Separation Anxiety, Chewing Problem or Something Else?

Separation Anxiety, Chewing Problem or Something Else?

Call Today!
Sam Basso
PHOENIX , AZ AREA: (602) 708-4531
OR, if you are out of this area, inquire about a telephone or e-Lesson
Email: [email protected]

What we typically call “Separation Anxiety” breaks out into three individual, and sometimes combined, components which have to be diagnosed. The first component might involve separation from the person with whom the dog is emotionally attached. That portion is emotionally painful and is associated with panic. The second component might involve fear. That portion can be related to feelings of being trapped and wanting to escape. And the third portion is learned and might involve behaviors that have been rewarded in the past, such as attention seeking.

When dogs experience a prolonged and consistent pattern of anxiety when left alone, it is a good bet they are suffering from Separation Anxiety. The dog’s motive is to reunite with the owner. Frustrations can result in destructiveness, and distress can result in medical problems. It is a very serious disorder, gets worse the longer it goes on, and requires treatment from a qualified dog behaviorist. However, dogs, especially puppies, are prone to be afraid of being left alone, appetitive behaviors will be suppressed, and it will try to escape such an uncontrollable aversive situation. Does the animal then “see” the home as some kind of haunted house, spooked by ghostly strange sounds and disembodied sounds from outside, darkness or moving shadows and lights, and empty hallways? Lastly, when dogs learn to get attention by being destructive, or learn to get into your things without redirection, even if you punish them, they tend to keep getting into trouble. That motive is your interaction and a desire to explore and play.

Not all destructiveness is Separation Anxiety. Every dog can sometimes be unpredictable. A dog might take your shoes out of the closet and tear them up, pull your glasses off the coffee table, or tear up a room. I know of a dog that caused thousands of dollars of damage, but it wasn’t because of separation anxiety: it was the opportunity to play with something novel, and the novelty was a stack of $100 bills. If the destructiveness it is a one-time incident, it can’t be automatically diagnosed as Separation Anxiety. The difference is that to determine that it is Separation Anxiety, there must be a prolonged and consistent pattern of the signs, damage and/or behaviors that indicate anxiety when left alone. Sometimes objects can be associated with the comfort of being with an owner substitute.


I am writing this evening out of sheer desperation. My wife and I are the proud parents of a 7-month-old Boxer whose call name is Chester. He is a purebred, AKC (American Kennel Club) papered dog. Chester is not quite 60 lbs. and has an absolutely wonderful disposition and personality. While we are at home with him, he is the picture of companionship – he’s playful, energetic, and always right on your heels. Unfortunately, when we are not home it is a different situation – most days. Lately we’ve come home to an inordinate amount of damage to our brand-new home. Since April first (our move in date) Chester has chewed most of the woodwork in the house (the spindles in the staircase are his favorite, although he isn’t beyond chewing on molding and door frames), he’s torn the lining out of our new couch, ripped up one couch cushion and chewed the corners off the new coffee table. Bitter Apple and Tabasco are simply condiments to him and in the last 24 hours he’s ripped the lining out of the love seat (he took the cushions off first and then pulled the whole unit out from the wall about three feet), tore open the above-mentioned couch cushion and ripped the power lines out of our air conditioning condenser outside. I will leave out the various shoes and other ancillary damages.

This hasn’t become a daily occurrence until the last few days. He has many chew toys, plenty of food and water and his big cushy bed at his disposal at all times. He has access to the back yard (1000 square feet) 24 hours a day via his pet door and is free to come and go as he pleases. Chester has not yet been to obedience, although it is definitely in the works. However, he is quite willing and able to follow commands and has the basics down pat. He can sit, stay, and lay down either by voice command or hand signal. He is good on the lead and gets a minimum of 45 minutes walk time per day. Lately we’ve switched to a half hour walk in the morning and then another half hour to forty-five minutes in the evening after it cools off. His walks are always at his pace, and he often romps in a field by our home on a thirty-foot retractable lead.

We just simply don’t know what to do about his chewing, none of which occurs while we are at home. This leads me to believe he is suffering from Separation Anxiety. He is home alone from 8 to 10 hours per day during the week. I’d give anything to lessen that time, but it simply isn’t possible at this point. I’ve spoken to our neighbors (both of whom have stay at home mothers in the family). Neither set of neighbors has ever heard him bark or cry and both have stated that Chester is always friendly and happy to visit through the fence during the day but is not desperate for contact and will simply go about his business after a short visit.

We have considered doggy day care but would be financially challenged with it before too long. Do you have any suggestions about what we can do? We are obviously concerned with the condition of our house but are as equally concerned with Chester’s well-being.

While we are loathe to think of the possibility of putting him up for adoption to a Boxer-experienced family who may be better suited to care for him, we cannot ignore what is best for him. We are willing to go to the ends of the Earth for our little one and are willing to whatever we can to have him with us – provided it is an equally suitable relationship for him. Any information or ideas would be greatly appreciated.

With warmest regards, ”


This is a compound case of Separation Anxiety, Fearfulness, but probably not Attention Seeking.

There are some very important things to note with this situation.

1.) The dog has had some obedience training, but that hasn’t solved the problem. Teaching the dog to Sit/ Down/ etc. won’t make the dog less distressed or fearful about being left alone. It is also inappropriate and abusive to correct such a dog for the destructiveness; this situation requires behavioral modification, not obedience training.

2.) The destructiveness is starting to get bad at 7 months of age. This dog is too young to be left alone like this for so many hours. You have a very social, immature puppy that is being whipsawed between love when you are home, and long hours abandonment while you are at work, again and again, and your puppy can’t figure that out.

3.) The dog has plenty of chew toys but is not using them. Dogs won’t play with toys when they are panicked or fearful. Your dog is showing signs of feeling trapped and anxious.

4.) The owners refer to the dog as our little one. There is a weaning process that you must do with young puppies, and that wasn’t done.

5.) The dog is always right on your heels. That is the normal reaction to dogs that have felt abandoned. These types of dogs feel very insecure unless they are right by your side.

6.) The dog gets lots of exercise. Exercise won’t overcome an anxiety or phobia.

7.) Bitter Apple and Tabasco don’t prevent the chewing. The dog is worried, so much so that they don’t care if they hurt themselves.

8.) Chewing on molding and door frames. Fearfulness signs like this show the dog is trying to escape. Animals understand exit points of a trap.

9.) The destructiveness only happens when the owners are away from home, which means the destructiveness isn’t attention seeking.

Other typical symptoms that can be observed in these circumstances:

1.) House training problems in the adult dog, especially diarrhea

2.) Excessive salivation only when the dog is alone.

3.) Destructive chewing near or around doors, including flooring and walls.

4.) Hyperactivity when alone.

5.) Distress vocalizations such as barking or whining.

6.) Won’t eat when alone.

7.) Other worried/ fearful/ anxious attitudes and behaviors

8.) Self-mutilation or injury.

9.) Desperate fearful escape attempts: sometimes breaking through windows to escape the enclosure, but oftentimes not running away.

10.) Vomiting.

11.) Overly excited, almost frantic greetings.

I have seen other symptoms manifest themselves with Separation Anxiety, such as:

1.) Biting

2.) Hyper-territoriality

3.) Hiding

4.) Generalized Anxiety

5.) Skin conditions that come across as allergies.

I have worked with many dogs that were suffering from Separation Anxiety. Sometimes it is hard to diagnose, so it is helpful to schedule an evaluation. You cannot fix this problem by correcting the dog for the destructiveness. Usually adding a second dog doesn’t help, but sometimes can. You DEFINITELY can’t fix this problem by sending the dog to a board and train facility. This isn’t an issue of disobedience. In fact, corrections will make the problem worse. If you think your dog is suffering from Separation Anxiety, you will need to work with a behaviorist. I have found that most dogs can overcome Separation Anxiety, however, there will be a few that never overcome it. These dog owners needed a comprehensive solution, and just giving the dog a pill from the veterinarian wasn’t enough.

Sam Basso is a professional dog trainer and behaviorist, in the Phoenix/ Scottsdale metropolitan area. He’s known for being fun, kind, intelligent, and humane. Sam Basso has a unique personal touch. He has appeared on his own TV show, been a guest radio expert, gives seminars, publishes a dog related blog, does rescue volunteering, and is active in promoting animal welfare and fair dog laws.

#dogtraining #dogtrainer #phoenixdogtraining #scottsdaledogtraining #dogbehaviorist #dogwhisperer #dogaggression #puppy #housetraining

Intro Video