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Separation Anxiety: Signs And What To Do About It

September 20, 2022

separation anxiety signs and what to do about it

Dogs are pack animals, which means they are happiest when they live in a group. As a result, they establish different levels and layers of relationship within that pack dynamic. Still, when a connection is two one-dimensional, or the “pack” abandons a solo dog for long periods, some dogs experience something we call “separation anxiety” (see more on potential causes below). 

Separation anxiety manifests in both small and large ways, and some of them are destructive or even dangerous. For example, if your dog is generally well-behaved when you (or someone else) are at home but is destructive, loud, or aggressive when you’re away, there’s a good chance separation anxiety is at work.


We’ll include specific fixes to common signs of separation anxiety underneath each one. Making sure your dog is well-exercised is the most important thing you can do to help them physically, mentally, and emotionally. A well-exercised dog is a happy and nappy dog, minimizing signs of separation anxiety.

Younger dogs and certain breeds need more exercise and playtime than others. If you can’t walk/jog/roller blade or hike your dog at least once a day:

  • Consider doggy daycare in your area.
  • Sometimes two dogs are easier than one because they play; getting a new dog may help but may not, so speak to a dog trainer before making that choice.
  • Take a daily trip to the dog park, preferably before work or on a lunch break.
  • Hire a daily dog walker.
  • Pay a neighbor to walk or run the dog.
  • Build an agility course in your yard and use it morning and evening.

As you read about the different signs of dog separation anxiety, know that “exercise your dog” is always the unwritten first bullet point.

5 Signs Your Dog Suffers From Separation Anxiety

Learning how your dog signals their anxiety provides essential information so you can begin the work of unwinding them and establishing new routines and expectations.

Barking and howling

Neighbors will be the first to let you know if barking or howling becomes a problem. There’s nothing worse than living near a dog that barks or howls endlessly when left alone. The news may shock you if you rarely hear your dog bark or howl in your presence. This type of vocalization is typically persistent and rhythmic, rarely letting up. 

Potential Fixes: 

  • Playing music (preferably classical or harp music) or leaving a TV on to provide comforting/company-like sounds.
  • Use a citronella collar (releases a spray of non-toxic aromatics the dog doesn’t like when they bark).
  • Non-collar anti-barking devices that release undesirable high-pitched tones that humans can’t hear and dogs can’t stand.
  • Install a pet cam to observe your pet and see what (if anything) initiates the barking, like a squirrel, passersby, etc. You may be able to make adjustments at home to prevent the response.

Urinating or defecating in the house

If your dog urinates/defecates in your presence, this is a potty training issue and not related to separation anxiety. If your dog has access to a potty spot (yard, pen, potty pads, etc.) but doesn’t use them when you’re gone, it’s a sign.

Potential Fixes:

  • Make sure your dog has access to the correct potty areas when you’re gone.
  • Don’t leave a dog without access to potty areas for more than a few hours (less when they’re puppies).
  • Focus on crate training at home and either come home or hire someone to let them out to go to the bathroom a few times per day (after a consistent six to eight weeks, you may try letting them out of the crate by day to see how it goes).
  • Rule out any potential medical issues with your vet.

Tearing, chewing, and otherwise being destructive

You’ve purchased every chewy toy known to dog-kind, and your cluttered floor is a testament to that. Even so, your beloved dog chews up shoes, pillows, furniture legs, and whatever else they get their mouth on. This is often the sign of a dog needing more opportunity to release energy, so exercise, exercise, and more exercise are a huge help here.

Potential Fixes:

  • Put anything you can in a shut room or closet to take it out of the mix.
  • Make sure your dog has access to a variety of chewy toys.
  • Use a kong (or two) or other mentally stimulating toys that keep them occupied and chewing until they finally access the hidden treat.
  • Purchase chew deterrent sprays and use them on favorite “no-no” objects.

Escaping and running away

A lonely dog with lots of energy (or a predisposition to running/jumping in general) may become an escape artist when left alone. Sometimes they’re actively looking for you, want a fun distraction, or find other playmates along their route.

Potential Fixes:

  • Build a new container, whether it be raising a fence, installing an L-footer below the fence for dogs that dig out, or purchasing an outdoor dog kennel that contains them on all sides.
  • Remove items away from the fence if they help the dog jump up and over.
  • Add strategic landscaping.
  • Cover chain link or “slatted” fence lines so they can’t see through them.
  • Provide mentally stimulating toys.
  • Use sound or gentle buzz collars designed to go off when the dog gets close to the fence.

Incessant pacing

Has your dog created a worn path on carpet or wood flooring from incessant pacing? It may be along a particular path or in a circle. Either way, it’s a sign of anxiety.

Potential Fix:

  • Give them mentally stimulating toys in addition to chewies.
  • Provide music or TV sounds for companionship.
  • Schedule a vet appointment to rule out pain.
  • Use a webcam to see if there’s a trigger (a particular sound, visitor, or time of day) and then work to prevent exposure.
  • Confine them to an area where their pacing is less hard on the floor.

Common Causes Of Separation Anxiety In Dogs

Loneliness is the main reason dogs experience separation anxiety. However, other things can cause temporary anxiety that escalates when left alone:

  • Newly adopted or rehomed
  • The death or absence of a human or pet in the family
  • A move
  • Drastic changes in routine. 
  • If the human and dog relationship is out of balance.

If something has changed for the dog or the household, give it a few weeks and see if the signs diminish over time and with the application of these tips. Otherwise, it’s time to seek professional support from a qualified dog trainer.

Alternative Canine Training Fixes Separation Anxiety

Alternative Canine Training has more than 30 years of professional experience eliminating separation anxiety for dogs and their human companions. Contact us to schedule a consultation so we can get to the bottom of things.

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