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Decoding 'Separation Anxiety' in Dogs: Understanding What It Really Means

Updated: Jan 11

As someone who has been conducting intake calls for a well known company that focuses specifically on separated behaviors for three years, I've had the opportunity to speak with well over a thousand people seeking help for their dogs struggling with what's often labeled as 'separation anxiety'.

Throughout these conversations, I’ve encountered a myriad of scenarios: what dog owners have been told is happening, the advice they’ve been given, and the reality of their dogs' behaviors. It’s been an eye-opening experience to see how well-meaning advice can sometimes be unhelpful, misleading, or even escalate the problem. This blog is for anyone who’s had the label "separation anxiety" applied to their dog. Here, we'll unravel what this label really entails and explore how to approach it with more clarity and understanding.


The term "separation anxiety" is frequently used in the dog world, but it's a label that carries different meanings for different people. When someone says your dog has separation anxiety, it's crucial to ask: what exactly do they mean? Understanding the nuances of this term can help you address your dog's needs more effectively.


The Varied Interpretations of "Separation Anxiety:


Confinement Anxiety: This occurs when a dog panics upon being confined in a crate or a space like a bathroom or laundry room. The anxiety stems from the confinement itself, not necessarily from being separated from the owner.


Velcro: Some dogs exhibit anxiety when they're physically separated from their owners by a door or barrier. Often labeled as "velcro" or "FOMO" dogs, their behavior is driven by frustration over not being able to close the distance and be with their owner.


Isolation Distress: This describes dogs who show signs of panic when left completely alone, regardless of the environment. It's their solitude, not just separation from a specific person, that causes the distress. This is what most people commonly refer to when they use the term "separation anxiety."


Clinical Separation Anxiety: In this case, dogs experience panic when separated from a specific attachment figure.


The Complexity of Comorbid Conditions: It's important to note that while these behaviors can be distinct from each other, it's just as likely they will be comorbid, meaning you might see them occurring together in the same dog. Recognizing the potential for these behaviors to overlap is crucial in understanding and addressing your dog's specific needs.






Labels like 'separation anxiety' can sometimes oversimplify a dog's behavior, failing to consider the individual dog and the nuances of their situation. While labels can provide a starting point for understanding, they can also lead to standardized approaches that may not suit every dog. It’s important to look beyond labels to truly understand what’s driving your dog’s behavior.


Each type of anxiety would require a slightly different approach. For instance, confinement anxiety might be addressed by gradually acclimating the dog to the confined space, while barrier frustration could involve training that focuses on reducing the dog's distress when they can't access their owner. Understanding the specific type of anxiety your dog is experiencing is key to developing the most effective intervention strategy.


Next time someone mentions that your dog has separation anxiety, delve deeper into what they really mean. By understanding the specific type of anxiety your dog is experiencing, you can take a more tailored and effective approach to help them feel more secure and comfortable, whether they’re with you or alone. Reach out to Woof Wisdom dog training and behavior consultations if you have questions about your dogs separation anxiety. I've help many teams through this heartbreaking situation.


Have you encountered the term 'separation anxiety' in relation to your dog? How did you explore and address the specific needs behind this label? Share your stories and insights in the comments below.

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