What Causes Separation Anxiety in Dogs?

What Causes Separation Anxiety in Dogs?

What causes separation anxiety in dogs? There are a lot of different factors that can contribute to a dog’s fears about being alone.

Sometimes it’s because they’re not used to be being alone, and in other cases, it’s because of a change in routine or traumatic events.

Regardless of how it starts, you’re probably reading this to help your best friend feel happier and less nervous.

Read on to learn more about separation anxiety and helping your dog cope.

What is Separation Anxiety?

Dogs are naturally very social creatures, and they like being around their friends and family. However, sometimes this preference for being around others can manifest in separation anxiety. Just as the name describes, separation anxiety is the nervousness about being left alone.

Dogs with separation anxiety get anxious about not being around their favorite person or people, such as when they go to work, school, or even the grocery store. Not only is this stressful for the dog, but it can also be difficult for their loved ones.

You may feel guilty leaving the house when you know Sparky’s going to cry at the front door until you get back, or worry about finding another destroyed sneaker à la Buddy when you return home. Of course, separation anxiety causes the most distress for the dog in question, but it can also cause dog owners to feel guilty or upset about leaving their dogs at home to run errands.


Sure, your dog might be a little blue because they’re left at home, but that’s pretty normal and not separation anxiety.

The symptoms of separation anxiety are self-destructive behavior. A dog with separation anxiety will take their nerves out on their surroundings. They may urinate or defecate on the floor (despite being housebroken), refuse to eat or drink, or howl, whine, bark, and pant excessively.

Dog with chewed shoe

Anxious dogs will also chew or even destroy things they know they’re not supposed to, like children’s toys and shoes.

A dog with separation anxiety may also try to escape the house, such as attempting to break through a screened window.

They could accidentally hurt themselves while escaping and cause you a lot of grief and stress if they do happen to get lost.

What Causes Separation Anxiety in Dogs?

You’re not a bad dog owner because your dog has separation anxiety. It doesn’t mean you don’t love or care for your dog, it just means your dog developed a fear. Separation anxiety can be triggered by a variety of events, or even just regular life.

If your dog was abandoned at a shelter before joining your family, he or she might be traumatized and anxious about being left alone. Alternatively, you may have had to bring your dog to a boarding kennel or overnight daycare when you went away for a week, making your dog fearful of being left alone.

Even if the boarding kennel/daycare was safe, clean, and continuously supervised by good people, your dog might have been left rather anxious by the experience. Separation anxiety can also be triggered by the death of a family member, either human or animal. Dogs, like us, experience loss, and this pain can manifest itself in anxiety.

Separation anxiety can be caused by a change of routine too. Dogs like routine and a sudden disruption in that can cause them stress. Your dog could become anxious when left alone for the first time, as they were used to a constant human presence.

Regardless of how it started, separation anxiety isn’t something your dog enjoys, and they will need help in working through it.

Dealing with Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Lots of dogs struggle with separation anxiety. The good thing is, there are lots of things you can do to help lower their stress levels. Training your dog to handle being left alone is a good place to start. Leaving the house for 5 minutes and then returning (and rewarding) your dog will teach them that it’s okay to be alone sometimes.

Slowly, you can work them up from being left alone for a few minutes to more extended periods. Conditioning your dog in this way gives being left home alone a “positive vibe,” or at least tolerable.

As said previously, dogs are social, pack-based animals. Since they care about their family and friends, dogs are hyperaware of the behavior of others. This means you should try your best to not make a big deal about leaving the house. The same applies to returning home.

One of the best parts about having a dog is the love they show when we get home after a long day. An overly anxious dog, however, might be a little too exuberant. Show your pooch some love after their initial nervous excitement calms down a bit. You want to make leaving and returning home a regular, everyday occurrence, not something that causes extreme emotions and stress in your dog.

You may want to contact a professional dog trainer or your veterinarian in more severe cases of separation anxiety. These folks can give you tips and tricks in helping your dog face their fears.

Dealing with Separation Anxiety in Puppies

Puppies are more prone to separation anxiety than adult dogs. They aren’t usually left alone for long periods, and not just because they have tiny bladders.

It’s common for families to buy or adopt a puppy during a time in which there will be someone home all day, such as summer vacation for school-aged kids. When the vacation period ends, and suddenly everyone goes back to school or work, a young pup can become quite anxious about being left alone.

The good thing about puppies is that they are usually eager and ready to learn. Like any new habit or routine, your puppy has to get used to being alone. The training suggestions in the section above this one can help dogs of all ages, including puppies.

To Crate or Not to Crate?

Crate training is also a way for people to help their anxious dogs and puppies feel better about being left alone. You may have heard some controversy about crate training, but if done correctly, a crate can help your dog feel more secure and safe when alone.

However, a crate isn’t a substitute for training your pup to be home alone. A crate can be useful for dogs that get a tad too destructive when unsupervised, or if you’re concerned about them hurting themselves while you’re out.

Your dog is a living being, and being in a crate for 8-9 hours a day isn’t living. Crates are good for transportation and being home alone for shorter periods, not an entire workday.

Other Issues

Some of the behaviors often associated with separation anxiety might not be separation anxiety at all. An example of this is peeing on the floor. If your dog pees when left home alone, it might not be from anxiety. Ensure that your dog gets a chance to go potty before you leave home, and (especially for puppies) don’t leave them home alone for longer than their bladder can handle.

Another issue often related to separation anxiety is destructiveness. Some of this destructiveness might be related to frustration and boredom, and puppies are prone to chewing anything and everything.

Make sure your dog gets enough exercise. Running, playing, and walking are all great ways for your dog to release pent-up energy, stimulate their brains, and bond with you.

Encouraging your dog to chew appropriate toys instead of your cushions can help too. Basically, make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise and have some safe chews to keep their teeth busy when you’re not home.

Separation anxiety is rather common in dogs, but not everything they do when you’re out is necessarily related to stress. Ruling out behaviors can help you figure out what your dog truly needs to feel better about being alone at home.


Separation anxiety is the fear and nervousness about being left alone. Dogs of all ages can develop separation anxiety. It can be triggered by traumatic events, a change in routine, the death of a household member, or even being left alone for the first time. Clearly, separation anxiety is no joke, and it puts a lot of stress on your dog and guilt on you.

Your dog faces his or her fears. Slowly getting your dog or puppy used to being alone through training can help. Not making the process of leaving and returning home a big deal can help too. Crate training can help some dogs feel more comfortable about being home alone, but they’re better suited for shorter periods and not entire workdays.

Overall, we hope our advice will help you make your dog feel more comfortable and secure when they’re at home by themselves.