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There are other questions around this issue, but I'd like to ask about specific circumstances, so it's not a duplicate.

My dog hates to stay home alone. My wife thinks she has separation anxiety, but I'm not sure. For example, it seems like it's not the need to be with us her owners, but more like the need to be with someone. If we leave her at a friends house who also have a dog, she's fine. If I leave her at my parents', she's fine. But if we leave her alone at home, she really hates it.

The symptoms: We left a camera running and filmed her behavior when left alone. We leave her alone with a kong treat, so she's ok when we leave, but one or two minutes later (even before she's done with the treat), she starts wandering around the house and whining. She goes from the door to the window whining. After a while she gets back to her treat or goes to sleep, but then every so often again she starts wandering and whining. Lately she craps in the house alot, only when we're gone, even if she did it in the morning walk just a few hours earlier. She also tries opening doors in the house and sometimes ruins stuff she can get her paws on.

When we're home, sometimes she likes being with us in the same room, but not always. She spends quite some time sleeping by herself in another room or on her bed. When we take her out to the park, she doesn't stay too close to us, sometimes she even runs so far that she can't see us and doesn't come right away when we call her.

So I'm trying to figure if this is separation anxiety or just boredom, or something in between, and any advice on how to treat this will be appreciated. We really have a hard time when we know she has to stay home alone.

  • Have you tried leaving the TV or Radio on? Perhaps that would already help. – Layna Apr 30 '15 at 10:51
  • Yes, we tried leaving TV on with dog channel. We also leave the window open she likes observing the street (even when we're home). – tbkn23 Apr 30 '15 at 11:09
  • Possibly related: How to transition dog back to being free when alone? – Spidercat May 1 '15 at 20:54
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I would consider that separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is widely used as a general term covering dogs that are stressed when left alone, and messing in the house and destructive behaviour is pretty standard. It often does come out when the dog is stressed by being left by the primary care-giver, but it's not uncommon for dogs to be OK with a person or dog in the house but stressed if entirely alone.

A stressed dog may well hide away or run away from her people at the park and not appear very attached - it doesnt' mean she doesn't care about her people, it's just a way of releasing some of the stress she's feeling. Some more independent breeds of dog will often run a long way from their owner: they will usually be keeping a pretty close eye on you, even from a fair distance.

First important thing: do not tell your dog off or punish her if she destroys thing or makes a mess in the house when left alone. It will just increase her anxiety. The key to sorting separation anxiety is making sure your dog is as confident, happy and relaxed as possible. Telling her off because she panicked and lost control of her bowels is counterproductive.

Second important thing: you want to get her used to being left gradually, so if you can make arrangements for the time being for her to be left with a neighbour or relative or a dog she knows and likes if you need to leave her during the time while you work on this problem, that would be a good idea. Dogs don't learn well when they are upset and worried. Ideally you should practice very short absences to start with, so that she gets a chance to learn that you always come back, and then develop that over time.

Third thing: make sure she's been out just before you go out (not several hours before, take her out for a walk shortly before you leave). Ideally, again, this walk should be a nice relaxing stroll with time for sniffing - not too much very intense hyper ball play or manic running that might leave her feeling hyped up.

Leaving her with a stuffed kong is excellent, go on doing that. If you aren't already clicker training with her, you might like to try a little low-pressure clicker work - dogs often seem to feel more confident when they are doing some more structured activities with their owners.

Last time I fostered a dog with separation anxiety, we used to go out just a little way from the house, first for one minute, then two minutes, then three minutes and so on, building up very gradually. If the dog seems stressed, reduce the interval left, and go on practicing for a bit before increasing again. I spent a lot of short periods sitting in the car with a book!

Some dogs with severe separation anxiety need to build up to just coping with their owner picking up keys or putting on a coat, but it sounds like yours is not that bad, so with a bit of luck if you work on this now, you will be able to get to a situation where leaving your dog is less stressful for all of you.

If you think it's getting worse, consult a qualified behaviourist.

Here's a great video (all the kikopup videos are highly recommended : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGxhcb-itO4

There's a PDF leaflet here which you may find helpful : http://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/pets/dogs/company/separationrelatedbehaviour/prevention

  • Thanks for the advise. We'll give it a try. One question: How can I tell if it's working, or if the time we leave her alone is too short or too long during the training? – tbkn23 May 2 '15 at 17:40
  • To begin with if you are just popping out for a minute or two, you can just listen for stressed noises. Most dogs that are afraid of being alone will cry, howl, and if you are just outside you can hear that there's a problem. As you scale up to leaving a little longer, look out for her state when you return: is she calm, or hyped and stressed with wide eyes and fast breathing? Your video idea is great too, since you have the technology, try recording her once you have got up to popping out for 10 mins. If she stays put with a toy or chew, things are going well! – Victoria May 5 '15 at 14:45
  • Tried it for the last few days. Left the camera on, and left for a minute or so. Most times she stayed with her kong for a few seconds (like half a minute) and then went to look at the door, and then waited near the window until we came back. Once or twice she left her kong mostly untouched as soon as we left, then went from the door to the window, but this time whining. Suggestions? Go on like this, or try to leave for even shorter periods? (close the door wait outside a few seconds and go back in?) – tbkn23 May 5 '15 at 15:19

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