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Separation Anxiety in Dogs: How to Use Kong Dog Toys


Managing Separation Anxiety in Dogs ImageIt’s not helping,” the distraught client reported, “he doesn’t chew them when I’m away.”  Separation anxiety in dogs is a frustrating dog behavior problem for all concerned. People want things that help and know kong dog toys are reported to be one of those things. They get one. They load it up, give it to their dog and leave. When they return they find an untouched dog toy and an undone dog. Arg!

The issue here is not the toy or the dog but how the toy was introduced to the dog. This blog goes over how to use kong dog toys to help dogs with separation issues.

As usual: Fix the problem AWAY from the problem. Meaning, teach your dog how to focus on a kong toy when he is not anxious so he’ll be able to focus when he is.

Understand that we are building an obsession here. And what sorts of things do we obsess on? Things we love but have limited access to. Things that give us things we really, really enjoy.

  • Buy several classic kongs then put them away. These are not leave around toys; these are something special toys.
  • When you take one out, treat it like something very special. Ooooohhhh, the kong…. Get excited about it. Your dog will believe you.
  • If your dog has learned the thrill of things in plastic bags (comes running when they hear the crinkle) then store them in a plastic bag.
  • Stuff with something fabulous – smeared peanut butter, followed by some truly tempting treats (that list includes freeze-dried turkey or chicken bitsfreeze-dried tripesalmon treats), topped off with nonfat yogurt. Jam a USA-made bully stick or large biscuit into the opening. Create some combo that makes your dogs’s pupils dilate. Warning: What dogs lose their minds over often stinks or can be rather appalling but you have to put that aside in this situation and go for what works for your dog.
  • Present to your dog with flair and thrill. Wow, you’re soooo lucky, you’re getting this KONG! (No, they don’t understand the words but dog’s understand our tone and emotion extremely well so sell it!)
  • Give it to them for briefly (maybe 5 minutes) and, when they are still deeply involved with it, take it away! Back in the plastic bag, back into the fridge or freezer. We want the look on your dog’s face to be “Wait, wait, I want more of that.” Note: If your dog is possessive aggressive then get hands on help. You just don’t have a DIY dog.
  • Repeat this 2-3 times a day, when you can. Always a big deal, always beyond delicious, always brief.
  • You’re ready for the next step when your dog grabs it and gets right down to serious, focused working on it.

When you have achieved this, then you can start giving your dog a kong about 10 minutes before you leave. Let him get involved then quietly – without comment or good byes – head out the door.

Continue to give it as you have when you’re home so you keep interest high and don’t create a “kong=leaving” association.

With some separation anxiety dogs, if they skip the drama at your departure, they skip their upset entirely. That’s the hope and plan.

Give it a try and report back.

Now you know.

If you like my blogs, you’ll love my books: My Smart PuppyChildproofing Your DogDogologyTails from the Barkside.




Author: Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, Dog Expert, offers experienced-based dog info with humor. Author of 8 books, seen on PBS, Sarah knows all about dogs. {Pip} is her rescue dog.


  1. This info is so helpful. I refer clients who have dogs w/ SA to this article and the Be Back Game article (w/ all your info included). Wanted to pass along a few resources I’ve come across that I haven’t seen mentioned on your site but have worked really well for my dog and clients’ dogs: (not the pheremone collars but collars filled with lavender and other calming herbs), goats milk (has such strong calming properties that people go to pet stores to buy it for themselves as well as for their dogs), and snuffle mats (because nose work tires out dogs as much as physical play): (I make them myself). Finally, for people with yards, love this activity:

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