How to Prevent Separation Anxiety in Dobermans—Proven Method

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Doberman alone inside a house looking sad out the window.

I know firsthand how bad it can be if you have a Doberman suffering from separation anxiety. You feel like you’re a prisoner and your Doberman is your jail guard. If you walk out of sight of your dog, that’s when things get bad. Your Doberman might bark, howl, cry, chew up things they shouldn’t, or make that ear-piercing mix between a yelp and a bark (a classic Doberman thing to do). Luckily there are a number of proven methods Doberman owners such as myself have been using for a long time with this breed to alleviate these anxiety issues in their dogs.

The quickest way to resolve separation anxiety in your Doberman is to use desensitization exercises to reduce the stress of various triggers surrounding your departure and to make your dog as comfortable as possible in their environment.

There is a long list of various tricks and methods used by Doberman owners trying to solve separation anxiety issues but really only a handful of techniques keep popping up over and over and the “go-to” techniques that actually work for this unique breed. But first, you need to be able to identify if your Doberman is actually suffering from separation anxiety at all, or if it’s something else.

Signs of Separation Anxiety in Dobermans

There are many behaviors that Dobermans will exhibit when they’re experiencing an increase in stress due to the absence of their owners. Below is a list of some of the most common behaviors you’re likely to see in a Doberman with separation anxiety.

  • Howling or Barking – This is a classic sign of separation anxiety in most breeds, including in Dobermans. Constant loud barking can happen in this breed when they’re suffering from anxiety. Howling is less common in Dobermans and usually only happens with extreme levels of separation anxiety.
  • Destructive Behavior – Desctructive behavior is extremely common in Dobermans that are stressed, especially younger dogs under about 2 years of age. If your dog is destroying things, chewing on things they shouldn’t be, or digging up the yard, they’re likely experiencing hightened levels of stress.
  • Whining or Crying – Probably the earliest and most common sign of separation anxiety in Dobermans is excessive whining or crying when their owner is away.
  • Teeth Chattering – This is a common sign in Dobermans, but not so much in other breeds. If you’re hearing your Doberman’s teeth chatter (or click rapidly) in can be due to separation anxiety or a number of other causes. You can see more about Doberman teeth chattering here.
  • Pacing – Constant pacing is a more subtle sign of anxiety in this breed and can be a sign of mild to moderate anxiety. However, if your Doberman is only pacing and not exhibiting any other signs, it’s likely they’re only experiencing mild anxiety or discomfort.
  • Repetitive Behaivors – Dobermans are known for exhibiting certain repetitive behaviors when they are stressed such as “flank sucking” (or sucking on the flap of skin between their back leg and torso) and suckeling on blankets or bedding. However repetitive behaviors of any type can be a sign of increased anxiety.
  • Overeating or Undereating – Another sign that your Doberman is experiencing separation anxiety is when they start to develop strange eating habits, like not eating when you aren’t around for example. This is uncommon but can still happen in severe cases.
  • Swallowing Foreign Objects – If your dog is chewing up various objects in the house or yard and swallowing them, it’s likely they’re suffereing from anxiety. This is not only common in Dobermans, but it’s also extremely dangerous as they can get an internal blockage and require surgery.
  • Urinating or Deficating Indoors – A Doberman with increased stress due to separation from its owner will also often urinate or deficate inside the house even though they’ve been previously fully potty trained. This is a bit less common however.
  • Sharp High-Pitched Barks – This is a classic sign of separation anxiety in Dobermans. They do a type of “yelp-bark” that sounds like a cross between a yelp and a bark. It’s often done for attention when a Doberman is away from their owner.

Most of the various points listed above indicate simply that your Doberman is experiencing stress. If you notice that these things are associated with your absence, or your dog being alone in general, then it’s likely due to separation anxiety.

If these things are occurring when you’re sitting right next to your Doberman, then it likely isn’t separation anxiety but could be some neediness issues instead. I have information on addressing neediness in Dobermans here.

A Doberman Pinscher barking at the camera.
A Doberman with separation anxiety will often bark repetitively making life for you and your neighbors miserable.

Step 1 – Get Your Dog Used to Your Absence

This is one of the most important steps for solving separation anxiety in your Doberman on a long-term basis. Essentially you’ll be using a form of desensitization training to slowly acclimate your dog to your absence. This is best started when the dog is fairly young, at about 8 weeks of age. However, it’s also highly effective on older Dobermans as well.

Start by placing your dog in his or her crate (or pen—wherever they will be contained when you leave), provide them with a distraction such as a toy or treat, and walk away. Don’t walk out of eyesight initially and make sure to return soon, within 30 seconds or so. Open the door to the pen or crate and casually walk away. When your dog comes out, if there was no whining, crying, or barking, then praise heavily.

Next time, do the same thing but walk a bit further away and for a slightly longer period of time. Again, walk back before you hear any crying, whining, or barking, and casually open the door to their pen. Praise when your dog comes out. Practice this a couple of times per day.

Repeat this process with progressively more distance between you and your Doberman and progressively longer periods of time. Make sure to progress at a speed where you can go through this exercise without any signs of separation anxiety such as whining, crying, howling, or barking. If you begin to see some of those signs of anxiety from your Doberman, slow down your progression. Let your dog set your pace here.

Step 2 – Desensitize to “Going Away Triggers”

Dobermans are highly focused animals and they see all the slightest things you do before you leave the house. Any of these can be a trigger that begins their spiral into high-anxiety territory. Your Doberman might see you do something seemingly small to you, like grab your car keys, and they’ll begin their anxious behavior. If your dog experiences anxiety within the first 10 to 15 minutes of your departure from the house, it’ll continue until you come back home.

Common “Going Away Triggers” Include:

  • Picking up car keys.
  • Putting on a coat.
  • Opening the garage door.
  • Putting on a backpack or grabbing a briefcase.
  • Going towards the front door.
  • Starting your car.
  • Being placed in their pen.

If you do any of these actions and notice your Doberman start to whine and pace around the house, then you know that they need to be desensitized to that trigger.

Figure out which trigger is the one that causes the anxiety in your Doberman and practice that trigger multiple times throughout a normal day when you don’t plan to leave the house. If your car keys are the trigger, try picking up your car keys multiple times throughout the day and moving them around the house. Or take them with you to toss the trash out, and come right back inside afterward.

This is called desensitization training. All you’re trying to do here is to get your Doberman used to that action so it’s not a source of stress for them. That way it hopefully won’t trigger higher anxiety in that critical first 10 to 15-minute window when you’re leaving the house.

Step 3 – Make Sure They See Their Pen (or Crate) as Their Happy Place

If you plan to have your Doberman confined to a pen or a crate when you leave the house then it’s your job to make sure that place is seen as your dog’s “happy place”. You want nothing but good, relaxed feelings in that area for your dog. There are a few things you can do to make sure that this will happen.

Associating Relaxed Feelings With Their Pen

  • Place It in a Quiet Spot Within Eyesight of the Family – Dobermans (espeically young ones) often want a break form the craziness in a chaotic house. This is especially true if there are young children in the home. However, they can get stressed and not easily relax if they also feel like they aren’t part of the family. So place the pen in an area where they can see the common areas of the house where your family usually gathers, but off in a quiet corner so they can also have a break if needed. Using a crate in a quiet back bedroom is a bad choice for this.
  • Never Use the Pen as a Punishment – One of the worst things you can do is use your Doberman’s pen or crate as something they go in for a punishment and then also use that same pen to contain your dog when you leave the house. This will almost certainly garuntee that seperation anxiety will kick in when you leave them there. So be careful to avoide using it for punishment.
  • Leave the Door Open Often – Leave the door open to the pen and encourage your dog to go into their pen on their own throughout the day. If this begins to happen, then you’re doing great and your Dobie is begining to see their pen as their “happy place”.
  • Encourage Naps in the Pen – Waking up in the pen is a great way to help your Doberman feel relaxed there. If you have a young puppy, then get used to transfering them into the pen when they fall asleep on your lap or somewhere else in the house. Try to leave the door open if you are there to supervise, or open the door to the pen quickly when they wake up so that they only feel relaxed feelings there upon waking.
  • Provide Special Treats and Toys When in the Pen – This is a very basic, but effective, method for associating good feelings with your Doberman’s pen. Encourage your dog to naturally want to spend time there by providing delicious treats on occasion inside the pen, or an exciting toy they rarely see.
  • Have Short Times in the Pen (Not Just Long Ones) – Use the pen often throughout the day for very short breaks. It’s improtant that your Doberman knows that they don’t just go in the pen when you’re leaving for a long work day, but they might also go in for a short 5 minute period throughout the day occasionally as well.
A kong toy with peanut butter being placed inside of it to reduce anxiety when leaving.
A Kong toy filled with peanut butter is a great distraction for your Doberman when leaving the house.

Step 4 – Provide a Special Treat or Toy When Leaving

When you’re leaving the house, get in the habit of pulling out a high-value toy that your dog only sees when you leave. Possibly a puzzle toy or something else with a treat (maybe peanut butter) inside of it. If you need help finding some toys that Dobermans love, check out my recommended products page for ideas. You can also provide a high-value treat when you leave as well. Doing this will help reassociate the action of you leaving from something traumatic to something positive and exciting.

Does your Doberman love you? If your Dobie is experiencing separation anxiety when you’re away, then there’s a good chance he (or she) does! Check out this list of 25 ways Dobermans show affection and count how many of these your Dobie does. The more of these things they do, the more likely your Doberman truly loves you!

Step 5 – Use Background Noise

The trauma of you leaving the house is often made worse because the house goes from a chaotic noise environment (especially true if you have kids) to a dead silent one. You can help lessen the impact of this by leaving on some sort of background noise. This can be a television, radio, music, white noise, or really anything else.

Just make sure that it’s something calming and be especially careful if you leave the television on to do this. You don’t want the next program to be a loud police movie with gunshots and barking dogs. That will certainly quickly add stress to your dog while you’re away. I’ve found that a quiet news or history channel seems to work pretty well and be fairly predictable.

Step 6 – Put Your Dog in Their Pen 10-15 Minutes Before Leaving

Since most separation anxiety in Dobermans begins in that critical window of the first 10 to 15 minutes after their owner leaves, you really want to do whatever you can to get through that window of time with no signs of anxiety from your dog. Try placing your Doberman in their pen (or crate) 10 to 15 minutes before you actually leave the house.

This will greatly help reduce anxiety feelings since the trauma of being put in their pen is now separated further from the trauma of their owner departing. Instead of experiencing these two potential anxiety triggers at the same time, they’re spaced out, effectively reducing their impact on your Dobie. Also, your Doberman will be able to see you still walking around the house and doing various things getting ready to leave for a while, as they hopefully begin calming down and settling in without the fear of being immediately alone.

Step 7 – Exercise and Feed Your Doberman Before Leaving

Dobermans are a working breed of dog that seems to always have excess energy. Excess energy in this breed leads to excess anxiety. So do your best to make sure your dog is well exercised before you leave the house to help your dog relax easier. Make it part of your daily routine to exercise your dog early in the morning before you leave, it’ll likely not only be good for your dog, but good for you too.

Another point of stress, in all dog breeds, is food. There’s a natural instinct in dogs to always be focused on where their next meal is coming from and it’s heightened as they begin feeling hungry. So take this stress off of your Doberman by making sure he (or she) also has a full stomach before you leave. If your dog is well exercised and has a full stomach before you leave the house, the chances of your Doberman experiencing separation anxiety are greatly reduced.

Just make sure to take precautions to avoid a condition called bloat in your dog. This is something that is common in the Doberman breed and can be deadly. The chances of your Doberman developing bloat are increased if they exercise within an hour of eating.

Step 8 – Provide Plenty of Chew Toys

Chewing is one of the primary ways Dobermans release stress. So providing your Doberman with plenty of “good” chew options will not only help avoid destructive chewing on items you don’t want your Doberman to be chewing on, but it’ll also help them to self-regulate their anxiety levels. This is especially important for young Dobermans under 6 months of age who are going through teething and are looking to get their teeth on new and unique textures in an attempt to relieve stress and soothe their aching gums.

The larger the variety of textures and types of toys, the better. These can be puzzle toys, kong toys, soft plush toys (make sure they’re safe and remove them if they’re getting destroyed), frozen toys, firm rubber bones, nylabones, or any number of other types of toys. Frozen toys are great for something different and really help soothe the gums of teething puppies also.

Step 9 – Leave and Return to the House Casually

Hopefully, you have your Doberman ready to be alone, now you need to have your demeanor dialed in before you leave. Remember this: the bigger you make the “event” of you leaving the house, the more likely your Doberman will be to react to it. Dobermans and people-watchers and pay close attention to your demeanor just about every minute of the day.

So if you leave the house with a big elaborate goodbye with tons of hugs, kisses, and a long drawn out “I’ll miss you!”, your dog is much more likely to react when you’re away. Similarly, when you return to the house, if you instantly run over to your dog’s pen, let him out, give him a big hug and tons of praise, then you are also making more of an “event” out of you being gone. This is only making your Doberman’s separation anxiety worse.

The best thing you can do is make both your departure from the house and your arrival as uneventful as possible. Keep it casual and relaxed when you leave, placing your Doberman in his cage 10 to 15 minutes before your leave and not giving him any big departing hugs either. Just get ready casually and slip out of the house. When you return do the same thing. Remain relaxed, do a few things around the house, and let your Dobie out of their pen maybe 5 minutes or so after you arrive home (there’s no rush!). This will take the emphasis off of your absence, which is one of the most important things you can do while addressing separation anxiety in a Doberman.

Doberman chews on a Kong toy to relieve stress while alone.
Arlo the Doberman chews on a Kong toy filled with peanut butter while his owner is away.

The Key to Long-Term Success

To ensure that you have long-term success in addressing separation anxiety in your Doberman, you’ll want to use the habit-forming tendencies of the Doberman to your advantage. Using the habit-forming tendencies of the Doberman to your advantage is the quickest way to long-term success in addressing separation anxiety. Essentially what this means is developing the habit in your dog of them not experiencing anxiety when you leave.

Dobermans love routine and are strong habit-forming dogs. This is something that’s ingrained in them and is one of the reasons they are one of the world’s more trainable dogs according to researchers (source). You can use this to your advantage by ensuring that your Doberman has as many episodes away from you as possible without experiencing separation anxiety. If you have enough of these positive times away from you, being relaxed and calm in your absence will become your Doberman’s new habit.

This is most useful to employ during the desensitization step above (Step 1 – Get Your Dog Used to Your Absence). While you’re doing this, make sure that you consistently return to your Doberman’s pen and let him out before he starts crying, barking, or showing any other signs of anxiety. Then on your next session, you can try to go a bit longer, but you should still return before anxiety forms and release your dog from the pen.

“Returning to your Doberman only once he starts crying is setting him up for long-term separation anxiety.”

– John Walter, FDS

Consider each of these trips away from your dog where there are no signs of anxiety as a “win” and any trips away where there are any signs of increased anxiety (such as crying, whining, barking, etc) as a “loss”. Attempt to get as many “wins” in your column as possible as this is what will develop the habit of maintaining low anxiety in your absence and ultimately solve the separation anxiety issues in your Doberman.

Common Mistakes

The most common mistake Dobermans owners make while attempting to solve separation anxiety is progressing too fast during desensitization training. In other words, they’ll begin slowly acclimating their dogs to their absence during step 1 (above) and about when they get to the point of being away from their dog for 10 minutes or so, things start to fall apart.

Most owners become so excited that they’re seeing some progress and are “actually able to get a little work done” without their dog crying that they begin progressing too fast. They begin working on a project for work, or cleaning the house, and are so relieved that they seem to be making progress addressing the anxiety in their dogs that they want to “take advantage” of this quiet time they finally have. So they continue on their project longer and longer until they’re away so long that their Doberman finally does start to whine, bark, or cry. That is when they finally return to the pen to let their dog out.

The problem is, that whole session which was going great and could have easily been a “win”, has now turned into a “loss” and they’ve essentially helped to engrain anxious feelings in their Doberman a little deeper by being away too long. All simply because they were excited to finally get some “quiet time”. Owners who fall into this trap essentially are trading the joys of short-term success for the long-term failure of their dogs with separation anxiety.

Keep this in mind as you address separation anxiety in your Doberman, progress slowly, and get as many positive sessions away from your dog as possible where they end without high anxiety levels. That will ensure long-term success with addressing separation anxiety in your Doberman.

More Helpful Resources

  • How Long Can You Leave a Doberman Home Alone – This article will discuss how long you can leave a Doberman home alone at various ages and steps you can take to make sure it’s a successful trip away from the house.
  • 6 Steps to Get Your Doberman Pinscher to Stop Barking – This article addresses how to stop barking in your Doberman if it’s the cause of a behavior issue, and not separation anxiety specifically. If you suspenct your Doberman might be barking for behavior reasons, which is common in this breed, take a look at this article.
  • 5 Reasons Why Dobermans Howl – Dobermans who start howling are suffering from any number of issues. This is fairly uncommon in Dobermans but can happen for any number of reasons, not just with separation anxiety. If your Doberman is howling, take a look at this article to learn about some other potential causes that really should be addressed soon.
John Walter and Cooper, his Doberman Pinscher.

About the author

John Walter is a Family Doberman Specialist, holds a CPD certification in Canine Communication, and is an active dog trainer specializing in the Doberman Pinscher breed. He's been quoted in Doberman Network Magazine, Bark Magazine, Doberman Dispatch, and he's the founder of Doberman Planet. Learn More