Dog Toys and Games to Ease Separation Anxiety

Sadly, many dogs deal with separation anxiety.  The good news is there are a lot of ways you can help ease this anxiety - and some of these ways can be fun for you and your pup!


Games that stimulate your dog’s brain can have a great impact even while you’re away.  Some toys and games can help desensitize and refocus your dog in ways to ease separation anxiety, while others can provide comfort. 


Whether you use these methods while you’re getting ready to leave or prepare them to distract and stimulate your pup while you’re away, these playful experiences can bring a lot of joy to you and your furry friend.  


Puzzle toys

Puzzles are a great way to keep your dog’s brain engaged even if you’re not home, and can keep attention longer than just a simple treat or chew toy.  By keeping your dog occupied, puzzle toys can be a great way to refocus nervous energy into something productive.


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  1. Treat Toys

Does your pup love their treats?  Toys that incorporate treats can keep your dog’s attention, especially if it takes some strategy or time to be able to get to the treats.  


While pretty straight-forward, you’d be surprised by how long the treat toys can keep your dog engaged!  Many are made of durable materials, and allow you to simply place your pup’s favorite treats inside (maybe with a dab of peanut butter to keep the smell factor up).


Some of these toys can even be frozen, creating not just a tasty treat for the warmer months but also slowly release the deliciousness from inside.  


You can opt for toys that have a cavity inside to stuff treats into, or toys that dispense a small amount of treats at a time, like a treat ball.  Either of these types both refocus your dog’s attention and reward them for their efforts.  


The Classic KONG toy is a great example, as is this PetSafe Busy Buddy Barnacle and Squirrel Dude which has a chamomile scent on Amazon. 


  1. Fuzzy or Wooly Mats

It may sound silly, but a mat is a great way to keep your pup’s sense of smell and investigative skills engaged.  Before leaving home, hide a few treats in the mat for your dog to search for.  There are specific mats made for this purpose, and most are machine washable for quick and easy cleaning.


This toy matches up with wanting to refocus your dog’s attention, whether it be as you’re preparing to leave or used right before you walk out the door.  


In order to decide when to use this type of toy, keep in mind when your furry friend seems to be most anxious. 


 If you’re seeing the signs of anxiety as you’re going through your routine, go ahead and add the mat into your typical routine. 


On the other hand, if you come home to some destroyed items or neighbors alerting you about excessive barking, set up the mat right before you walk out the door to distract your pup from your absence. 


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A few examples include the ALOYA Snuffle Mat and the Interactive Puzzle Game on Amazon. 


  1. Hide and Seek toys

Hide and seek toys typically have multiple pieces: one large container-like piece that holds smaller pieces inside for your pup to find.  These can be plush-like and fuzzy or made of more durable materials.  


These types of toys can also have some space to add treats too if your pup is more inclined to dig inside to find them!  


Here are a few examples: Outward Hound Hide-A-Squirrel Plush and ZippyPaws Farm Pals Burrow on Amazon.


Stimulating Games 

Puzzle toys can be really helpful, but you can also encourage independent behavior with your pup by playing games with them.  Games like these below usually just take a little bit of time, and add no added cost (other than the amount of treats you’ll use!).


Dogs have been bred to work alongside us; teaching them to use their natural talent of smell keeps them happy and entertained. It gives them a feeling of purpose. Dogs thrive when they feel like they have a job to do; and it’s even better when it’s something as simple as teaching them to sniff things out for you.”

-- Puppyleaks, “Three Simple Nose Work Games to Play With Your Dog,

updated May 2019 


You can also change these games up to make them more and more difficult as your pup gets used to them! 


  1. Which Hand Game

This game is super easy to do and can help stimulate your pup’s brain!  To play this game with your pup, start with these steps:

  • Ask your dog to sit
  • Grab a few treats while your pup stays in the sit position
  • Sit down in front of your dog and let them watch as you place a treat in one hand
  • Close your hands, fists facing downward, and extend them out to your dog while asking “Which hand?”
  • Once your dog confirms which hand, whether by bumping with their nose or another signal, praise your pup and give them the treat

If your pup takes a while to understand, that’s okay!  It may take a few times for your dog to catch on to the goal.  You can jumpstart their understanding by asking “Which hand?” and then, if they seem stumped or unsure, open your hand with the treat inside and give it to them. This can show them what the expectation is. 


This game helps your dog develop better problem-solving skills, which will teach your pup to work through issues on their own, lessening separation anxiety in the long run. 


  1. Find the Treats

This is a nose work game, meaning it engages your pup’s sense of smell to solve the mystery! To start this game, follow these steps: 

  • Command your dog to stay in one place
  • Grab a few treats while your pup stays in the stay position
  • While your dog stays, place a few treats around them on the ground
  • Release your dog from their stay position and say “find the treats”
  • Praise and encourage them as they pick up the treats
  • Continue this pattern until your pup begins to understand what “find the treats” mean
  • Repeat the steps above while placing the treats farther and farther away from your dog
  • After your dog starts finding them all, place treats in more difficult locations, like out of sight from your dog

This is a great game to develop your pup’s problem solving skills, engage their sense of smell, and encourage independent behavior.  Letting your pup find the treats by themselves will allow them to become more comfortable with solving problems on their own. 


Once your pup becomes comfortable with finding treats, you can make it a little more difficult by using items.  Try something with your scent, like a shoe or hat you’ve worn recently. 


  1. Walking & Exercise

Never forget the power of exercise.  Tiring out your pup and spending one-on-one time together can release nervous, built-up energy.  This will also mentaly stimulate your pup, allowing them to tire out not just physically but mentally as well.  


Comfort items

While puzzle toys and games can desensitize your pup from separation anxiety and refocus their energy to something productive, comfort items can help soothe your dog while you’re gone. 


  1. Your Own Items

This may not surprise you, but the most comforting items you could give your dog may be items you already own.  Old t-shirts, worn out shoes, even well-loved scarves can do the trick.  Just make sure the items you give your pup don’t have any hazardous pieces that may harm them.


While these items don’t cost you any extra money, they can mean the world to your dog.  The scent left behind on the item can be soothing and ease the anxiety associated with not being around you.  


  1. Cuddle toys

Mostly made for puppies, stuffed toys can also help soothe adult dogs.  Some stuffed cuddle toys come with removable packets you can microwave to add to the comfort factor. 


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Some dogs would rather destroy these types of toys instead of snuggle with them, so if you decide to bring one into your home, keep an eye out just in case! 


The SmartPetLove Snuggle Puppy Behavioral Aid Toy and the Moropaky Puppy Toy on Amazon are great examples for cuddle toys. 


If you are purchasing toys to comfort your pup, keep in mind that some of these toys tend to have a squeaking mechanism too.  If you plan to purchase one for your pup to have during car travel, you may want one that doesn’t have any noisy parts that will distract you. 


  1. Supplements

Sadly, sometimes changes in routine or toys are unable to fully calm a dog from separation anxiety.  Supplements can help keep stress levels low without adverse side effects.  


If you are considering supplements, click here to view how the ingredients in this supplement may be beneficial to your pup. 


Desensitize

Refocus

Comfort


Find the Treats game


Fuzzy mats with hidden treats


Using your own older, used items


Which Hand game


Find the Treats game


Cuddle toys


Walking/Exercise


Hide and Seek toys


Supplements



Resources

https://www.puppyleaks.com/teach-your-dog-search/ 

https://www.rover.com/blog/dog-toys-for-separation-anxiety/ 

https://www.rover.com/blog/soothing-toys-for-anxious-dogs/