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  • April Schrader, CPDT-KA

Separation Anxiety in Dogs: Understanding the Signs, Emotions, and Causes

Separation anxiety is a common behavior issue that many dogs experience. It can be distressing for both the dog and their owner, and it's important to understand the emotions, signs, and causes of separation anxiety to help your furry friend.



What is separation anxiety in dogs?


Separation anxiety is a behavior disorder that occurs when a dog becomes anxious and distressed when separated from their owner or caregiver. Dogs are social animals and form strong bonds with their human family, so when they are left alone, they may experience feelings of fear, panic, and loneliness.


Signs of separation anxiety in dogs:


There are a variety of signs that may indicate separation anxiety in dogs, including:

  1. Destructive behavior: Dogs with separation anxiety may chew, scratch, or destroy household items, furniture, and doors.

  2. Vocalization: Dogs may bark, howl, or whine excessively when left alone.

  3. House soiling: Dogs with separation anxiety may urinate or defecate inside the house, even if they are house trained.

  4. Escape attempts: Dogs may try to escape from the house or crate, causing injury to themselves.

  5. Pacing and restlessness: Dogs may exhibit signs of anxiety, such as pacing, trembling, or panting.

  6. Lack of appetite: Dogs may lose their appetite when left alone.


Emotions behind separation anxiety in dogs:


When a dog with separation anxiety is left alone, they can experience a range of negative emotions, such as fear, panic, and stress. From the dog's perspective, their owner is their primary source of security, comfort, and social interaction. When their owner leaves, the dog may feel abandoned or isolated, which can trigger a range of anxiety-related behaviors.


A dog with separation anxiety may experience a surge of cortisol, a stress hormone, when they are left alone. This can cause them to feel restless, anxious, and hyper-alert, which can manifest as “bad behaviors” or physical distress, such as panting, drooling, or shaking, these are all indications of elevated stress levels.

In some cases, dogs with separation anxiety may try to escape from their environment by clawing or chewing at doors or windows. This behavior is not an attempt to misbehave or destroy property but rather a sign of desperation and a desire to reunite with their owner

It's important for pet owners to understand that their dog's behavior when left alone is a direct response to the anxiety and fear they are feeling when separated from their primary caregiver.


What causes separation anxiety:


The causes of separation anxiety in dogs are not fully understood and can vary from one dog to another. However, several factors may contribute to the development of this behavior, including:

  1. Early Life Experiences: Dogs who were separated from their mother or littermates too early or who experienced traumatic events during early life may be more prone to developing separation anxiety.

  2. Lack of Socialization: Dogs that have not been adequately socialized or exposed to different environments and people may be more likely to develop anxiety.

  3. Changes in Routine: Dogs are creatures of habit and can become anxious when their routine changes. This could include changes in their owner's work schedule or a move to a new home.

  4. Genetic Predisposition: Some dogs may be genetically predisposed to developing separation anxiety, just like some humans are more prone to anxiety disorders.

  5. Lack of Exercise and Stimulation: Dogs that don't get enough exercise or mental stimulation can become bored and anxious when left alone.


Separation anxiety in dogs is a common problem that can cause distress for both pets and their owners. Understanding the underlying causes of this behavior, as well as the emotions that dogs may experience when left alone, can help pet owners develop effective strategies for managing separation anxiety. With patience, understanding, and a commitment to working with a certified professional dog trainer, it is possible to help dogs with separation anxiety feel more comfortable and secure when left alone, leading to a happier, healthier, and more peaceful life for both pets and their owners.

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