How To Tell if Your Dog Has Separation Anxiety

A Day in the Life of a Dog


a globe with pictures of a shepherd as a puppy, playing in the snow, and all grown up and lying down in the lobby

Separation anxiety may be mild with symptoms such as whining, frantic pacing, or other anxious behavior. Or symptoms may be severe, such as tearing up carpet, panic attacks, even self-mutilation.

PTSD is a more severe form of anxiety. With Lexi, PTSD manifested itself with extreme behavior such as removing the carpet and self-mutilating behavior. It also occurred after a specific event: an earthquake when she happened to be home alone. Lexi also reacted to the after-shocks of the earthquake, compounding the problem and making her symptoms last longer. With PTSD, there was no speculation needed – she was having severe anxiety problems.

But what if your pup is simply acting needy?  What if there hasn’t been an earthquake or a bad thunderstorm but your pup seems worried when you leave? How can you really tell how your dog is feeling after you leave?

The first time I contacted a veterinarian behaviorist, I was told to record Lexi while I was gone. I don’t own a professional video camera, but the small Panasonic camera I do own has the ability to record video. Most digital cameras sold over the last few years do. So I placed a memory card that would record for at least an hour in the camera and left the camera in the room. I live in a studio apartment, so it was easy to keep track of Lexi. If you have a larger place, you may wish to contain your pup in one room.  Or you can place the camera facing the door, since this is where a dog with separation anxiety is likely to be.

Recording your pup for an hour or so after you leave will give you a pretty clear idea if you have a case of separation anxiety on your hands. This will also provide you with a clear idea of how bad the condition is. Or you can invest in a doggie cam (yes, they sell them on Amazon). If you have any questions about whether your pup needs help dealing with his or her behavior, be sure and take your video to the vet so the correct treatment can be given. With mild cases, desensitization and counter-conditioning training may be all you need.

Remember to leave quietly and come home quietly. If you overreact and make a big deal about coming and going, so will your dog.

A nice long walk with your dog before leaving is always helpful. I live in an apartment, but even if I lived in a house with a yard, a nice long walk is always recommended. Exercise won’t cure your dog of separation anxiety, but exercise for both humans and dogs provides a calming feeling.  Also, leave your pup with something tasty that will last. My vet recommends placing a teaspoon or so of unsweetened peanut butter in a Kong and freezing it overnight.

Lexi and I hope your New Year is going well and everyone (human and dog) is living a peaceful life.

In future blogs, Lexi and I will be exploring specific techniques to handle major cases of separation anxiety and PTSD.

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