So how do you know whether your dog actually has a separation issue? After all, many dogs seem hyper-attached to their owners, and when left alone, destroy things. But where one dog may be sad as his owners leave, another appears to be thinking, Whoohoo! They’re finally gone! Par-tee! While the results of a Poochapalooza can look a lot like the aftermath of a bout of anxiety, one should not be mistaken for the other. Destruction, inappropriate elimination, and incessant vocalizing are some of the most common signs of a separation issue, but they must be assessed in context with the rest of the dog’s behavior.
Many times the aforementioned activities are attributable to a lack of training, or are manifestations of boredom due to a shortage of mental and/or physical stimulation. If your dog is left alone with a reservoir of unspent energy and no “legal” ways to vent it, any resulting barking or destruction should not be viewed as certain proof of a separation issue.
In some cases, destructive efforts will be focused on exit points such as doors and windows, or on items belonging to owners. For example, you come home to find that your dog has chewed up a paperback book you were reading or a hand towel (items which retain your scent). Or your dog claws or chews at the door where you exited or the window that offers a view of your car pulling away. Those behaviors are more likely to be related to a separation issue than would an act such as chewing up a picture frame (unless it holds a photo of you and your dog cuddling, in which case you have an extremely clever and melancholy dog). Still, even scent-related or escape-focused actions are not conclusive evidence of a separation issue and must be assessed in context.
One identifying factor in the diagnosis of a true separation issue is that stress-related behaviors occur each and every time the dog is left alone.
For additional help on recognizing and solving separation anxiety issues, purchase Don’t Leave Me! by Nicole Wilde from Whole Dog Journal.