Does your dog whine when you leave them alone? Maybe even lay by the door until you return? Many of these separation behaviors are totally normal, and some are actually signs that your dog is suffering from a much larger issue. So how do you know whether it’s temporary sadness or a full blown case of separation anxiety?
Allow me to explore some signs that you’re entered into separation anxiety land. What gives me the authority to blog about this, you ask? Allow me to introduce Denver, my former dog that brought years of pure joy to my life. I must also note that Denver was rescued when he was 3yrs old and could not be crated due to severe trauma in his former life. Given this limitation, we had all sorts of behavioral hangups to navigate and separation anxiety was definitely the worst of them. Here are five scenarios that we ran into time and time again.
1. You dog whines / howls / barks / panics when you leave. This isn’t necessarily indicative of full blown separation anxiety, since many dogs may exhibit stress when their owners leave them. However, in dogs with separation anxiety this behavior often starts immediately as you leave, and can sometimes be triggered just by picking up your keys or putting on your shoes. Denver knew that whenever I put pants on I was about to leave the house (I can’t be the only one that refuses to wear pants at home), and he would absolutely panic. You know your dog best - if he seems inordinately stressed or vocal as you get ready to depart, this may be a good indication that something is going on.
2. Your dog pees / poos in the house while you’re gone. Obviously this may happen for other reasons (puppies, new home, illness, etc.), but if your dog is otherwise potty trained and healthy, yet has a tendency to use the bathroom indoors when you’re gone - this is definitely a sign.
3. Mass destruction. This is a tough one because some dogs are just troublemakers - especially young or high-energy dogs that aren’t getting enough exercise or stimulation. But if a dog has separation anxiety, you’ll find that the destruction is next-level (read: not limited to toys) and will happen only when you’re not around. Denver’s specialty was getting into cabinets. He would tear open bags of lentils, corn starch, and horrifyingly once got into the kitchen cleaning supplies.
4. Escape attempts. Denver used to open my apartment door and escape into the hallway on the reg. On more than one occasion he left fresh piles of poo at neighbors’ doorsteps, and once ended up in an elevator on his own. While hilarious in retrospect, a dog’s repeated escape attempts are super dangerous and a clear sign of separation anxiety. One tell-tale sign of an escape attempt is evidence that your pup was scratching or digging at the door. While not all dogs can maneuver a dead-bolt lock like Denver, often times these incidents are hugely destructive and dogs often end up harming themselves during these exertions. For instance, Denver once cut his legs and paws attempting to escape a crate after being locked in by an irresponsible dog-sitter. There are even reports of dogs jumping out of high windows in a fit of anxiety, so be extra vigilant about potential escape routes.
5. Pacing. This one is hard to diagnose because by definition it’s happening when you’re not home. However, as soon as I suspected Denver was having issues being alone, I went full big-brother and installed cameras in my house. Sure enough, as soon as I left he would go into full panic mode. He would pace back and forth between the window and the door, often stopping to scratch at the door handle incessantly (hence the subsequent door-opening ordeal). Pacing is often an indication of stress in animals, and this is no exception.
Ok - so if you’re like me and Denver, all of these have happened at least once in the past 3 days and you’re both at your wit’s end. Want some help navigating from someone who has been there, done that, picked up that s***? Tune in soon for a follow-up post with some trainer-approved tips and tricks.