Separation Anxiety

Separation Anxiety

Essentially, separation anxiety is the fear of being left alone. Separation anxiety behaviors only happen when your dog is left alone and usually begin within 20–45 minutes after you leave him. The typical age that separation anxiety presents itself is 9 months to 2 years, although separation anxiety becomes more common in older dogs as their sensory world diminishes and they become increasingly dependent on their owners.

Common separation anxiety behaviors include:

  • Digging, chewing, and scratching at doors or windows in an attempt to escape and reunite with you
  • Howling, barking, and crying in an attempt to get you to return
  • Urination and defecation - even with housetrained dogs - as a result of distress
  • Vomiting, salivation, and diarrhea
  • Destroying household objects
  • Clinginess or remaining close to you, even following you from room to room, while you're home
  • Showing signs of restlessness or depression as you prepare to leave
  • Greeting you excessively upon your return home
  • Loss of appetite or overeating while you are away


Punishing a dog for separation anxiety behaviors will not solve the problem. You should understand that your dog is not misbehaving intentionally. He is distressed and anxious because you are not there. This anxiety and nervous energy causes him to act out. By the time you return home to discover what he's done, he will no longer be capable of comprehending what he is being punished for. Punishing separation anxiety behaviors can actually increase his anxiety.


What causes separation anxiety?

What causes separation anxiety? No ones knows exactly. However, certain risk factors and triggers are common among separation anxiety cases. They include:

  • A change in schedule that requires the pet to be left alone for longer periods of time than normal.
  • Living in multiple homes or being abandoned by previous owners makes dogs especially susceptible to separation anxiety.


Although any dog is susceptible to separation anxiety, it is more common in long-nosed, shepherding dogs, bred for herding and guarding, as well as Spaniels and Setters. Dogs with separation anxiety tend to be lean or thin and have periodic digestive disturbances. Almost 10–15% of dogs exhibit symptoms of separation anxiety.

Here are some commonly recommended ways to treat separation anxiety:

  • Place the dog in a smaller space, like a crate, where they can feel secure when you leave. However, if the dog panics when crated, do not force him in.
  • Leave your dog with an article of clothing that smells like you, such as an old t-shirt that you recently slept in.
  • Teach your dog as many commands as possible, especially “sit,” “relax” and “stay.” The point of teaching anxious dogs to relax is to give them confidence. Do the exercise in all rooms of the house and in the yard. Give praise and treats liberally.
  • Place the dog in a room that is not easily destroyed. Give him some of his toys and stay with him a while. Then leave, and shut the door promptly. When you return, give him a treat and pat him affectionately. Repeat this over many days, each time staying gone a little longer.
  • Determine what clues your dog picks up on that means you are leaving—picking up keys or a purse, putting on your shoes, etc. Repeat these clues frequently, but do not actually leave. Give your dog a treat and praise him when he behaves well. When you have made progress, make your real departures quick and quiet.
  • Do not make a big production of your departures. Try leaving through a back or side door. Even take your dog for a walk or jog an hour or so before leaving. Give them 20 minutes to calm down before you leave.
  • As a last resort, your veterinarian can prescribe SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) which are anti-anxiety medicines to treat your dog's separation anxiety. Medication is a temporary solution and should be used in conjunction with behavior modification therapy as described above.
  • A word of caution: getting your pet a companion animal will not cure separation anxiety.


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