Don’t Go! Canine Separation Anxiety & What to Do

During the pandemic, many of us adopted new furry friends. As many folks moved their work world to home, the dogs celebrated! For dogs, that’s winning the lottery, to have their humans with them 24/7. And for puppies adopted over the past year, they’ve had their humans with them 24/7. But now since much of the country has “re-opened” and many return to work outside the home, will canine separation anxiety become a problem for your dog? What about when things return to “normal” — how will they cope?

Each fall when school classes resume, I write about dog separation anxiety, and that dogs left alone may act out. After summer vacation with the kiddos, dogs left behind at home can mope and feel awful…and so can cats. Any kind of absence can potentially result in canine separation anxiety. Here’s what you need to know.

Back to school (or work) and routine changes and trigger canine separation anxiety.

Is Separation Anxiety Common?

Canine separation anxiety isn’t uncommon. According to veterinary behaviorists reporting at the Western Veterinary Conference, about fourteen percent of pet dogs seen in veterinary clinics suffer from problems being left alone. Puppies adopted before eight weeks of age, mixed breeds and pups adopted from shelters act out most often.

Affected puppies feel over-attachment to one or more family members. Problems develop when the amount of time you spend with the pet changes. Dogs are creatures of habit and love routine, so any change perhaps due to kids returning to school, your new job or a change in schedules can turn up the stress.

Dogs target objects that smell like you–a blanket or stuffed toy–to chew. The smell comforts and soothes him.

What Is Separation Anxiety?

Animal behaviorists recently have begun to use different terms to describe the condition. Not all dogs become anxious when left alone, although they do act out. Separation distress doesn’t necessarily mean the pup feels anxious and probably is a more accurate description of dogs displaying separation behaviors.

Separation behaviors encompass a whole range of activities. Many times, dogs act out when stressed or anxious at the owner’s absence.

A recent study headed by scientists at the University of Lincoln (U.K.), followed more than 2700 dogs representing 100+ breeds in the study. It identified four main reasons for separation behaviors: a focus on getting away from something in the house, wanting to get to something outside, reacting to external noises or events, and a form of boredom.

Throwing A Party–Bored Dogs?

But some behaviorists suggest that separation behaviors such as emptying your sock drawer or chewing up the toilet paper may arise out of boredom. This could be the canine equivalent of a teenager left alone by parents, and throwing a party. About the only way you can tell the difference is to set up a video camera while you are gone, and have it looked at by a behaviorist to see if the dog shows anxious behavior or simply appears to have a good time disemboweling the sofa cushions.


separation anxiety

Not all dogs are anxious. Some simply throw a party out of boredom once you leave the premises.

What Are Separation Anxiety Behaviors?

  • The dog follows you around the house and becomes increasingly upset as you prepare to leave.
  • When left alone, affected dogs act anxious or distressed, often become extremely vocal, and sometimes forget house training. They may destroy property either to escape or as a way to relieve stress.
  • Many dogs with separation anxiety target personal items. For instance, they chew up your shoes or a favorite purse. They aren’t retaliating for being left alone. Because these items smell like you, that can trigger anxiety that prompts destructive displacement behaviors. Dogs may also seek out objects that smell like you because your scent comforts them.
  • Dogs might even decide to mark with urine or defecate on something that smells like their owner. This isn’t to get back at you, but instead is the canine’s attempt to self-calm.


How To Calm Separation Anxiety Behaviors

Never punish pets for any anxiety-based behavior because punishment makes it worse. If your puppy exhibits destructive separation behaviors, you can take steps to reduce the problem.

  • Your veterinarian may prescribe drug therapy that relieves the angst, such as Clomacalm (clomipramine hydrochloride), or Reconcile (Prozac or fluoxitine). But drugs alone won’t be a magic wand.
  • The most intense acting out happens within the first twenty to thirty minutes after you leave, and how long you’re gone doesn’t seem to matter. Distract the dog during this critical period, to relieve his upset feelings and reduce potential destructiveness.
  • Desensitize the dog to the triggers of departure. Pick up your car keys fifty times—but then don’t leave. Put on your coat or open the door a dozen times, then stay inside. Repetition of these cues makes them lose meaning so the pup doesn’t get upset, and remains calmer when you actually do leave.
  • Stage absences to build up the dog’s tolerance level. Leave for one minute, two minutes, four, ten minutes and so on. Do this ten or fifteen times in a row so that (just like with the keys) so the repetition makes it less important to the pooch.
  • Make sure the puppy gets lots of exercise before you leave, and after you return home. A tired pup is a better-behaved pup. Once worn out, he’ll snooze rather than chew up the cushions.
  • Soothing music can also help calm anxiety. I like to use harp music, which acts like a natural sedative and keeps anxious dogs peaceful.
  • The Bach Flower Essence Rescue Remedy also can help dogs with anxieties. You can add the drops to the dog’s water bowl for all day sipping.
  • You can also offer puzzle toys filled with tasty treats, and hide them around the house for the dog to find. When he’s thinking and hunting for treats, he can’t worry or develop a full-blown panic attack.

You can learn lots more about dog care and behavior tips in COMPLETE PUPPY CARE. What have I missed? Please share any tips that have helped with your holy terriers!

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