Dog Separation Anxiety Part 1: Definition and Causes

During the summer months, we’re featuring a special series by Angel Wasserman, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of Paws in Training, about dog separation anxiety, including what causes this psychological disorder, what to look out for, and what you can do about it.

In this first post, you’ll learn what separation anxiety looks like in dogs and what may cause it.

What is dog separation anxiety?

Separation anxiety is a debilitating psychological disorder, which produces significant anxiety and/or panic attacks in animals when they are separated from “their person.”

Animals afflicted with this disorder suffer considerably when they are left alone and if they have a panic attack, the resulting behaviors can cause significant physical damage to the dog and extensive damage to your property.  These dogs are not destroying your property because they are mad at you for leaving them, or because they haven’t been obedience trained, and this is not something that the dog will get use to or outgrow.  The nature of the affliction leaves the dog so distressed that he will do anything to break out of the barriers that confine him, in an attempt to reunite with you.

It is virtually impossible for a dog owner to solve this problem on his or her own. If you think that your dog has separation anxiety, seek the council of a veterinarian or animal behaviorist immediately to confirm your suspicions.

A key differentiating feature between dogs who are mildly anxious when their person leaves and those with separation anxiety in the true, clinical context, is that separation anxiety dogs begin to display anxiety behaviors BEFORE you leave the home.

Causes of separation anxiety

Separation anxiety is typically rooted in the relationship that the dog has with its owner. In the simplest terms, the dog becomes hyper-attached and simply cannot cope in his environment when he is away from his owner.  This behavior is not about love or loyalty to the owner; it is an abnormal and debilitating attachment. For other dogs, their distress is not related to a specific person – these dogs don’t care who they are with, only that they are not alone.

There are several factors that can trigger separation anxiety:

  • Genetic disposition to stress or fear.
  • Not being properly socialized and/or rarely being left home alone. Dogs that live with retired individuals or people who work from home are very susceptible.
  • The dog has been rehomed multiple times.
  • Changes in the household, such as divorce, illness or death of an owner, or the addition of new people in the household.
  • A physical move to a new house, even if the family moves with the dog.
  • Changes in the household routine resulting in a dramatic difference in the amount of time you are absent. For example, transitioning from working from home to leaving the home for work.
  • The dog experienced a stressful or frightening event (from the dog’s perspective) while he was home alone.

Learning more about this psychological disorder will help you better understand your dog and help him get better. The next blog post will be all about the symptoms of dog separation anxiety. Don’t miss it! 

Angel Wasserman, CCBC, CPDT

Certified Behavior Consultant-Canine
Paws in Training, Inc.
(919) 896-2859 

This article was reposted from the Paws in Training website. Find Paws in Training on FacebookGoogle+, and Yelp. Check out Woof It Up! A Guide To Happy Dogs and Happy Owners, available in paperback or E-Book formats.

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