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Be calm when dealing with Separation Anxiety in dogs

Black pug laying on the floor with separation anxiety

When it comes to problems pet owners have with their animals, when it’s their dogs, owners often complain of their pets being destructive or disruptive when they are left alone which could be a case of separation anxiety. Sometimes when the owners get home, they discover that their dog has defecated or urinated around the house; he has chewed his way through something or dug holes in his efforts to escape. Anyone hearing this might think straight away, “That dog needs to be taught some house manners”! But did it ever occur to you that your dog might be in a huge amount of distress?

Signs that your dog has separation anxiety

Scared looking beagle on a dirt path

Other signs that a dog becomes distressed when his owners depart from home are drooling, howling, and pacing up and down, to name a few more. All these sad signs aren’t signs that a dog is not house-trained or is being “naughty” when he chews up other things other than his toys. What we are seeing here are indications that the dog is suffering from separation anxiety, distress, and maybe unhappiness.

We need to know why dogs become distressed though, even if it is under the banner of separation anxiety; there is still a reason behind the stress. A dog can be stressed for a few reasons. Watch your dog when you have him on a leash – see how ‘tensed’ up he gets when he meets other dogs, particularly the unleashed ones.

Which brings us to the question – Why do dogs suffer from separation anxiety or distress?

Pit bull laying on a couch with separation anxiety
  1. When you punish him for behaving like a dog; and he doesn’t respond like a human! You leave things lying around within his reach, giving him the opportunity to "misbehave" and then you scold him for your mistake. You need to ensure that the only opportunities you leave for him are the allowed ones.
  2. When you say “no” over and over to your dog. This might stop her temporarily. But saying no all the time without offering an alternative turns your "no" into an interruption, not a request. You need to show your dog what you want her to do.
  3. When you give her a whole host of verbal commands for one single behavior. Many pet guardians assume their dog knows the full English language! Train your dog to respond to simple single-word commands like sit, stay, come, poop, pee, etc. Use those words only to communicate. You create stress for the dog when she cannot possibly understand all your sentences.
  4. Telling your dog "it's okay" when clearly it’s not: For example, you pull up for at her most-hated spot, the dog parlor. The dog starts whining already at the site of the place, and you are saying “it’s okay”, petting him. When he hears those words in the future, you can’t expect him not to feel panicky!
  5. Maybe he jerks away when you try to hold him tightly to hug or kiss him. Imagine if it was you and someone large grabs you and doesn’t let you go for a while! That can be unpleasant, if not a reason to stress. Maybe it’s best to stick to stroking and petting.
  6. Staring at your dog and shaking your finger in his face are big stress factors for a dog, especially when it’s in a way that signals your displeasure.
  7. Telling him to "get down!" when he jumps up. Train him to stop jumping up with one verbal command "off!" You will save your dog a lot of stress and confusion from trying to understand your command with a lot of words.
  8. Waking your dog up. Unless there's a pressing reason to awaken this member of your family, try to avoid it. Being shouted at or shaken awaken can be pretty stressful for your dog.

Symptoms of separation anxiety or distress

Sad looking beagle laying on shaggy white carpet

(If a dog does show any of the below symptoms in the presence of his owner, it probably isn’t caused by separation anxiety, but possibly nervousness or fear).

Urinating and defecating:

Some dogs will defecate or urinate when they have been left alone or separated from their owners.

Barking and howling:

Usually, this type of barking or howling is persistent.

Chewing, destroying stuff, and digging, or pacing:

This type of behavior can result in self-injury, such as broken teeth, scratched paws, bleeding and damaged nails.


A dog with separation anxiety might try to escape from a place where he is confined in when he has been left alone or separated from his guardian. He might try and dig and chew his way out which could result in self-injury, like broken teeth, cut and scrapes.


When left alone or separated from his guardians, or highly distressed, a dog might even defecate and then eat his excrement.

Why do some dogs develop separation anxiety?

Old dog wrapped in a blanket laying on the ground

There is no conclusive evidence showing why dogs do develop separation anxiety. Some dogs which come from shelters might have suffered from abuse in their past. It is also believed that the loss of an important person or much-loved person in a dog’s life can lead to separation anxiety. Other less dramatic changes can bring on this disorder such as a change occurring in the family. Maybe there are changes to his schedule which he is not used to. Or maybe you have been spending a lot of time with your dog but now circumstances have changed and you no longer do - that can be stressful! Changing homes can also bring stress.

Just sometimes, a dog will soil the house, not because of anxiety separation, but because he could be incontinent. This is a medical condition where a dog “leaks” or empties his bladder, being unaware that he has soiled. You would need to see the dog’s vet to rule out any medical issues with your dog first.

It is not easy always to determine whether a dog has separation anxiety because some common behavioral problems can cause a similar type of symptoms. Before you conclude that your dog has separation anxiety, it is important to rule out certain behavior problems such as these:

  • Submissive or excitement urination.
  • When house training has not been completed.
  • Dogs that are scent marking by urinating.
  • Normal new-puppy destruction.
  • Boredom.
  • Excessive howling and barking.

What you need to do if your dog has separation anxiety

Pug looking sad on a bed with a blanket on them

Heard of counterconditioning? This is a treatment process that changes an animal’s fearful, anxious or aggressive reaction to be pleasant and relaxed instead. Desensitization and counterconditioning are complex procedures which can turn out to be tricky to carry out. Fear needs to be avoided or the procedure just backfires and the dog becomes more fearful. You will need help with this and should consult a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist.

Sometimes medications can assist too but always consult with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist before giving your dog any type of medication for behavior problems. These can be helpful, especially for severe cases of separation anxiety. Anti-anxiety medication can help a dog tolerate some levels of isolation without experiencing extreme anxiety.

CBD is another great option to give your dog if they frequently suffer from any type of anxiety, stress, or separation anxiety. CBD is a non psychoactive chemichal found in the hemp plant that has a long list of benefits that include reducing anxious behaviors. 



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Remember, never scold or punish your dog. Anxiousness in dogs is a distress response and if you punish him, he may become even more upset and the problem just gets worse.

It's important to pay attention to distress signals from your doggy friend, keeping an eye out for signs of anxiety. Sometimes, just making a few small changes to his routine, paying more attention to him, taking him out for walks, patting and petting him can make the world of difference.

“You can’t force things apart that are bound at the heart”

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Separation anxiety in dogs By Molly Boman

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