AutoShip and save up to 10% | Find out more

Causes of dog separation anxiety

Approx. 5 minutes read

Most people will think their dogs are just bored and extremely naughty when they show signs of separation anxiety. Your dog might urinate in the house or dig up your garden and you may think it’s their way of getting back at you for leaving them alone at home. This is hardly the case because dogs don’t have a revenge mindset. It’s far more likely the result of separation anxiety – your dog being in a state of serious panic and not sure what to do when you are not around. But there is good news: with training, supplements and a lot of love, your dog can be treated for separation anxiety.

Signs of separation anxiety

Separation anxiety is not a term to be casually tossed around, but should be taken very seriously. When your dog truly suffers from separation anxiety, they are in a panic and acting out in an anxious way, which can result in destroying your belongings and garden and they can even get hurt mentally and physically.

If your dog is showing symptoms like excessive salivation, incessant barking, whining, destroying items in the home, scratching on walls, doors and floors, attempting to escape when you leave your home etc., there is a good chance that your dog is suffering from separation anxiety.

Simulated vs true separation anxiety

Separation anxiety comprises exaggerated fears that dogs experience when they are separated from their owners (pack leaders). It is also often seen in parrots, mice and cats. They are afraid of being left alone and can cause a lot of damage to themselves or to your property. Most pet owners are not aware that their dogs could be suffering from two different types of anxiety: simulated separation anxiety and true separation anxiety.

When dogs lack stimulation as well as self-control, it can manifest as simulated separation anxiety. They act out out of boredom, behaving more like a naughty child who is looking for attention – even if it’s negative attention. Your dog knows he’s acted badly, but when you reprimand him, his behaviour results in attention – mission accomplished! 

When a dog shows that he is under real stress when the owner is absent, it is a sign of true separation anxiety. 

Identifying true separation anxiety

One or more of the following behaviours are signs to look out for when you are not home:

  • Scratch marks at doors and windows
  • Chewed up furniture, plants, etc.
  • Constant barking, whining or howling (ask your neighbours)
  • Urinating or defecating indoors
  • Intense or persistent pacing
  • Attempting to escape a room or crate to the point of self-injury
  • Abnormal behaviour in absence of owner
  • ‘Velcro dog’ – doesn’t let owners out of its sight. Owners leave the toilet door open
  • Strongly attached to one person and indifferent to other dogs and people in the family
  • Clinical signs start 30 minutes after the owner’s departure. Can last for hours
  • Excessive excitement at the owner’s return. Not dependent on the length of the owner’s absence

Anxiety can also be related to a lack of exercise. Dogs that are not regularly exercised store their energy, which builds up to a multitude of behavioural issues. When you leave your home, your pet’s stress intensifies and he doesn’t know what to do with all the built-up energy that is stored in his body. Walking your dog in the morning and evening before mealtimes could be very helpful.

Several factors that could indicate there’s a serious problem:

  • The behaviour occurs every time you leave
  • The behaviour occurs only in your absence
  • Anxious behaviour begins even before you go. For example, the minute you grab your keys and bag, your dog begins pacing and howling, knowing you’re about to leave the house

Causes of dog separation anxiety

Sometimes something really traumatic has happened to a dog, which can be the cause for separation anxiety, e.g. abandonment, having multiple owners, rehoming or prior neglect, getting lost, earthquakes or even losing a person. It can really leave a scar on a little soul. In many cases, no single event causes it. 

Some breeds are more genetically predisposed to experiencing separation anxiety and hate being alone. These include labradors, border collies (because of his high energy needs), German Shepherds, vizslas (famed ‘velcro dog’), German shorthaired pointers, spaniel breeds, and lap companions like Bichon Frise and Italian greyhounds. 

In some cases it is the pet owner who provokes the dog’s separation anxiety by making such a big fuss before leaving the home, causing the dog to become anxious. The owner may even reward the dog because he feels guilty and wants to make up for his own absence.

When dogs are still small puppies it is natural for pet owners to want to have their pup with them ALL the time and to have them socialised. But when they get older they are left alone at home. Some dogs reach an age when they not only want to, but also have the need to be with their owner, who is their source of confidence, security and family.

Dogs LOVE routine. It gives them a sense of security, so changing their routine can cause separation anxiety – manifested as the fear of not knowing. These problems can be corrected with exercise, discipline and affection, and restoring a routine. Pet owners need to establish a balance between patience, obedience and confidence in their dogs.

Finding solutions

Pet owners need to understand the significance of separation anxiety and why their dogs behave the way they do. The dog is not naughty, angry or trying to ‘get back’ at the owner and should not be scolded or punished. They should rather find a solution. 

Go to the vet and explain your pet’s behaviour. Your vet will be able to help you and give you some advice as to how to help your pet before something serious happens. Separation anxiety may need medical and/or behavioural intervention. It would be good to speak to a veterinarian about both intervention options as the animal will have to be desensitised and the owner will have to work on keeping their arrivals and departures low key.

Your vet may refer you to an animal behaviourist, so work with the professionals for the wellbeing of your precious dog. 

Share this article
Table of Contents
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents
    More like this...
    A guide to pet fireworks safety

    Isn’t it beautiful when the sky lights up with amazing fireworks in all different sizes and colours? Unfortunately all that beauty is accompanied with big bangs and our poor animals get so scared that they don’t know what to do or where to go. Does your pet get freaked out over fireworks? Here is what you should do:

    Finding the perfect dog treat for your dog

    You get a wonderfully satisfying feeling when giving your dog a treat. It’s special for him and you know that he knows that it’s a little reward for him being a good boy! How do you know which is the best treat for your dog? Let’s take a look.

    We answer your questions on ticks and fleas

    Ticks and fleas are part of every pet owner’s life and there are many different treatments available for dogs and cats. Here we answer some Q&As about YOUR pets and ticks and fleas.

    Does your pet need a specialised diet

    If your pet is generally healthy, but has persistent or chronic symptoms you can’t quite put your finger on, maybe a diet adjustment is required. Can these common symptoms be cured with diet?

    Save with AutoShip

    Sit back and we will place your next order

    100% Secure Checkout

    MasterCard / Visa / America Express

    Pet Hero

    Leaving already?

    Sign up for our newsletter and get R50 off your first purchase.