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Separation Anxiety in Dogs

How to tell separation anxiety from boredom and other problems, and what to do about it.

By
Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
7-minute read
Episode #53

So, your dog barks nonstop after you leave for work, or not quite nonstop: he pauses long enough to tear up the house and to pee and poop in the middle of the living room floor. “Uh-oh,” you think, once you’re finished tearing out your hair, “Zippy has separation anxiety.”

Maybe, maybe not. This week, learn what separation anxiety is, what it isn’t, how to tell the difference, and what to do.

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Separation Anxiety in Dogs

The disorder we call separation anxiety ranges in flavor to mild to a super triple extreme form that some of my colleagues prefer to call separation panic. The common element is that the dog’s behavior looks, as far as we non-telepathic types can see, like an expression of distress at being left alone. And that’s the key--not frustration or boredom, but distress.

How Do You Know If a Dog Has Separation Anxiety?

Here’s a typical scenario. As you get ready for work, Zippy acts more and more restless. He follows you around the house, whining occasionally. Maybe he drools. On a smooth floor, you notice his paws leave sweaty prints. When you pick up your jacket and keys, Zippy slinks off to his bed and lies down, ignoring the smoked beef tendon you left for him there.

And when you get home--whether it’s an hour or five hours later--Zippy goes wild with joy, as if you’d just appeared in a helicopter to lift him off the deck of the Titanic. He grabs the smoked tendon and prances around with it before settling in to chew. Suddenly it’s a prize, though he didn’t touch it all day. Then you notice the smell. Zippy never eliminates inside when you’re home, but while you were gone he left loose stool all over the kitchen floor. Oh, and hire a handyman before the landlord notices the scratch and bite marks around your front windows. Zippy’s gums and paw pads are raw.

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About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).