Enrichment Activities for Dogs with Separation Anxiety

This week, we kicked off season three of Enrichment for the Real World with an episode focused on Enrichment for Separation Anxiety, which combines two of my favorite topics. Enrichment and helping pets to be comfortable alone.

In this week’s blog, I decided to share some of my go-to recommendations for pups struggling with separation anxiety. And while this blog is tailored to folx who love a pet who struggles with separation challenges, these are great activities for any family that has a dog. They can provide benefits outside of the ones briefly discussed here. 

So let’s get into it!


1. Building a relaxation station 

This is a big one! Building a place where your dog can go and take a deep breath and self-regulate will help you so, so, so much in so many ways. Creating a restful environment for our pets can give them the ability to self-soothe and self-regulate without you, which is key for being comfortable at home alone and increasing their independence.  

If you’re ready to start building a relaxation station with your pet, then check out Episode 5 – Creating a Restful Environment for Our Animals and our April 2022 Training Challenge: Creating a Relaxing Environment for Your Pet. Each of those resources will dive deeper into what it means to create a relaxing environment. 


2. Long-term calming projects 

Many of the dogs that come to me for help with building comfort at home alone or separated are also working on building self-regulation and self-soothing skills. Long-term calming projects are an excellent way to help your pet start practicing those skills on a daily basis. 

When trying to find each dog’s optimum long-term calming project(s), I coach families to trial and eval a variety of options related to licking, sniffing, and chewing. Often dogs will turn to at least one of those activities already when they are trying to self-regulate. Providing dogs daily opportunities to practice these skills and engage in these activities can lay a foundation for you to further teach your dog self-regulation and self-soothing skills. 

Play around with the type of licking, sniffing, and chewing activities to see what is your dog’s jam, what can smoothly incorporate into your schedule, and which is most effective at helping your pet relax. 



3. Scent work 

A dog’s sense of smell is just incredible. There are very few things as “doggy” as sniffing, and harnessing a dog’s sense of smell is one of the most effective and simple ways to provide an enriching experience for your dog. The positive impacts of olfaction-based activities are numerous

So, all of that is to say, help your dog spend time sniffing. Sniffing, whether it is formal tracking and trailing, taking a sniffari stroll around the park, or scatter feeding can all help your dog be the doggiest of dogs, and can either directly or indirectly help them navigate the world. 


4. Bolstering security at home

Help your pup feel secure at home. Some of you will have pups that are completely unphased by anything when they are home. They feel safe as long as you are there and they are home. And that’s great! But, I know there are many of you that are reading this and your pet struggles with some stuff, even at home, and even with you around. I know because, well, same.

Implementing management, whether that’s window film so your dog isn’t sitting at the window exploding at every person, dog, or leaf that goes by, or turning on the TV to drown out a little of the outside nose, there are lots of small changes you can make to help your dog take a load off. It’s hard on everyone to be “on” all the time, we all deserve a little R&R. 


5. Foraging opportunities that have your pet practicing moving away from you 

A lot of separation-related stuff focuses on “Pup, you stay here while I leave.” But flipping the script and having your pup practice getting some distance from you in a way that is safe and fun for them can give you an excellent foundation to work from. If you have a pup that seems glued to your side, utilize puzzle toys that help your pup move away and come back, like the kong wobbler, or a water bottle with some holes *safely* poked in and some treats inside, or some treat scatters can be excellent options to practice that ebb and flow from you. 

Depending on the mode that you choose, and your dog engages with, you may also be getting some physical or mental exercise, and some species-typical behaviors. I’m all about those multi-tools!


But is it enriching? 

Remember, enrichment is about meeting your pet’s needs to encourage them to perform species-typical behavior in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways. By providing opportunities to engage in enrichment activities, we can help our pets be their very best selves and live happy, healthy lives. But not all activities are enriching. 

This is a fantastic list of possible activities (I know because I effectively use them with clients all the time), but if you’re anything like I was at the beginning of my journey with Griffey, you might see that list and think “I NEED TO DO ALL THAT?!” 

And the answer is likely, “no.” 

Because not all of those things will be effective for every dog out of the gate. Sometimes we need to prioritize one way for one family. Sometimes, there are other things to tackle first. You, your dog, your family, and your situation are unique, so in order to build a sustainable plan, you need to know what ACTUALLY works, and what is just MAKE work. 

And that’s something I can’t answer here, because, friend, I don’t know your specifics. But, that is something that I and the rest of the Pet Harmony consulting team help families with every single day. 

And even if the answer is, “yes, we need to do all of that.” We can help you make it sustainable and effective. Because the point isn’t to sacrifice yourself so your pet can thrive. We want everyone to thrive.


Now what? 

  • If you’re ready to incorporate some of these activities into your dog’s routine, then scroll back up and make a plan! 
  • If you’re ready for additional guidance and support, whether that is helping your pet learn to be comfortable at home alone, building a sustainable and effective enrichment plan, or anything else to build harmony in your home, then we’re here for you. Book a package with our consultants! 
  • And whether you’re a family living with a pet who can’t be comfortable at home alone (yet!), or a professional helping families navigate this challenge,  if you’d like even more tips when it comes to working with a pet with separation-related challenges, I’ve got you covered! Get 5 Tips for Working with Separation Anxiety Dogs here.