Is separation anxiety bad behaviour or is it emotional distress?

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Have you ever known anyone who experiences panic attacks? They will likely tell you that they feel they have no control over themselves when they are triggered. Dogs with separation anxiety experience symptoms of panic when they are separated from their primary attachment figure or are completely isolated.

It is a clinical panic disorder.

No joke! Separation Anxiety, as it is typically called in a clinic setting, is often diagnosed by Veterinarians and Trainers, however, more often than not, we see dog guardians self-diagnosing and self-treating.

Separation Anxiety is the term that we use loosely, but defined more accurately, it is a condition that manifests in dogs who are separated from their primary attachment figure(s), even if someone else is with them.

Isolation Distress is the term that we use to describe dogs who are anxious when left completely alone. They don't exhibit signs of stress/anxiety if there is someone (friend, family, pet sitter, any warm body) with them.

What does it look like?

  • vocalisations (whining, barking, howling)

  • destruction, especially at or near exits

  • refusing or ignoring food and/or water

  • panting, pacing

  • drooling

  • loss of control of bladder/bowels

(This is not an extensive list - simply the most common signs that we see.)

But isn't my dog just being stubborn/bad/spiteful?

These are common misconceptions, but the truth of the matter is that dogs are not morally-driven creatures...in fact they are born without a moral compass! They don't understand right from wrong or good from bad; they do what works and they are also highly emotional creatures. When your dog destroys your baseboards, claws at your door, howls their heart out and barks to beg you to come home, they're actually in distress. They're not peeing on the floor out of spite, they're losing control of their bladder due to fear of being abandoned.

Doesn't that change your perspective a bit? It puts our dogs in a whole new light. Perhaps you already knew this and you've been weighted down with guilt and sadness.

It's going to be okay. You're on the path to understanding your dog and providing relief!

You're probably wondering what causes Separation Anxiety! Do you feel like you might even be responsible for it?