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Toys Can Ease Your Dog's Separation Anxiety

Toys Can Ease Your Dog's Separation Anxiety

Toys Can Ease Your Dog's Separation Anxiety

Key Points

  • Separation anxiety dog toys help dogs cope while their owners are away.

  • Separation anxiety dog toys are designed to suit a variety of functions.

  • Not all dog toys are right for every kind of dog.

When you were younger, did you ever have a favorite toy, like a teddy bear? Were you a "Linus," always carrying a security blanket? If so, you can empathize with your dog who may suffer from anxiety. Giving them a “comfort item,” such as a separation anxiety dog toy, can be a great benefit.

Separation anxiety dog toys come in various forms with different functions. Consider the following suggestions and you will find one that is perfect for your dog.

A Calming Cuddle Blanket is good for when your dog is in their Calming Dog Bed, (both available from Calming Dog), but carrying it around with them a la Linus is not as practical. They can easily trip over it, snag it on something, and/or drag it through the dirt and mud. Giving them a special plush toy or puzzle works much better.

Remember that not every toy is right for every dog. 

Puppy chews on dog toy to ease anxiety

Does My Dog Need a Separation Anxiety Toy?

If your dog exhibits symptoms of separation anxiety -– pacing, barking or whining when you’re about to leave, destroying or chewing up objects or furniture while you’re gone, having "accidents" in the house -- they need something to help them cope.

Anxiety is preceded by a trigger. In the case of separation anxiety, the trigger can be the act of you leaving or the “signals” leading up to that event.

For example, if you leave at the same time every morning, your dog notes this pattern and becomes nervous when that time comes. Grabbing your keys, putting on your jacket, or making a cup of coffee before heading out the door are all signals that you are leaving -- and your dog knows it.

Whenever you are about to leave, notice exactly when your dog begins displaying nervous behaviors. They may start whining when they hear your car keys jingling or pacing when they smell the coffee brewing. They can even try to block your path when they see you leaving your bedroom in your work clothes.  

When any of this anxious behavior occurs in connection with any of your actions, then you know the trigger. Once you’ve identified the trigger, give them the toy just before you jingle your keys, but don’t go anywhere. This helps them associate the sound with something good. Do this at times throughout the day to desensitize them to this sound.

Once the trigger is neutralized, your dog needs some sort of distraction to keep them from realizing you are leaving.

In the article "Treating Separation Anxiety," the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends, “Always make sure that your dog has exciting things to do when you're not with them. Give your dog a long-lasting chew such as a stuffed '[K]ong' toy, a meat-flavored chew, or a treat ball when you plan to go out.”

Once you have identified your dog’s trigger(s), find a toy or object they enjoy to keep them occupied. Remember to test it with them first. If they don’t enjoy it with you, they aren’t likely to enjoy it while they’re alone. 

Dog rests in a dog bed covered with toys

Your dog can still have separation anxiety even if you leave them with another family member or a dog sitter because they are separated from their favorite human.

A toy or puzzle may help in this situation because it can be given and monitored by someone else. Employing a dog sitter is the best option when you must be away for extended periods, but this isn’t always feasible.

There are many options available to address these issues and you don't have time to research every one of them. There are different types of toys for specific temperaments, sizes, and ages -- from puppies to "senior" dogs. Recommendations for the most popular and effective anti-anxiety items are in this article.

Anti-Anxiety Toy for Puppies

If you adopted your puppy from a shelter or they were recently weened, they may have trouble adjusting to being away from their mother, litter, or other dogs. They whine and cry and are restless -- especially at night when they feel alone. If they have a separate bed or crate, they can have these feelings even when you're in the same room with them.

These are symptoms of separation anxiety and indicate that your pup needs something to comfort them.

Snuggle Puppy Heartbeat Stuffed Toy for Dogs is advertised as a “pet anxiety relief and calming aid.” It is Amazon's highest-ranked “anxiety relief” toy and number four overall in Plush Toys for Dogs. It is mainly for puppies because it has a “real-feel” heartbeat and heat pack, mimicking their mother’s presence. It can be used at night or when the puppy is left alone while you are away. 

Using a calming bed in conjunction with the heartbeat toy increases the feeling of security as they sink in and the bed conforms to their body. It has soft, faux fur and bolstered sides that support and envelop them. It’s like they’re receiving a warm hug while you're not there.

Plush Toys

Most plush toys come in a variety of sizes to accommodate any size of a dog, so check that detail before buying online! You don't want to overwhelm a tiny pup with a huge toy, nor do you want your big dog to accidentally swallow the pieces of a toy that is too small for them.

Some dogs like to “kill” and destroy their plush toys -- often just to get remove the squeaker from the toy (and immediately lose interest one they do). In that case, pick a plush toy durable enough to withstand the “attacks.”

Some toys advertise that they are “indestructible.” Anyone with an aggressive chewer knows there's no such thing, but some ARE more durable than others.

The Outward Hound Firehose Material Interactive Toy from Amazon is about as close to indestructible as you can get in a plush toy. As the name declares, the toy is made from the same material as a firehose. The squeaker still squeaks even when punctured. The toy comes in several different animal shapes.

Many plush toys contain a squeaker/noisemaker. This prompts many dogs to tear into the stuffed animal in a quest to rip out the squeaker. If they are successful in this effort, you need to get a more durable toy. Discard the old toy when you first notice it has sustained significant damage. You don’t want your dog to swallow any filling or the noisemaker.

Two dogs run through the grass playing with apple

Stuffless Toy

Another option is to get a stuffless toy. Even if your dog begins to rip into them, there are no large bits of filament to be concerned with. Pieces of the toy may still come off though, so always monitor your dog’s use of this toy. 

At the time this article was written, the number one spot in Amazon’s category of Dog Squeak Toys was held by Best Pet Supplies 2-in-1 Stuffless Squeaky Dog Toys. This toy has no stuffing to be swallowed but it does have a noisemaker, so keep an eye on your dog when they play with it. The company states you can insert a plastic bottle in its opening to provide an extra “crunch” feel and sound.

Noiseless Squeaker

Your dog may love squeaky toys, but the noise may be a bit much for human ears to bear. The constant squeaks gets annoying fast. It’s difficult to find a plush toy without a loud squeaker, but they are out there.

TrustyPup Tough ‘N Fun & Strong ‘N Silent has a squeaker with an ultrasonic frequency, out of the human hearing range. Your dog still has fun making noise without you being disturbed by the repeated squeaks.

An assortment of dog toys lying on surface

Toys for Power Chewers

If you have a dog that displays anxiety by chewing things, Nylabone Power Chew X Bone from Chewy.com is a good option. Nylabone has a variety of chew toys, including an X-shaped toy with different surfaces to make it more interesting. Nylabone has toys in various sizes and shapes for dogs of all ages and sizes. Most toys are flavored (e.g., peanut butter, bacon, chicken) which make them more appealing to your dog.

Kong Classic Dog Toy, also on Chewy.com, is great for chewing and as a form of distraction. It has a hollowed center which can be used to house peanut butter or other treats. While trying to get to the treat in the toy's center, the dog forgets about their anxiety.

Interactive Toys and Puzzles

Your dog should have something they can play with that also provides mental stimulation. This prevents boredom and curbs anxiety. Some are safe to leave with your dog; others are not. Know which is which.

The Hyper Pet Doggie Tail on Amazon is truly interactive and moves on its own before the dog even touches it. It makes “funny sounds and erratic movement.” Once it stops, it will reactivate when play resumes. It requires batteries, so do NOT leave your dog alone to play with this one, just in case they can open the battery compartment.

The ZippyPaws - Chipmunks 'n Log, a combination of a plush toy and puzzle, is also available on Amazon. You stuff plush squirrels inside a soft log for dogs to pull out. The squirrels are small and have noisemakers, so this is not a good option for very large dogs. 

Some puzzle toys have a built-in reward system for solving them. Also from Amazon, the FOXMM Interactive Dog Treat Puzzle is more for intellectual stimulation and an alternative to plush toys. Your dog can play with this toy while you are away, being kept busy trying to figure out how to retrieve the hidden treat.

Black and white dog plays tug with owner

Another type of interactive device is the Furbo Dog Camera. Unlike any other option, this one allows you to interact with your dog when you are away from the house. It has a WiFi pet camera and two-way audio that allows you to give your dog a command and have the dispenser toss them a treat when they respond correctly. It also has a sensor that sends an alert to your phone when your dog starts barking.

The Awoof Pet Snuffle Mat is also unique. Amazon calls it an “Interactive Feed Game for Boredom…Stress Relief.” Regular food or treats are hidden inside the material's folds and your dog sniffs and roots out the snacks. It keeps them occupied and satisfies their natural foraging instinct.

If your dog inhales their food, this item addresses that issue by forcing them to eat more slowly while they try to find the food inside. A "slow-feeder" bowl can help with this issue as well.

Game Over

When you return home to your pooch, put away the separation anxiety dog toy. You don’t want them to become bored with it because of overuse. Giving them more than one toy or puzzle while you're away, however, is a good idea so they have something else to do once they solve the puzzle or get bored with the toy.

Even though you probably want to, don’t make a big deal about seeing them when you first get home. Ignore them until they have established a calm demeanor and then reward them for being calm. This reinforces the behavior you want from them.

Assortment of dog toys laying on surface

When it comes down to it, there is no “quick fix” to curing separation anxiety. It takes patience, practice, perseverance, and perhaps puzzles, along with diligence, determination, discipline, and definitely dog toys!

Your dog can be happy and feel more comfortable while you’re away by giving them these things to help calm their separation anxiety.

Go to Calming Dog’s Blog to search for your specific breed for more on how to help them with their anxiety.