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Separation Anxiety within Dogs

Updated on January 4, 2011
Tinkerbelle at the front door.
Tinkerbelle at the front door.

The "Linus Complex"

I asked the question "Do Dogs Suffer From Anxiety Attacks?", and received some very good answers. I was asking this on behalf of one of my dogs, Tinkerbelle, who seems to have some separation anxiety when it comes to one of her toys. Thanks for the input!

Tinkerbelle is 5 years old. She is a mixed breed Lab and Australian Shepherd, though she mostly resembles a small black lab. At a young age, she formed an attachment to a tennis ball that never went away.

It was always cute to watch her. She could never go outside to poop or pee unless she had her ball with her. As much as she loves to go outside and run in the woods, she will not leave the house until she has found her ball, and out of several that she has, it has to be the "right" ball. She will carry the ball with her while exploring, chasing rabbits or running with her siblings and will only put it down long enough to drink or eat.

She uses her ball to communicate to the other dogs. At feeding time, when I pour the food into the bowls that each one of the dogs have, she will mark which bowl she plans on eating from that day by placing the ball in it after the food is poured. If another dog has claimed the bowl she wants, that dog backs away once the ball is dropped. It is a respected form of communication among her doggie peers.

When I come home at night from work, Tinkerbelle hears my truck before I make it up the driveway. She is there at the fence, dropping her ball through the links so it rolls into my path, and I am forced to get out and take it to her so she can be acknowledged. When I am on my riding mower, she will drop her ball in my path for the same reason. She will play fetch for hours, even on the hottest day.

I have come to use the ball as a training aid for her. She has an excellent sense of smell, and her searching instincts are incredible. While covering her eyes, I will throw the ball deep into the woods or brush and tell her to find it. She has developed a "circle/zig-zag search" method of locating the scent and will always find It in just a matter of minutes, even on a rainy or snowy day. She has a 100% record.

But I noticed lately that she is becoming more obsessed with the ball. If she is in her pen or in the yard, and she lets the ball slip out of the fencing and no one is there to get it for her, she gets very anxious, and will risk injuring herself to get it back. One night recently I had fed her and the others, and her ball was outside the fence. She panicked fiercely and cried and howled because her ball was not with her as she ate her dinner and she refused to eat. The ball had to be in her bowl as she ate.

I decided to try some experiments with her. I took all of her balls away from her. At first she was upset and cried. Then she became quiet and moping around, followed by staying in her bed for long periods of time without coming out. These changes took place over a period of just 2 days. It reminded me of my childhood and the "Peanuts" cartoons. I remembered a series of cartoons where Lucy took Linus' blanket away from him in order to break him of the habit. Linus became depressed, sad, dizzy, passed out a lot and lost his appetite. As comical as that was then, it is sorrowful to see one of your pets suffer from this sort of anxiety. These tennis balls have become Tinkerbelle's "security blanket".

Tinkerbelle is very smart. Her memory is very keen and she has exhibited to me that she can make plans and carry these plans out. She has created contingencies for herself, as she has a few tennis balls hidden around the yard and she knows where each one is "for any emergency". Good for her.

But as many of you who answered my question pointed out, animals have similar tendencies to humans as far as anxiety and stress go. As pet owners, we have to be able to recognize these emotions to try to resolve the issues that our pets are experiencing. If you leave your pet at home when you leave, only to come home to destruction...then your pet has some issues. Perhaps taking your pet out more often will help, perhaps not. Too much attention can cause problems also.

I have found that it helps to relate to your pets as you were relating to another human. Talk across to them, not down. Talk in a conversational tone, not a tone of authority. Be firm, yet respectful, and always take the time your pet asks of you. Don't push them away when they want a hug. They are like children and need attention and acknowledgement. I can calmly say "everybody in the house", and they will all run for the door.

If you have the right relationship with your pet, they will be your lifelong friend. They will comfort you, play with you, make you laugh and will even protect you. You can't go wrong.


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    • badegg profile imageAUTHOR

      Del Banks 

      7 years ago from Southern Blue Ridge Mountains

      Thank you for the great feedback!

    • RobinGrosswirth23 profile image

      Robin Grosswirth 

      7 years ago from New York

      First of all, love your "handle," badegg, so you had me right off the bat and I intuitively knew what I was about to encounter.

      So, read this piece and was instantly taken with your dog, Tinkerbelle. She appears to be quite animated and she is a "real thinker." I believe this has a lot to do with the "nurture" aspect of your parenting. You have helped her to establish a language/code whereby she can communicate her feelings to you and you'll understand her needs. BRAVO to you for that transcendence.

      As a dog lover, I too observe my dog, Cooper (and the other dogs I've raised) and do agree that they respond to human dialogue in a beautiful way. They tip their heads from side to side and enjoy the melodic communications and come to understand the human language visually, symbolically, viscerally and at some level intellectually. If you observe them closely, they do think.

      Thanks for a lovely read.

    • badegg profile imageAUTHOR

      Del Banks 

      7 years ago from Southern Blue Ridge Mountains

      Thank you, ChatKath!

    • Chatkath profile image


      7 years ago from California

      Excellent story Badegg, I have always treated our dogs (and all animals) like the friends that they are, including talking to them constantly. Rated up and awesome!

    • sscott profile image


      8 years ago

      This is such a touching story and you describe it so well. I have never heard of an attachment such as this.

    • badegg profile imageAUTHOR

      Del Banks 

      8 years ago from Southern Blue Ridge Mountains

      We have another dog, Tinkerbelle's younger half-sister that has been an escape artist since her eyes were open. She was aptly named "Houdini", but we call her "Hootie" as a nickname. There is nothing that Hootie can't escape from short of a solid chain link cage (with a top). She can open window latches, climb 8 foot fencing, dig under things, wriggle out of collars and harnesses...all just to be with her humans. She is loveable and intelligent.

    • Fossillady profile image


      8 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

      Tinkerbelle is so adorable. I love her quirky little habit, although I can imagine it may be difficult to see her suffer from it in anyway. I took care of my brother's German Shepard one summer and that dog broke windows to get out of the house when I was at work, but he stayed close to the house. He even got out of a dog cage through a tiny crack. Finally, my brother found a family for him on a farm. Last I heard, he ate a neighbors pig. Oops, crazy dog!

    • Faithful Daughter profile image

      Evie Lopez 

      8 years ago from Sunny Florida

      You have just described my 15-year old Cocker Spaniel mix. He is obsessed with his red ball. Since he was a pup he developed this fetish with his ball and did exactly the same things your pet does, pushes it out of the fence, drops it in his bowl, carries it around in his mouth even if its just to wee-wee. The only time I took it away, but only for a little while, was when he had me fetching it from the other side of the fence several times a day. My other dog, she was with me for 16 years and she was my girl. She had the anxiety disorder when I had to leave for work. I adore my pets and spoil them rotten. Maybe that is why she suffered from separation anxiety when I wasn't around. Sometimes I had to medicate her so she wouldn't injure herself. Thanks for sharing your pet story.


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