Dealing With Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Picture of a dachshund staring at the table

Does Fido go berserk at the first sign you are heading out?  Ever come home to find the living room rug has been shredded into a million pieces?  If so, you are not alone.  Separation anxiety is a condition that affects many dogs.  It is a fear or anxiety-based problem that can be difficult to manage.  After all, you have to leave the house sometime!  But to see Fido so upset at the thought of your departure is very difficult on you emotionally.  There has to be a way to help him!

Separation anxiety manifests itself in many different ways.  Some dogs become so traumatized that they lose control of their bowels and leave feces and urine all over their home in spite of the fact that they have long been house trained.  Other dogs engage in destructive behavior. This behavior can range the gamut from shredding furniture to overturning garbage bins and strewing the contents throughout the house.  Still others fall into the habit of obsessive barking, howling, or whining much to the dismay of your neighbors.

Yes, separation anxiety is a real problem.

What Is Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety occurs when a dog becomes upset when their owners leave their home, and the dog is left to his own devices for the day.  For some dogs this can cause an incredibly heightened sense of anxiety which is characterized by dramatic and uncontrollable behavior.  Your dog doesn’t want to be “bad”; he just doesn’t know how to cope with how awful he feels.

Separation anxiety is a serious problem that cannot be ignored. Many dogs reach a level of distress that is so high that they become self-destructive and even try to escape in a desperate attempt to find their owners.

How Can I Tell If It Is Separation Anxiety or Simply Bad Manners?

There certainly is the off chance that Fido isn’t anxious at all; he just needs to brush up on his Emily Post.  So, how do you tell the difference?

Here is a list of common behaviors seen in pets with separation anxiety that will help you properly assess the problem.

Incontinence in the home

If your dog only has accidents in the house when you are not there, it is most likely he is suffering from separation anxiety.  Dogs who are not housebroken do not restrict urinating and defecating to specific times.  If your dog was in need of more house training, you would be finding messes throughout the house, and even done in front of you, far more frequently.

Incessant noise making

Whether the noise is from barking, howling, shrieking, or whining, it’s just plain annoying. If your dog only makes these noises when you leave the house, and there is no sign of them after you return, the problem is related to separation anxiety.

Destructive Behavior

Does Fido only chew your slippers when you are at work?  Dogs who are in need of some training regarding appropriate chew toys generally wreak their destruction all the time instead of in one targeted period when you are absent from the home.

Escape Attempts

Escape attempts are always frightening.  After all, Fido isn’t streetwise, and who knows what could happen to him out there? But when it comes to separation anxiety, the danger increases. If your dog cannot find an easy way out of your home, he will stoop to desperate measures to achieve his goal.  This may include jumping through glass windows or attempting to chew through a screen door.  While a dog seeking to broaden his horizons with a neighborhood visit might hop a fence, a dog suffering from separation anxiety will chew, dig, burrow, or eat their way out if at all possible.


Repetitive pacing over a specific pattern is indicative of separation anxiety as is a refusal to settle.

Why Do Some Dogs Suffer with Separation Anxiety?

Though the precise reasoning behind why some dogs suffer with separation anxiety is not known, we are able to deduce things that might be contributing factors.

Disruption of established routine

Dogs are creatures of habit, and if there is a change in their routine, it can be very upsetting for them.  These changes may occur in any area of the dog’s life and still have a decidedly negative impact on him.  Among the things that could cause great distress to a dog are moving to a new house, a family member leaving for college or a new job, a dramatic change in household activities, or an addition of a new family member.

Medical conditions

There are certain medical problems that could result in behavior that resembles separation anxiety.  Incontinence can suddenly come on as a result of new medications or illnesses such as urinary tract or kidney infections.

Behavior Concerns

For some dogs, submissive urination results in small pools of urine interspersed throughout the house.  Submissive urination is an involuntary act.

Others may urinate in the house because their house training was never thoroughly completed, and they need a refresher course on where the canine bathroom is.

As another explanation for urine issues, some dogs will “mark” their territory.  This becomes more pronounced in male dogs who experience stress as a result of change or upheaval in a home.

What You Can Do to Help Your Dog

Separation anxiety is a serious problem and responds best to treatment from a professional dog trainer who specializes in behavior modification. The most common course of action is to begin counterconditioning.  Counterconditioning is a process by which a dog is gradually introduced to an upsetting stimulus way beneath his threshold of tolerance until that stimulus no longer holds any power over him.  Care must be taken to do this very slowly and in a manner that is respectful to the dog and his fears.

Much patience must be exercised when counterconditioning.  Progress can be very slow, and there will be setbacks along the way.

Redirecting the behavior for short periods of time can also be helpful.  Filling old marrow bones or Kong toys with a yummy, frozen treat can help keep your dog’s mind engaged while you make a quick run to the coffee shop.

Other strategies include getting Fido his very own canine or feline companion to ease the loneliness or to make use of local doggy day cares or dog sitters to alleviate stress and boredom.

Should Fido’s separation anxiety be far too serious for any of these techniques to work successfully, your vet can prescribe anti-anxiety medications to help your dog remain calm enough for you to being behavior modification therapy with him.  Medication should never be a substitute for training.  The two must be combined together for the greatest efficacy.

Fido miss you a little too much when you head out for work each day? It’s a common problem many dog owners face.  You don’t have to go it alone.  Contact a local professional dog trainer with expertise in behavior modification to help get Fido back on track.



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