Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Separation Anxiety or Not? Quick Case Studies


People are frequently worried that their dog or puppy has separation anxiety. Happily, few do. Here are a few of the cases I’ve worked with. Some are SA, some aren’t (read Recognizing What is Not Separation Anxiety first). Now you’re prepared so read away. What do you think?

A ten-year-old terrier mix climbs up on her owner’s kitchen table every day to grab and then destroy mail the owner leaves there. SA or not SA?


My guess is that this little dog is having a blast tearing up the mail and that she considers it a delightful version of “environmental enrichment.” She is not stressed when doing this, quite the opposite – she is fulfilling her native drive to hunt for and then destroy things. This is opportunity, not Separation Anxiety.

Note: The human is showing signs of hardcore denial though. If your dog eats your mail every time you leave for a decade, don’t you think it might be a good idea to put the mail in a drawer or on a high shelf?

A newly adopted adult Yorkshire Terrier mix barks and races in circles any time someone attempts to leave the apartment but sleeps quietly when left alone. SA or not SA?


This is a mislabeled behavior. We know this is not SA because the dog is relaxed and calm when he is left. Dogs with SA get upset every time they are left alone. They cannot help themselves. (Exception: dogs who can handle a short separation but not a longer one. They get upset every time the time apart reaches their personal limit.)

What this little dog is experiencing is confusion about what to do when people are leaving. Moments of entry and exit from a dog’s territory are often stressful. In this case, the dog just runs in circles barking. He needs help making another choice and will probably calm down quickly once he knows what is wanted.

My six-month-old Labrador Retriever chews up my house when I am gone. He does this each and every time I leave the house! SA or not SA?

Probably not.

It might be, but my guess is no, given the age and the breed. Labrador Retrievers are born to chew and often persist in chewing all sorts of things until two-years-old and beyond.

Add to that the six-months-old, when all pups are teething heavily. When teething, pups can become piranha-like in their attempts to relieve the pressure and pain in their mouths.

Combine these two factors and it’s a miracle the house is still standing. Crating is not just for housebreaking, it is also for keeping your dog safe as he matures. This owner is lucky that this chewing has not put her puppy in surgery – or worse. So before you label this puppy a problem, let’s just label it as Breed Normal Behavior plus Developmentally Normal Behavior plus Opportunity. A triple-threat!

My eight- year-old Dalmatian has been just fine until recently. After the holidays, she started tearing things up and now it is every time and more each time. Has she lost her mind? SA or not SA?


She’s having an unfortunately common Separation Anxiety reaction to a major change in schedule. After you have been home with her over the holidays, she’s reacting to being alone again. The good news is that since she’s had no problems for so long, we can hope for a fast recovery once you set her up for success a bit.

My nine-week-old puppy cries whenever we are out of sight. Is this Separation Anxiety? SA or not SA?


This is Developmentally Normal behavior – just as a human toddler who holds his father’s hand tightly on a crowded street doesn’t have “agoraphobia”. It is normal for some toddlers to want to stick close to their parents just as it is normal for a young puppy to cry when you are out of sight.

Bosco, my Jack Russell Terrier, stands on the back of the couch and barks at anything and everything outside the front window – all day long. Help! SA or not SA?


Here Breed Normal meets Opportunity head on. Jack Russell Terriers generally love to bark and my guess is Bosco is amusing himself mightily. He isn’t the least bit “anxious”. Resolving this one may be as simple as blocking Bosco out of that room and therefore away from the couch. If he still persists at a different window, crate him when you are out.

My Beagle bays (a howling sort of bark) all day long when we are at work… SA or not SA?

Probably not.

Chances are good he’s having a lovely time barking, it is Breed Normal for Beagles. Maybe not wanted or desired, but 100% normal. Barking is a selected trait in Beagles, meaning all good Beagles like to bark as have all good Beagles before them. If you happen to have a Beagle who is not a barker – enjoy it. It’s not the norm. Now Beagles can certainly be taught not to bark all day long, but one who does may well be completely content doing so.

My beloved thirteen–year-old Lhasa Apso suddenly has separation problems. He seems okay on the weekends, but during the week we come home to a mess and he’s so clingy and anxious. SA or not SA?

Probably not.

Likely just a part of his decline. Old dogs can need to go out more often. If he starts to feel he can’t hold it any longer; that alone can upset some dogs who have been tidy their entire lives. The clue here is that he’s fine on the weekends. My guess is that at that time there are fewer and shorter periods alone and he can still handle that just fine, but during the work week? His bladder just ain’t what it used to be. This would be “Developmentally Normal” behavior and not Separation Anxiety, but it’s time for a full check up with his veterinarian and possibly a mid-day walker.

My dog has horrible separation problems. She barks for ten or fifteen minutes every time I leave her! SA or not SA?

Not really.

Yes, she barks every time but the fact that she can quiet herself after only ten or fifteen minutes is excellent! There is more we can do to make her comfortable, but a dog who can do this is a dog I have high-hopes for quick improvement.

My beloved five year old German Shepherd Dog female has always been a skinny little thing and pretty calm. Recently she’s put on a lot of weight, which makes no sense because I haven’t changed her diet. She’s so anxious all the time, especially when we leave and she’s started being aggressive toward another dog in my house. SA or not SA?

Probably not.

This sounds medical, so your first stop: your veterinarian. Anytime an adult dog has a sudden change in weight or behavior – talk to the vet! Ask for a full thyroid panel to be sent out. This dog has some signs of what might be hypothyroidism. Dealing with that first (if it is present) will make managing these other behavior changes quicker and easier.

We hope you found this article useful. If you’d like more information on how to resolve any issue you’re having with your dog, ask below in the commands—I’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.



  1. I have just taken on a 2 year old cockerpoo bitch that has been puppy farmed and had a litter of puppies she has settled down with me and the wife but barks franticly when anyone comes to the house and is terrified of other people in the street if we try to leave her alone she wets in the house will she ever get over these issues thanks

    • Congrats on adopting a dog in such need. Can she improve? Yes. With your help. As far as she knew, the world was a cage. This new world? Terrifying! So start gentle training with her so you can communicate with her and crate her when you leave. She’ll feel more secure in a crate and will be less likely to wet. Over time, maybe a year or more, as she becomes more secure, she’ll be ready to be left free but not yet. Those mistakes are proof of stress and fear. Help her out by confining her. Good luck! Sarah

  2. I have an 11 week old French bulldog puppy. I started crating her on day one (13 days ago) and she is happy to be in there at night. I have the kitchen gated so she has a safe place to play. She barks and throws herself at the gate when I leave the room as well as defecates when left even if she has just done so outside. She also does the same in her crate any time except night time. I don’t know how to proceed because I don’t want her to make a habit of going in her crate, or my kitchen, but I need to be able to leave her. I got her over the holidays and spent every minute with her and now I’ve created a monster. Help!

  3. Very informative read. Thanks.

  4. I have a 12 year old Norfolk Terrier. Last year, we lost our 13 year old Norfolk Terrier and our 10 year old German Shepherd so this is her first experience as an only dog. She started having accidents in the house and it was recommended we confine her when we’re away. She hates being in her small crate so we have a large one for her with a rug she can lie on. She frequently pees inside the crate when we’re away. When we check on her, she is sometime barking but not always, and she cries with happiness when we come home. We take her out a LOT so she doesn’t really need to go out when we’re gone. We’ve had her checked out and there’s no physical problem. We aren’t ready to add another dog at this time. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Ann – The best place to start is with daily structure. She clearly leaned on the other dogs and now she has to be able to lean on you in the same way. Being predictable and directive will help her feel secure and safe. I’d start with the exercises in My Smart Puppy because they speak dog to the dog. Also, I’d up her exercise. At least one good long walk a day: at least 20-30 minutes. Good luck!

  5. I have a 125 lb. pitbull, not sure of his age..maybe 5 yrs old. I got him from a friend, who got him from the pound. The main problem I have, is he has totally destroyed 9 couches/ loveseat, countless sheets/ comforters. He also did this with the previous owner. I’m usually gone everyday for about 8-10 he’s, but i recently had surgery & have been home for 6 weeks…he still tore up the couch. I’ve tried calming pills, calming collars, lavender plugs ins, leaving the tv on…he has access to the backyard 24/7. I also have another dog for company. Crating is not an option. He’s also very skittish..i can’t raise my voice without him tucking tail and running out the back door. I’m at a loss here….

    • Hi, Terri – Sorry to read all this. Your dog enjoys ripping things up. NOTHING you say or do after the fact will stop him; he just waits for you to leave then has his fun. He will not stop unless he is prevented from doing so. Not sure why crating is off the table but some sort of confinement will be needed. This is not separation anxiety; this is glee.

  6. We adopted a 7-month, 45-pound hound mix at the beginning of the month. Whenever my husband or I leave now, he lets out a bark, cries a little, and paces. I tried ignoring the behavior, but it just got worse, so we’re trying to give him bully sticks when a person leaves (positive association between leaving) and distracting him before he starts panicking (like with a walk). We’ve also stopped both leaving because of the barking when we’re both gone – we have flexible work schedules, but I would like our freedom back at some point! Since we’re in an apartment, we can’t have him barking for long extended periods. (We were crate training, but he was panicking whenever he was left alone that it was becoming counterproductive.) In the house, he’ll follow us around and sits outside the bathrooms if we’re in there (though we’re working on sit and stay when we can catch it). He also was crying at the vet when he was left alone, but happily walked off with the vet tech. We can’t figure out if it’s that he’s afraid of being alone, still adjusting to being in a new home, or if it’s a developmental puppy period. We’re just a little lost on this and what the issue is. Any insight would be super helpful!

  7. >Bosco, my Jack Russell Terrier, stands on the back of the couch and barks at anything and everything outside the front window

    Haha! I\’d be more worried if Bosco DIDN\’T stand at the window and bark at everything. That\’s Jack Russells for you 🙂

  8. I just recently commented on an issue on keeping my dog with me or not but I found this information interesting. As I got my dog when was 6 months he was left in cage all day. So now every time I need to put him in there he goes stiff and will not move and sometimes I have to carry him. Other times I use his leash to gide him but he’s tried bitting me while doing it before. If I leave him out though he tears my house up.

    • Hi Justina – then in he goes without fuss or drama. Start feeding him near his open crate. When that goes well, put his bowl JUST inside the open door. When that goes well, put the bowl a bit farther back in the crate. Etc. Take your time but, eventually, feed him in his open crate. Also, since he is clean in his crate, get as large a crate as you can get to give him plenty of room. Try Craig’s List.

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