Does your dog REALLY have Separation Anxiety?

Separation Anxiety seems like a buzzword these days, doesn't it? It's like all dogs have it to some degree. Heck, I have it with my own dog and he's just fine at home alone! We don't want to "over-diagnose" and we especially don't want to "mis-diagnose". We have to figure out if your dog is truly suffering from a panic disorder before we embark on a training program.

What might cause dogs to show similar symptoms?

Medical issues are the first to come to mind - anything from a little gastro-upset to a bladder infection to seizures. I always recommend that my clients see their veterinarian for a medical checkup prior to starting our program.

Many dogs with noise sensitivities or sound phobias are known to display symptoms of home alone issues as well. I imagine that it is because they are either triggered when left alone or are experiencing chronic anxiety as a result.

Interesting facts: 88% of dogs with noise phobias also have separation anxiety. 63% of dogs with separation anxiety have noise phobias and 53% have storm phobias.

Many, many people will bring home a puppy and pop them into a crate without a second thought, assuming that the ol' "they're den animals and so they will naturally love their crate" myth is true. Well...it's definitely not true! Oftentimes confinement anxiety is misdiagnosed as separation anxiety and when we assess the dog loose in the home, they happily sleep on a dog bed or the couch.

Incomplete housetraining is also a popular misreading! Dogs who have accidents in the home don't necessarily have home alone issues so we need to rule that out as well! If your dog doesn't get out to potty frequently enough (every 4 hours), then accidents will happen - we can't expect them to hold it for 8 hours! I'm not sure any of us could do that...

Over-exercising or under-exercising. It's true! We can over-exercise our dogs. This is often the case with dogs who have home-alone issues - we are told to exercise our dog more, but sometimes they get too much and as a result, are more "amped up" and develop a sleep deficit and an inability to settle. The reverse is also true - a lack of adequate exercise can cause dogs to become bored and create a desire to redecorate the foyer's baseboards and the dining room furniture.

Window-barking! You know the type. The dog who barks at every passer-by, every sound in the hall, every jingle of a tag. If you have a reactive rover and they're spending your work day barking at their nemeses, it may not necessarily be a home-alone issue but more of an environmental management issue. (White noise and privacy film can really help, by the way!)

This is not a complete list, but the most common ones that I encounter. It's key to be sure you're dealing with zebras before you start a zebra-modification program, so to speak.

The only way to know for sure is to assess them and see what they're doing and what triggers the behaviour.