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8 Signs of Dog Separation Anxiety

Updated on December 19, 2019
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Adrienne is a dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.

Most dogs get a bit upset when left home alone.
Most dogs get a bit upset when left home alone.

What signs of separation anxiety do dogs show when their owners leave the house? You'll be surprised how often separation anxiety is over diagnosed.

For instance, when I get ready to leave the house, my dogs know something is about to happen. They have learned to pay attention to many pre-departure cues such as putting on my shoes, grabbing my purse and quickly putting a layer of lip balm. They will pace and follow me room to room, wondering if they'll come along for the ride. I can almost feel their high hopes.

Then, when I leave and close the door behind, they start realizing they'll actually be left alone. As the car engine starts and I close the gate, I then hear them make the most mournful howls that make me feel awfully guilty for going grocery shopping.

From their behavior, you might assume they suffer from separation when I know for a fact they do not. They are upset of course, but it's nothing major... nothing to worry about. How do I know? I randomly record their behaviors in my absence.

The recordings revealed consistently the same drama in the first five minutes: after howling in protest in hopes of reuniting us and whining/pacing a bit, both my dogs would settle down and sleep while patiently awaiting our return. Th recordings showed that they would occasionally bark at some noises as they tend to get more alert when left to their own devices, but then they'll go back to their sleeping spots and resume sleeping.

When we are back home, it's big party time. They'll wag their tails and whine as if asking "where have you been? We missed you so much!" Afterward, they're even more happy once they realize we went "hunting" and came back with a big bag of kibble, bones and other goodies.

So if short-lived howling and some whining alone aren't signs of separation anxiety, what are the real signs? Read on for more clarification.

First, Let's Debunk Some Common Myths

You may have heard that a dog suffering from separation anxiety will not want to eat. So all the goodies you try to leave upon closing the door behind you will go wasted.

Eating Doesn't Necessarily Mean a Dog is Not Stressed!

While it's true that a dog who is highly stressed won't likely want to eat, it's also true that some dogs are able to eat no matter how stressed.I have seen this in behavior modification; the dog is over threshold, yet will eat the treats, quickly and nervously-- be careful, as this at times means eating your fingers too!

In separation anxiety, most likely the dog will likely quickly gobble the food without even realizing it. If there are items to chew, he'll likely instinctively chew on them nervously, as chewing is known to release endorphins, which help relieve stress. Nicole Wilde discusses about this in her helpful books, webinars and articles on separation anxiety.

Bored Dogs Destroy Things Too!

Another common belief is that one of the tell-tale signs of separation anxiety is destruction. Truth is, many dogs will destroy things when they are also bored. Idle paws are a devil's workshop! The "modus operandi" in cases of separation anxiety though may be a bit different.

Typically, dogs with separation anxiety will focus on barriers that prevent them from accessing the outside world and reuniting with the owners. This means they're more likely to destroy windows, doors and the exit areas, versus a toy, the remote or the leg of a wooden chair.

Random destruction, and refusal to eat, on their own aren't sufficient to stipulate a diagnosis for separation anxiety--unless accompanied by other tell-tale signs.

Many dogs will bark and howl when left alone
Many dogs will bark and howl when left alone

8 Signs of Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Many dogs are upset when their owners leave. This is expected, dogs love to be with their family and feel safe and secure in their owner's presence. Barking and howling is quite normal behavior.

Problems start when the affected dog starts suffering from severe anxiety and distress. It's almost like a panic attack in humans.The following are common signs of separation anxiety in dogs.

  1. The behavior happens only when the owner leaves.
  2. Barking and howling is relentless and persistent.
  3. Urinating and defecating happens only when the dog is left alone and isn't occurring because the dog is left alone for too many hours.
  4. Chewing, scratching and digging is mostly targeted towards exit points such as window sills and doors. In severe cases, the dog gets injured in his attempt to escape.
  5. Pacing upon being left alone occurs in a fixed pattern, back and forth or in circular patterns.
  6. Panting and drooling may be other signs of distress.
  7. Refusing food may be a sign, but as seen, some dogs may still eat or chew when nervous.
  8. The anxious behavior continuous for hours at a time and the dog has a hard time settling.

While these are common signs of separation anxiety in dogs, it's important to note that each dog is different, and that not all dogs will exhibit the same signs. Recording the behavior and showing it to a professional may be helpful for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Adrienne Farricelli CPDT-KA, Dip.CBST


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