What is Separation Anxiety / Isolation Distress?

Have you ever known anyone who experiences panic attacks? They will likely tell you that they feel they have no control over themselves when they are triggered. Dogs with separation anxiety experience symptoms of panic when they are separated from their primary attachment figure or are completely isolated.

It is a clinical panic disorder.

No joke! Separation Anxiety, as it is typically called in a clinic setting, is often diagnosed by Veterinarians and Trainers, however, more often than not, we see dog guardians self-diagnosing and self-treating.Separation Anxiety is the term that we use loosely, but defined more accurately, it is a condition that manifests in dogs who are separated from their primary attachment figure(s), even if someone else is with them.Isolation Distress is the term that we use to describe dogs who are anxious when left completely alone. They don’t exhibit signs of stress/anxiety if there is someone (friend, family, pet sitter, any warm body) with them.We may swing back and forth between these terms and terms like “abandonment issues” or “home alone issues” through the course of this program.What does it look like?

  • Hyper-vigilance

  • Shadowing

  • Lip-licking

  • Yawning

  • Lowered head

  • Trembling / shaking

  • Lifted paw

  • Lowered ears

  • Walking slowly or freezing

  • Panting

  • Increased heart rate

  • Anorexia (food avoidance)

  • Scratching at exit points

  • Vocalisations (whine/bark/howl)

  • Destruction

  • Repetitive behaviours

  • Increased grooming

  • Urination / defecation

  • Self-harm

  • Escaping (or attempts)

A fantastic website to learn all about dog body language is http://www.ispeakdog.org/ created by our friend, colleague, and former client, Tracy Krulik. In fact, I was Tracy’s CSAT for her dog, Emma, before Tracy herself became a Trainer too!