Separation Anxiety

Ó2003 Canine College of California

What is Separation Anxiety?

Canine separation anxiety is a neurological distress response to: separation from the person to whom the dog is attached, high degree of uncertainty of an outcome, or the probability of punishment.  In dogs with this condition, the level of anxiety is disproportionate to the inciting circumstances.  In other words, dogs with separation anxiety tend to overreact. When you leave the house for the day, they think you’ll be gone forever.

In the average U.S. veterinary practice, approximately 14% of canine patients exhibit one or more signs of separation anxiety.  This behavioral disease is second only to aggression.  The good news is that separation anxiety is a treatable disorder.

Separation anxiety is usually seen in younger dogs and older, especially when these pets are adopted from an animal shelter or as they lose sensory perception (hearing and sight) they become more dependent on their owners and may be more anxious when they are separated or even out of view.  It is not commonly seen in middle-aged dogs, although dogs that develop separation anxiety at a very young age may be at greater risk for recurrences later in life. 

What are signs of Separation Anxiety?

Dogs with separation anxiety exhibit behavior problems when they’re left alone. Typically, they’ll have a dramatic anxiety response within a short time (20-45 minutes) after their owners leave them. The most common of these behaviors are:

·         Distress vocalization—howling, barking, whining

·         Inappropriate elimination—urination, defecation

·         Destructive behavior—chewing, digging

·         Anorexia/ “depression” or inactivity

·         Psychosomatic/medical consequences—excessive licking of haircoat, pacing, circling

·         Hyperattachment—excessive greeting behavior, constant pestering of owner

·         Hypersalivation  - excessive drooling, slobbering and foaming at the mouth

It’s important to realize that the behaviors that often occur with separation anxiety are not the dog’s attempt to punish or seek revenge on his owner for leaving him alone, but is actually a panic response. The dogs are not trying to “get back at you” for leaving them alone!

Why Do Some Dogs Have It And Some Don’t?

We don’t fully understand exactly why some dogs suffer from separation anxiety and, even in the same situation, others don’t. It is along the same lines as some people having a fear of heights, or being more prone to motion sickness than others. Some professionals think that separation anxiety can be linked to a dog’s “Fear imprint” period. Much like human stages of development, dogs pass through stages as well:

Birth to Seven weeks ( 0 - 49 days )

Socialization Period ( 7 - 12 weeks )

Fear Imprint Period ( 8 - 11 weeks )

Seniority Classification Period ( 12 - 16 weeks )

Flight Instinct Period ( 4 - 8 months )

Second Fear Imprint Period ( 6 - 14 months )

Maturity ( 2 - 4 years )

During the “far imprint periods” traumatic, frightening or painful situations have a tendency to cause permanent damage to a puppy’s confidence. These occurrences can contribute to the dog’s “need” to have constant companionship and separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety sometimes occurs when:


What Won’t Help A Separation Anxiety Problem

How Do I Know If My Dog Has Separation Anxiety?

Because there are many reasons for the behaviors associated with separation anxiety, it’s essential to correctly diagnose the reason for the behavior before proceeding with medical or behavioral treatment.

If most, or all, of the following statements are true about your dog, your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety:


What To Do If Your Dog Has Separation Anxiety

For a minor separation anxiety problem, the following techniques may be helpful by themselves.

 For More Severe Cases Of Separation Anxiety:

You need to help your dog to “practice” being alone. The following steps will help your dog to remain calm during departures and short absences through a process called “desensitization” .

In The Mean Time:

We know that there are no sure fire “quick-fix “ solutions, so what can you do with your dog until they’re more comfortable?

Canine College of California
“Turning Pests into Pets”
(310) 519-8221

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