Is there a right way to say goodbye to your dog? Here's what the research says.

5 October 2023 - 4 min read
bulldog looking out window after owner leaves, reflection in windows showing trees, sky, and lamp

We’ve all been there: You're heading out the door, and those puppy dog eyes lock onto yours, making you feel like the world's worst person for leaving.

So what’s the right way to say goodbye to your dog? Should you shower your pup with affection, or should you slip out the door with minimal fanfare?

Your goodbye routine can set the stage for a relaxed time alone or a stressful experience as they anxiously await your return. To make matters more complicated, there’s no one right way to say farewell; it depends on the situation and it depends on the dog.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to make your departures less stressful for both you and your pup.

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Goodbye drama: Yes or no?

It’s actually quite important for your dog to get used to your departures. Do it right, and you could be in for a lifetime of peaceful partings.

But as it turns out, doing it right is…complicated.

If you just seek out the longstanding conventional wisdom, you might conclude that dog parents should always favour low-key goodbyes. The reasoning goes like this: Prolonged, emotional farewells can heighten a dog’s awareness that you’re leaving; they’ll be anxious while you’re gone, and they’ll associate your departures with emotional trauma. This could be especially important for puppies, who are still learning how to process the world around them.

In truth, some recent studies have painted a more nuanced picture. The research suggests that a friendly goodbye might not be the emotional trigger we once thought it was, at least not for most dogs. In fact, an undramatic departure may only be best for dogs who are already suffering from separation anxiety.

According to findings from Texas Tech University and the University of Pisa, a departing coo or cuddle could actually have a calming effect on a dog who isn’t the anxious type. This isn’t to say that you should go dog-wild with belly rubs and baby talk. But petting them and gently saying goodbye might actually leave them in a more peaceful frame of mind than simply slipping out the door.

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Puppyhood and the roots of separation anxiety

Separation anxiety often starts in puppyhood. It’s crucial to help your pup develop a healthy emotional response to those moments when you leave home. 

If your new furry family member is already displaying signs of full-blown separation anxiety—like pacing, excessive barking or whining, or destructive behaviours — a calm and quick exit is ideal. But if your pup is the happy-go-lucky type, they might actually become more anxious if you leave home without acknowledging them.

Then there are those pups who occupy something of a grey area—somewhat anxious but not at the point of severe separation anxiety. These cases require a keen eye and a sensitive approach; just feel out the situation, get a sense of how they react to things, and tailor your goodbyes accordingly. 

Ultimately, if you don’t want your departures to be a stressful experience, your best bet is to prevent separation anxiety from developing in the first place. Apart from well-considered departure routines, there are numerous ways to accomplish this:

  • Gradual desensitisation: Start by leaving your dog alone for short periods, then gradually increase the time you’re away.

  • Routine building: Establish a consistent daily routine, including feeding, toilet breaks and exercise at the same times each day.

  • Positive association: Offer them treats or toys when you leave. This helps your dog associate your departure with positive experiences.

  • Teaching commands: When you undertake basic puppy training, be sure to teach your pup "stay" and "quiet" commands. Use these to encourage calm behaviour; they may stay peaceful even when you're not around.

  • Exercise and mental stimulation: A tired, mentally stimulated dog is a happy dog, and happy dogs often stay calm when you’re gone.

  • Create a safe space: Create a comfortable area where your dog can relax. This could include a crate or a specific room with their bed and toys

  • Socialisation: Socialising your puppy is incredibly important. Expose them to different environments, people and other animals. This helps them build confidence and reduces their anxiety.

  • Trial runs: Practice leaving and coming back several times before actually going out for an extended period.

So try your hardest to stop separation anxiety before it starts. Training an already-anxious dog is much more difficult than training a puppy to be calm and well-adjusted. Let’s be honest, silently sneaking out of your own home every day is not nearly as fun as petting your dog on your way out the door.

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Other factors that affect goodbyes

Each goodbye is unique, and there are several factors that can influence how your puppy or adult dog reacts to your departure.

  • Length of time away: A quick trip to the shop isn't the same as a week-long holiday. Even for a happy, well-adjusted dog, a no-fuss goodbye might suffice for a short-term absence. Longer separations might necessitate a longer, more personal farewell.

  • Your daily routine: Dogs are creatures of habit. A consistent daily routine, including feeding, walking, and playtimes, can help your pup feel secure even when you're not around. Try to maintain these routines as much as possible, even when your schedule changes. Consistency is key to helping your dog understand that you'll always be coming back to keep the good times rolling.

  • Your emotional state: Dogs are excellent at sensing human emotions. If you're anxious or overly emotional during your goodbyes, your dog might pick up on these vibes. A calm, composed farewell can go a long way toward keeping your dog relaxed.

Saying goodbye: Parting thoughts

Every dog is different. When it comes to the art of saying goodbye, it’s tough to boil things down to a list of basic guidelines.

But doggone it, let’s try:

The swift farewell for anxious dogs

If your dog is already showing signs of separation anxiety—think excessive barking, pacing, or destructive behaviour—a quick and calm exit is your best bet. A brief pat and a soothing “be back soon” may not be too excessive. But then again, walking out the door without saying a word might be even better. It all depends on how severe your dog’s anxiety is.

Enthusiastic goodbyes for happy-go-lucky pups

For dogs who are generally relaxed and easy-going, a reward-based approach can work wonders. A treat or toy not only serves as a distraction but also creates positive emotions around your leaving. Hopefully not TOO positive.

For longer absences

If you're planning an extended trip, the approach should be tailored to your dog's disposition. For anxious dogs, keep it low-key, but perhaps leave behind an item of your clothing for comfort. For more relaxed dogs, a longer cuddle or play session shortly before you leave—followed by some petting and kind words on your way out the door—can set a positive tone for your absence.

Grey area? Play it by ear

Ah, the pups that keep us guessing. These dogs are somewhat anxious but haven't tipped into full-blown separation anxiety. The key here is to be observant and flexible.

Read your dog's body language closely. If they seem a bit anxious, keep the goodbye brief but reassuring. If they appear more relaxed, a little extra affection might be just what they need. Over time, you’ll get a good sense of what’s working and what isn’t.

How pet insurance can help

As with humans, prolonged stress and anxiety can contribute to ill health.

ManyPets dog insurance can help you stay prepared for unexpected vet bills due to illness and injury. Meaning you can focus on your pet not the cost of vet treatment.

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