner everywhere and attract his attention. In this case, owners are usually asked to ignore attention-getting attempts such as pawing, prodding, whining, and barking. The dog can only receive attention for calm, quiet behavior, the owner must start and stop interaction and play. It is necessary to teach the animal to sit quietly on its rug and not to follow the owner without command if he needs to leave the room. If possible, short enforced periods of separation when the owner is at home can be helpful. If the dog can lie quietly and relaxed when the owner is at home, but not around, it may be able to behave the same way when he leaves.

It is essential that the owner interact with the animal and behave in a predictable manner. Daily exercise, play and communication are essential for a good relationship and can calm an anxious dog.

Reducing the information content of signs of upcoming care

Some dogs become anxious when they notice various actions the owner takes before leaving. Infrequent and random demonstration of these actions without leaving home can help reduce their predictive power and anxiety in such cases. However, this method does not always help. If the actions associated with the departure of the owner are repeated too often, and there is not enough time between them for the dog to relax, then they increase rather than reduce the anxiety associated with them. Thus, such actions should be performed one to three times a day and only if the dog is calm between demonstrations. If the animal seems more agitated as a result of this method, the practice should be stopped immediately.

Change reaction to signs of impending departure from undesirable to desirable

In some cases, it is worth trying to change the dog's initially anxious emotion associated with care. One method is to give your dog a treat just before going out. There are so-called feeder toys on the market, which can be filled with regular daily food or other products and given to the dog at the moment the owner leaves. If the dog focuses on the toy and eats the food, it can reduce anxiety.

It can also be helpful to place the dog in his "safe zone" just before leaving and give him the command to relax.

Changing the ritual of departure and return

In many cases, returning to and leaving home is filled with emotion and intense action. Therefore, owners are asked to ignore the pet for 10-15 minutes before leaving and after returning. You can take the dog to the toilet, but you can stroke it and talk to it only when it is calm, relaxed and has followed the command.

"Dosed separation"

Encouraging the replacement of an unwanted reaction with a desired one and desensitization can be used to train a dog to stay at home alone and not worry. "Planned" absences of the owner are carried out with careful control of the time of absence so that the dog does not experience anxiety. At first, you should leave for a short time, and each time you accompany your departure with some special sign to make it clear to the dog that this separation will not be the same as usual. The consistent introduction of three measures will help the dog build the necessary associations:

  • The time of absence is carefully controlled and is very short at first.
  • Before leaving, the owner takes the dog to a place where he usually feels comfortable.
  • Immediately before leaving, the owner gives the dog a new permanent "safety sign" or special signal.

The purpose of this is for the dog to develop clear associations between the departure of the owner, a new signal and good behavior, which will allow him to endure forced loneliness. To be effective, this learning departure must have all the characteristics of a real one: if the owner drives a car, you need to take the keys and drive it off; if care is related to work, you need to take a portfolio with documents. Any action that was not previously performed when leaving the house can serve as a safety sign. You can turn on the radio or TV, ring the bell, etc. You need to repeat this action every time. If possible, the dog is left in a new location, such as where it would be left if it did not suffer from ST, or where relaxation and replacing an unwanted reaction with a desired one were practiced. When leaving and returning, one should not show strong emotions. The duration of the absence is gradually increased, each time by 3-5 minutes, with short periods randomly alternating with longer ones in such a way that the dog does not catch the pattern. Destructive behavior, barking or dirtying in the house in the absence of the owners suggests that the separation has been too long, and the next period should be shorter. Video recording will help analyze the behavior of an animal left alone.

Medical intervention


To reduce anxiety, calming pheromones can be used, which are available in the form of a nebulizer or a collar soaked in them. Nebulizers can be a useful adjunct to therapy because most medications take only a few weeks to be effective, and behavior change plans also take time.


There are currently several licensed drugs for the treatment of separation anxiety in dogs. In a number of countries, clomipramine, fluoxetine and selegiline are approved for the treatment of a range of behavioral problems. The first two drugs are indicated for TS, while selegiline is approved for treatment of emotional problems (which may include TS).

It is important to remember that only a veterinarian can choose the right drugs. To do this, he needs to collect a detailed history and conduct a series of studies. These drugs can be hazardous to the animal's health combinations with other drugs. Thus, neither clomipramine nor fluoxetine should be administered in combination with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (selegiline or amitraz) or less than 14 days before and after treatment with them. It is also dangerous to use clomipramine with other drugs that are active against the central nervous system. Fluoxetine and clomipramine should not be used concomitantly due to the risk of serotonin syndrome.

Any of the drugs must be taken daily, and patients need several months of treatment in order to get stable changes. Selegiline has been used in the treatment of fear-motivated separation behavioral disorders where a dog has experienced something frightening in the absence of the owner and as a result associates loneliness with fear. Benzodiazepines such as alprazolam may also be useful for rapid stress relief or short-term stress control. They can be applied as needed shortly after the wearer leaves. However, it should be noted that benzodiazepines may suppress learning abilities, generally require frequent use, may be addictive, and may lead to recovery of anxiety disorder upon discontinuation.

Dispensary observation

For effective treatment of separation anxiety in a dog, the treating veterinarian should be consulted every 7-14 days. This will allow, if necessary, to modify the treatment plan and dosage of drugs. Keeping a diary of observations will help the owner better see any changes that may result from a behavioral or medication intervention. Medication may need to be adjusted, enhanced, or supplemented.

Evaluation of treatment outcome

  • The dog tends to follow the owner everywhere, spin around him and demand attention. A decrease in the intensity of such behavioral responses indicates that the animal feels calmer
  • Reducing the intensity of the reaction to actions prior to the owner leaving the house
  • The dog has the ability to remain calm when the owner is out of sight


Separation anxiety usually responds well to behavioral therapy, but there are exceptions. With the help of drug therapy, anxiety associated with the departure of the owner can be reduced, as well as affect the behavior of the animal in the presence of the owner, reduce the need for attention. However, medication alone will not produce long-term behavioral change. If the dog is not trained to behave properly at home in the absence of the owner, and if the predictive power of grooming signs is not reduced, the improvements can be very small. Some dogs may even show even more destructive behavior, vocalizations and continue to defecate in the house, further increasing the tension in the relationship between the animal and the person. Thus, the above methods of behavior modification play the most important role in treatment and should be applied first.

If the owner's "planned" absences continue to increase the animal's anxiety, the dog may become even more sensitive to them, and the problem behavior will increase. Also, the action of medications will slow down, and medications will need to be given daily, and not as needed.


Separation anxiety is a common but easily treatable disorder in domestic dogs. The combination of behavior modification methods, pheromones and drug treatment in many cases leads to improvement in the condition and / or disappearance of symptoms. Treatment not only reduces stress and improves the quality of life, but also strengthens the bond between dog and owner, solving the problems of living in the home.

How can I teach a dog to behave well when I am not at home?

Neighbors complain that the dog howls when you are not at home? When you return from work, do you find a torn sofa and a gnawed door? Or maybe the dog just touchingly waits for you on the windowsill all day, ignoring other family members? These could all be symptoms of separation anxiety — we asked animal psychologists what it is and how to deal with it.

Alla Rezyapova

Legion Media

If a dog howls in your absence, spoils things and poops in shoes - this is not a harmful character, but a fear of loneliness, in other words, separation anxiety. Experts, zoopsychologists and cynologists explain how to help an animal endure separation and improve dog behavior.

Contents of the article

The dog is bored - this is normal

“People and dogs have parting anxiety to some extent. A child cries when leaving his grandmother, or wants to be with his mother all the time "in the arms" - these are also manifestations of separation anxiety. For a small puppy, this is normal to a certain extent. The question is how strongly it manifests itself in the animal, and how the owner reacts to it: aggravates or helps to overcome. If you can’t do it yourself, contact a specialist: now there are many who work online. Choose those who work in the NIMA approach - “least intrusiveness, minimum aversive” - at the moment, the most humane approach, ”explains Marina Ambrazhechik, a specialist in training and correcting dog behavior.

To help your dog, you must first determine the cause of the anxiety: is it physiological, emotional or mental?

“A dog is basically a pack creature, and some breeds of dogs are more pack animals. This is reflected in the laws of Sweden, for example - you cannot leave a dog alone there for more than six hours. Russian laws do not provide for punishment for owners who leave a dog alone for a long time, but it's still a bad idea. But people do it anyway - even little puppies sometimes stay at home alone for a long time - and it's very hard for them. Important - a puppy under six months old should not be left alone for a time longer than it takes to prepare a cup of coffee. If you have to leave for a long time, hire a babysitter.

The more primitive the breed, the more strongly schooling is inherent in them. Huskies, Spitz, hounds are accustomed to living in a pack, and will suffer alone more than others. But often, after all, there is no way to find a dog company for the time that the owners spend at work; and unlike Sweden, we don't have "dog nurseries". This is where training comes to the rescue: we create the illusion in her that everything is fine with her, and we went out for a short time.

You can start with short absences - for example, take out the trash. Pay no attention to the dog when you leave and return. Gradually increase the time of absences, and the dog will learn to easily endure your absence. During your absence, you can leave smart toys with a hidden treat for your pet. But you shouldn’t leave the bones - they can be dangerous, and there won’t be a person nearby, ”explains Maria Gerber, cynologist and dog trainer.

Separation alarm or just boring?

If you leave your dog alone for a long time, leaving for work, then the animal may simply be bored. If he does not have other people or animals with whom it would be interesting to communicate or play, if he does not have toys to occupy himself. If it's a matter of boredom, educational toys will help - for example, those from which you need to get a treat in different ways. But how to understand what is the reason for dog sadness? Evgenia Volchkova, a dog behaviorist and owner of the Gilda school, recommends starting with installing a hidden camera.

“Watch your dog's behavior alone, and best of all, show the video to experts. In short, there are three signs of separation anxiety, and if at least two are present, we are not talking about ordinary boredom. Here they are: barking / howling in the absence of the hostess, uncleanliness, damage to furniture and things with teeth and claws, ”explains Evgenia. By the way, the tendency to anxiety is genetically transmitted, so choosing a puppy. Pay attention to his parents.

How can I help my dog ​​deal with separation anxiety?

“Reduce the emotionality of meetings and farewells. If the dog greets you too vigorously, react with more restraint. Wait a while before rushing to hug the dog - even if you are very bored. Do not punish the animal upon return - even if the dog destroyed your favorite chair. Deferred punishments don't work. Make sure the dog is not sick, not overworked, and getting enough sleep. Provide him with a comfortable personal bed. These are very general recommendations, but more precise advice cannot be given without analyzing the specific situation. They can both help and harm, ”says Marina Ambrazhechik, a specialist in the education and correction of dog behavior

Maybe it's just harmful?

If a dog ruins things in your absence, it's easy to mistake this for vindictiveness. Especially if your favorite handbag has been damaged. And if the dog described the shoes or shit in the briefcase! What is this, if not vindictiveness? The fact is that "revenge" is too complex a construct for a dog's psyche. You must first be offended and angry with you, then figure out which item in the house is most dear to you and find a way to destroy it. The dog's brain is simply not capable of such an intricate logical chain.

Evgenia Volchkova says that undesirable dog behavior has a simpler explanation - stress. Stress hormones disrupt the water-salt balance in the body, and the animal can no longer restrain the urge to urinate or defecate. But the dog cannot understand why you are scolding him, because from his point of view, there is nothing vile with poop. She can even lick them to get new information. The dog is simply not used to or is afraid to be alone - this can be corrected by working with a specialist. And punishment only exacerbates stress, because the dog does not understand why you are punishing him.

The dog howling the neighbors, how can I help?

Let's say you find out that a dog doesn't have separation anxiety, and it just howls out of boredom. But this does not make it any easier for neighbors who are forced to listen to a heartbreaking sound all the time that you are at work. Evgenia Volchkova explains how to help an animal, yourself and your neighbors.

What not to do: