Separation Anxiety in Dogs

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

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

Signs of Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Zippy’s behaviors more than meet the criteria for separation anxiety, though not every dog with separation anxiety will act the way Zippy does. Here are some common signs of separation anxiety in dogs:

  • Shows anxiety and stress around your departure:  Zippy is restless and whiny; he follows you around, his paws sweat, and he drools. These are clear, specific signs of growing stress. Another dog might demonstrate anxiety by just lying down passively, as if giving up.

  • Ignores food: Zippy also doesn’t touch his chew while he’s alone, though once you’re home he makes it clear that yes, smoked beef tendon is important in Zippy World.

  • Has accidents: Barring illness, Zippy doesn’t eliminate indoors--except when he’s alone, even for just an hour.

  • Tries to escape: Finally, Zippy focused his energy on an exit route. And he took his project seriously: he tried so hard he hurt himself. I’ve made Zippy a silent sufferer, but if he made noise it would probably involve howling or panicked-sounding barks.

Mild Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Zippy’s case is somewhere in the middle of the separation anxiety bell curve. When I adopted her, my Isabella was close to the milder end. Unless her bowels were absolutely empty before we left, we’d find a little pile in the living room when we got home. And we always got the Hello of Crazed Joy. But Iz didn’t have diarrhea and she never chewed or pawed the windows or doors.

Severe Separation Anxiety in Dogs

At the other extreme are dogs who leave oceans of drool in their crates, break teeth and nails against the metal as they struggle to get out, then cut themselves to ribbons shattering a plate glass window to escape.

How to Tell Separation Anxiety from Boredom and Loneliness

By contrast, a destructive, loud dog who’s bored and full of beans will snarf that beef tendon right up and then look for a garbage bin to overturn. Chewing is likely to be directed toward pleasingly fragrant items such as TV remotes and leather shoes--though these sometimes draw the attention of anxious dogs as well. As for a bored and lonely dog, I’d expect a repetitive monotone bark bark bark. It makes you sad while it drives you crazy. If your dog is getting amped about sounds in the hallway or sights on the street, expect flurries of explosive barking, with intervals of silence between.


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).