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Separation anxiety in dogs describes a condition in which a dog exhibits distress and behavior problems when separated from its handler. It’s more than a little whining when you leave or a bit of mischief while you’re out. It’s a serious condition and one of the main reasons owners get frustrated with their dogs.

The bond formed between dogs and their human owners is consistent with an attachment. The emotional attachment between adult dogs and their owners, even in the absence of separation-related behavior problems, has been found to be similar to that displayed by human adults and their children. This is not surprising given that dogs have been selected for their dependence on humans over 10,000 or more years of domestication.

Dog anxiety can affect all breeds, but may affect each individual dog differently. Although it is something that all dogs experience from time-to-time, if disproportionate levels of anxiety are left unchecked, a dog can develop an anxiety disorder. If left untreated, dog anxiety can lead to behavioral and other issues.

When treating a dog with separation anxiety, the goal is to resolve the dog’s underlying anxiety by teaching him to enjoy, or at least tolerate, being left alone. This is accomplished by setting things up so that the dog experiences the situation that provokes his anxiety, namely being alone, without experiencing fear or anxiety.

Causes of Separation Anxiety in Dogs

It’s not fully understood why some dogs suffer from separation anxiety and others don’t.

These are some of the scenarios that can trigger separation anxiety;

  • Being left alone for the first time.
  • Being left alone when accustomed to constant human contact.
  • Suffering a traumatic event, such as time at a shelter or boarding kennel.
  • Change in the family’s routine or structure, or the loss of a family member or other pet.

Signs of Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Dogs suffering from separation anxiety typically exhibit these behaviors:

  • Digging and scratching at doors or windows attempting to reunite with their owners
  • Destructive chewing
  • Howling, barking and whining
  • Urination and defecation (even with otherwise house-trained dogs)
  • Following handler excessively
  • Pacing
  • Excessive salivating
  • Coprophagia
  • Self harm

Treatment of Separation Anxiety in Dogs

First, talk to your vet to rule out any medical problems. Sometimes dogs have accidents in the house because of infections or hormone problems or other health conditions.

It has been suggested that adding another animal, such as another dog, to the household may help dogs with separation-related behavior problems to cope with absences from their owner.

Build your dog’s tolerance for ‘alone time’
This is the simplest approach to tackling dog separation anxiety. Gradually increase the time your dog is left alone, simply by moving to another room and closing or partially closing the door. Gradually increase the amount of time you’re separated from your dog.

Foster your dog’s independence. Don’t let your dog follow you around constantly.

Crate training can also be useful for preventing separation anxiety. Dogs are den animals, and teaching them that their crate is a safe place to retreat to when alone can help keep them calm – and prevent them from destroying your house!


Separation anxiety in puppies and dogs isn’t always preventable, despite your best efforts. And once SA has taken hold, it can be a complicated process to treat. Consider working with a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or a veterinary behaviorist to help smooth the process.


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