Does my Labrador have Separation Anxiety?

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Separation Anxiety is a label that is often applied to Labradors that get upset when their owners go out.

Some Labradors are definitely scared of being left alone. And as a result of this fear, the dog may become extremely distressed when their owner departs the house.

This distress may be manifested by destructive behaviour,  soiling, and noise.

A lot of noise.

Other labs get very bored when the owner is absent, and amuse themselves by chewing the furniture and barking themselves silly.

Clearly these are two different types of dog, yet the results are often the same. A damaged home, stressed owners and rather irritated neighbours too!  The following scenario is not uncommon.

What a mess

The owner returns from some time out to discover an angry neighbour in their driveway, threatening to call the environmental health department over the continuous barking they have been subjected too.

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On entering the house with their ears still ringing, the first thing to greet the owner  may be the smell of a dog that has messed on the floor.

And the apparent aftermath of a tornado that has passed through the house.

Cushions ripped up,  chair legs destroyed,  plaster ripped off the walls, these are all possibilities.

Suddenly owning a Labrador does not seem like quite such a good idea.

Separation anxiety in Labradors

Genuine separation anxiety causes great distress, and the labrador will often begin showing signs of that distress in advance of the owner departing.

Brown labrador lying in roomJust fetching your coat or car keys might be enough to start this dog panting and drooling.   Leaving toys or food to amuse the dog is unlikely to be effective on its own,  as he may well be too upset to eat or play.

This  kind of fear is more common in labradors that have been rehomed from rescue centres.  For two reasons.  Firstly the dog has no reason to trust you, or to believe that you will come back,  after all his previous family abandoned him, didn’t they?    And secondly,  dogs that end up in rescue centres may be there because they have problems of this nature which make them difficult to manage.

Getting Help

Separation anxiety can be treated,  essentially by rebuilding the dog’s confidence that every departure is not a final goodbye.

But this process takes time and you will really benefit from some help.

A professional behaviourist will save you a lot of heartache and support you through a programme of gradually desensitising your dog to being left alone.   Starting with tiny short periods of time,  and building up slowly to longer absences.

Not all behaviourists are equal.  Your veterinary surgeon should be able to refer you to a good one.

Bored and Naughty Labradors!

The dog that gets up to mischief when you are gone,  will not show signs of distress as you are leaving.  He may be quite happy for some time after you have left.  But eventually he will get bored and look for some entertainment.

The answer is to change the way the dog is managed.

A good walk before you leave will encourage him to sleep whilst you are gone, as well as reducing the chance of ‘soiling’.

Crating your labrador whilst you are gone will protect your furniture and fittings from his attentions,  and leaving him kongs full of frozen food to gnaw on will help to keep him occupied.

Remember that lots of puppies will chew excessively, but grow out of this behaviour as they get older.

Managing Your Time

The truth is that we all lead busy lives,  and some dogs are left alone far too much.

Dogs really should not be left alone for long periods of time,  especially in their early years when bad habits can easily be formed.   Even if the dog’s bladder can cope,  the potential for mischief and upset is great.

If you have to leave any dog for more than three hours at a time, do  ask a friend or neighbour to pop in and let him out in the garden to stretch his legs and provide him with a few minutes of company.    If no-one suitable is available you can pay a local dog walker to take him out for an hour each day.

Summary

Separation anxiety is a tough condition for you and your Labrador to live with. If you are worried that your dog is becoming distressed when you leave him alone then your best bet is to consult with an experienced behaviourist.

It will take time, but with help, support and committment you will both be able to get through the situation and move on to a happier life. Both together and on the occasions when you have to be apart.

More information

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Check out our Labrador Behaviour section for more help and advice on living happily with your Labrador

If you’d like all this information together in one place, don’t miss my new book, due to be released in September 2015

The Labrador Handbook looks at all aspects of your Labradors life, through daily care and training at each stage of their life.

Click hereto pre-order now from Amazon UK, with Amazon’s pre-order price guarantee

 

Does your Labrador suffer from separation anxiety? Why not let other readers know what you do to help him in the comments box below:
This article was first published in November 2011, and has been revised and updated for 2015.

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Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of several books on dogs. She is the founder of the Labrador Site and a regular contributor. She is passionate about helping people enjoy their Labradors and lives in Hampshire with her husband and four dogs.

43 COMMENTS

  1. Great article – there is a 3rd possibility – it is the owner and not the dog that is anxious! Barney my rescue lab had seperation anxiety, unfortunately nothing the behaviourist suggested made any difference. We solved it using the Trust Technique which was a god send. James French the creator of the technique told me Barney was the first dog he’d met in quite a while with genuine anxiety. He’d met many bored dogs as you talk about but also quite a few owners so keyed up about leaving the dog they give the dog a reason to be anxious and a huge negative cycle is set up. Again this is more common with rescue dogs as the owners are also anxious about their new “unknown quantity”.

  2. Riley has started chewing the skirting boards in the kitchen again after months of not. I wondered what sort of food I could freeze in his kong to entertain him?

    I’m slightly wary of leaving him with rawhide or rope chews in case he chokes. Any other good ideas to keep him occupied?

    He’ll be one on Wednesday :-) so grown up!

    Barbara

    • Anything you can make ‘mushy’ enough to squeeze into the kong, and wet enough to freeze is fine. So minced up meat mixed with gravy, rice, left over mashed veg works. Also popular is soggy bread or kibble mixed with peanut butter, or marmite. Sometimes, if in a hurry, I just wipe marmite around the inside of the kong. That keeps them happy for a while :)

      Happy birthday to Riley for Wednesday!

    • Hi Isabell
      Barking at passers by is very ‘addictive’ to dogs.
      This is because the passer by ‘disappears’ when the dog barks. We know that this is because the person is just ‘passing by’ but the dog believes that it is his barking that makes the passer by go away.

      The dog becomes convinced that if he barks, the person approaching will disappear!

      And most of the time, he is right.

      The solution is to prevent the dog from being able to see the passer by. So, no access to windows, or draw the curtains.

  3. Hi Pippa, Lottie is almost 8 months old now and is excellent when I have to leave her during the day for an hour or so, I put her in her crate with a small treat and so far the neighbours have not heard her bark. Our problem was she suddenly started barking when we put her in her crate at night, she would go for an hour or more just barking and howling…our other dog sleeps upstairs so I think it possibly had to do with she wants to be with her family and instead she was downstairs, last night we didn’t bother with her crate at all, instead just let her sleep by the side of the bed and she was excellent. This was our intention for her not to be crated at night but I was just wondering if you had come across the sudden change at bedtime before, she had been good for the first 6 months, my husband is just concerned that she is now forming a major attachment and it could become an anxiety when I leave or am not around.

    Julieann & Lottie

    • Hi Julieann, it is not unusual for dogs to start nightwaking again after having learned to sleep through the night. There is an article about it here. Hope you find it helpful.

      Pippa

      • Hi Pippa, thank you for the article…our problem with Lottie was she was howling within 10 minutes of being put in her crate, loved the idea of ear plugs but we have a 5 year old with a serious health condition so blocking noise out wasn’t an option and as my regular sleep only amounts to about 6 hours every night, having Lottie sleep next to the bed was for us the best scenario. She has settled down really well and is excellent when I crate her to go out during the day, no problems at all. She is a gorgeous dark chocolate Lab who is the love of my life and probably knows it too ! She definately falls into the questionable intelligence debate as so far she managed to find a tube of super glue (who knew she could climb!!), which ended with a rather large vet bill closely followed 2 weeks later by a severe reaction to a bee sting on the tongue ! Could not imagine life without her x

  4. Hi Pippa
    We have a 5 month male chocolate lab. He is a lovely boy & has a calm personality. We took him to puppy classes & he is now gun dog training – lessons once a fortnight & we practice commands daily.
    Our problem lies with his night time antics. He wakes up in the kitchen at between 3-5 am – he whines loudly and barks. We have to go down as he does not stop, & he has always poo’ed & wee’d. After cleaning up the kitchen, he then settles for a short while. We have played with his feed & water times – to see if it helps – but not really. He does go during the day & before bed. We ignore the behaviour – we don’t get angry – but we don’t reward it either. We are both exhausted!!
    All of this happens when we leave him during the day too – he is distracted by a kong for a while – but he is always manic & the floor is wet on our return.
    PLEASE HELP!!

    • Hi Sally, check out this article on Night Waking. It might be a good idea to get him checked over at the vet too, just in case he has a bladder infection. You might also find it helpful to join the forum where you can get support from other labrador owners, and new puppy owners going through similar troubles.
      Pippa

  5. Hi just looking for some advice really, we have a (?) 10 1/2 year old black lab. Rescue dog and we have had her for about 6 years now…she genuinely has been the most perfect dog in every way (we have 2 small children who she is just adorable with) she is much loved by everyone. IN the last 3 weeks or so she has become increasingly unpredictable – barking a lot, she follows us around incessantly – even going upstairs where she hates going (as she associates it with a bath!) and for the last couple of nights has cried when we have gone to bed. she has become like an insecure child. Nothing at home has changed in any way and I am concerned as to where this behaviour will lead and also what could be causing it? Any suggestions woudl be gratefully received x

    • Hi Leanne, this sounds like a question for your vet. Hearing and visual problems can cause anxiety in dogs, and like people, dogs can also suffer from age related dementia. If nothing in her life has changed then I would suspect a physical/health problem and get her checked over asap. It may be something quite minor that can easily be resolved. Good luck. Pippa

      • Thanks so much pippa for your prompt reply, we took star to the vet this morning. He did a blood test to rule anything sinister out but basically said exactly what u have said. Star has advanced cataracts in both eyes so could be feeling a little vulnerable due to failing eyesight. We get the results tomorrow so fingers crossed x

  6. Hi I have a 16month Choc lab she’s a Fab girl but this last 2weeks she’s been coming down stairs in the night for a poo we have changed feeding times to more in the morning less at night she is free in the house. All ways has been just can’t understand why she’s doing this dlnt do any think like this when she was young please help yours maureen

    • Hi Maureen, is she in season? Some normally clean bitches will soil or wee in the house when on heat. Sometimes it can be triggered by some change in the dog’s life that is upsetting, sometimes by the dog being unwell (a trip to the vet should rule that out).

      When a young dog takes a step backwards in house training, the best solution is often to prevent them accessing the place that they soil (ie shut them out of that room) and temporarily make sure you let them outside very frequently (even getting up at night for a few nights to do this) , to re-establish good habits.

      Pippa

  7. Hi pippa thanks for the info but my pups been spade thinking some things up set her don’t now wot but your info was very useful thanks again xx maureen

  8. My stepson (8yr old lab) has sever seperation issues. He will follow me everywhere, and almost knock me over to get out the door when i pick my keys up. Most of the time im fine whit him going but sometimes I just cant take him. This just started about 4mon ago bc his stepbrother was hit by a car and he set thete with him until family members saw something was wrong. He licks his paw so much now im supprised there is not a blister! please help

  9. Hi I have a black labrador called ben he’s 7yrs old he absolutely hates being left alone when living at my mum’s where he grew up there was normally always someone in and when I moved into my own place which is just round the corner if me or my partner aren’t here he goes to my mums. After being in my own place for a while I decided to get another dog callled billy he’s a chocolate labrador and he’s 3yrs old now I thought that it would be some company for ben when we had to go out but now there is two dog’s trying to get past you to get out the door and bringing their leads when were getting ready it makes me feel so bad and you can hear them outside moaning when we get back which can be anything from 15mins to 3hrs they are panting like mad and the water bowl is empty :-( I tried the going out for a bit then coming back then going out longer the next time but he’s just the same. They don’t do any pooing or weeing and they don’t damage anything although when ben was younger he was always ripping things up when we left him, I just wanted to know if when I leave him is it really not nice for him and is it possible for one dog to get separation anxiety off of another? Thanks katie :-)

  10. My 3-year-old Chocolate Lab, Riley, is the sweetest dog and great with my 18month-old daughter but she has separation anxiety. She is always under my feet and I make sure to give her a lot of attention.. But, we just moved to a new house in a new city 2 weeks ago and we can’t leave the house without her because all she does is bark (which I can imagine is really annoying for the neighbors.) I have doggy zanex for her from the ve and it doesn’t seem to do anything.. My boyfriend is getting over having to find a “babsitter” for a dog every time we want to go do something.. I’ve tried medicine, trying to make her tired from runs or playing at the beach, toys when we leave- but nothing seems to work.. I am at a loss of what to do. #prisonerofmyownhome

  11. Hello! Thank you for this article and I enjoy your site as it’s helped me out trying to raise my pup. I have a 6-month old chocolate lab and he is perfectly fine and quiet when we leave the house at any time, happily goes into his crate when needed, so all is good there. However, it seems my pup has separation anxiety OUT of the house. Whenever my husband and I are with him walking him TOGETHER, and one of us walks away, he then howls and cries (almost like he’s being tortured, it’s awful!), pulls strongly at his leash to follow… (note when I or my husband walks with him alone, he’s fine). It only happens when my husband and I are together… any idea why and should we then see a behavior specialist or obedience school? Thanks so much!

    • Hi CD, it is quite common for young puppies to whine or cry when a member of their ‘group’ walks away. This should pass as he matures, and you can help him by keeping these events (when you separate) quite brief to begin with, and making sure that the person remaining with him has some tasty treats to give him until the other one returns.

  12. Hello! You have the most wonderful resources and books. I have studied them all. However, there is one thing I cannot figure out. Our 6 month old lab is perfect in his crate, day time or night time. When left in the yard, or the kitchen playpen, or his upstairs playpen, even for 2 minutes, he goes crazy and whines. He doesn’t whine in his kennel. I’ve tried leaving for a minute at a time, I reward him when he’s patient and quiet, however he still goes crazy. Any other suggestions? Thank you!

  13. Hello. We have a 4 yr. old yellow lab, who has been well trained in all areas of behavior. We have no troubles with him at all, other than when he sees us taking a suitcase or any type of bag to the car, his separation anxiety is incredible, with the whining, drooling and doing all he can to get out the door and go with us. MOST times, he does accompany us, but until he is in the car, the noises he makes are LOUD! Generally, he hardly ever barks. Possibly when the doorbell rings, but not all the time. He has always been a bit of a laid back loner , spending most of the day on my bathroom floor, where the tile is cool. He loves walks, becomes a different dog completely when he’s playing with another dog, but that is the ONlY time he acts, in my opinion, like a normal lab! He gets plenty of exercise (runs with my husband, walks) and is in excellent shape according to our vet. When a storm is coming, I put his thunder shirt on him and that helps a bit. Any loud noise seems to scare him…football season on TV is painful! He could be sound asleep next to me and when the crowd roars, he immediately leaves for the bathroom floor. I feel so badly for him, because I think he’s lonely, even though I am at home all day. We cannot have a second dog until possibly a year or so from now, when we move to another house. What can I do to help this gentle, separation anxiety-ridden, loud noise avoiding, sweet boy?

      • my lab (red fox)!!was 8 on may 2014…goes everywhere with us holidays,plenty exercise etc, but I still feel guilty when I leave him, he doesn,t whine or anything ,but that is the power they have over us, to make us feel that, way, he probably sleeps when we go out, he likes the sleeping trick….good luck you will all be ok……lol

  14. My lab is 7 years old. He has always been well-behaved. He is afraid of guns and thunder, but his reaction to that is to hide. Recently, he has pried two windows open and torn our curtains to shreds. He isn’t using the restroom in the house. He isn’t tearing up anything else. Any ideas about why he’s gone nuts all of a sudden?

  15. Hi Pippa!

    We have read your book cover to cover several times and have a lovely, sweet, well-behaved 3 month old lab pup. We are learning she has separation anxiety though. We have never left her alone for extended periods of time, max is 2.5 hours in her kennel, always well-exercised. I feel like we have coddled her and now she doesn’t like being alone! She follows us everywhere in the house and is doing a lot of whining, which my husband and I ignore (it’s not getting worse). We are trying to leave the room frequently, close the bathroom and bedroom door here and there when we are home, to get her used to being alone for short periods. Does this sound like the right course of action? Is there anything else we should consider?? We don’t need to leave her for extended periods of time, but I hate hearing from my neighbours that she is crying constantly, and then coming home to a scared and distressed puppy! Thank you!

  16. Hi when we leave our choc lab only for 1hour we come home to a door and mat covered in saliva a lot of it , she not alone as we have another dog . Both are rescue dogs , any help please .

  17. Hi Pippa
    Layla is our 6 month old chocolate lab puppy. I follow your site and have found it very helpful. We love our girl and I train Layla every day using your positive reinforcement methods and she is doing really well. However I have always found her to be some what anxious, or tense. We did not get her until she was 11 weeks old and she was the last puppy. There were 4 adult labs at the farm with her and I am wondering if she was frightened and scarred in some way? I read about the “fear” period. I am always kind and gentle with her. What can I do to help her become a little more care free?

  18. My black lab puppy is 9 weeks old. he is biting a lot right now. And whenever he cant bit something he gets really anxious and starts barking. It seems he is anxious most of the time. What could i do to help him??

  19. Hi Pippa
    About 6 months i adopted 2 lab puppies and recently i had to move to a bigger appartment with a nice backyard in order to let them stretch their muscles and have enough space for them, since i leave home for almost 10 hours a day for work. As soon as i moved in, i taught them where to do their business and all was great until my new neighbors told me that the dogs are barking daily at noon for about 2 hours none stop then its quiet again.
    Note that when am home they are relaxing and sleeping quietly, i often invite them to play in the backyard and run for more than an hour. All is well planned and has become a habit for them, time for eating, time for playing, time for being quiet and good boy and girl.
    Any tips for my new problem?

  20. Hi. I have two labs that I walk together. My youngest one is a rescue. But they both get super anxious when they see other dogs on a walk and pull to get to them. They feed off each other. Any suggestions? I used to walk them seperate but the youngest one had bad anxiety when we left her alone and would tear up anything and everything and had the most annoying high pitched bark. I was getting threatening letters from the neighbors. Seems to be getting much better, but I always like more tips.

  21. Hi, I have a beautiful 4.5 year old lab called Harvey who is an absolute angel, that is loved and loves everyone. I never get any fuss or bother with him (touch wood) even when he’s been left when I go to work. Last week I had a weeks holiday with my Mum and Harvey stayed with my Dad. He was put to bed with his usual routine on the first night and when my Dad got up in the morning Harvey started growling and snarling and generally trying to attack my Dad, who naturally was scared. With my brothers help they managed to get Harvey outside and he spent the rest of the week using the shed as a kennel and having to be fed and watered through an iron gate. He wouldn’t allow anyone near him and was very agressive. The minute I pulled up in my car he reverted to his normal state. What can I do about this behaviour as I have another holiday booked later in the year and I don’t want Harvey to get so stressed out?

  22. We rescued our lab when he was four years old back in 2011. The only history we were given was he had been in at least two previous shelters before being brought up North by the rescue group. He really seemed to adjust well, we went to work or out to dinner, we went on vacations and had a dog sitter come in four times a day without problems. Then in 2014, he started digging into the carpet at night if he couldn’t sleep with us. The digging got worse after our son went to college and last March he dug a hole in our couch while we were out to dinner. The vet diagnosed separation anxiety brought on by our son moving out of the house. Our dog is now wearing a calming collar and is on medication to control anxiety.

    • We moved house and our Lab was 7 years old all was fine for several weeks then every time we left the house Busby would chew the front door !!!!!! a friend and trainer advised us to get a grate but we decided as he never had one we couldn.t restict him !! then we got a Lab puppy and Busby was fine ?? PS: the new puppy did get a grate and loved it.

  23. Hi Pippa

    I have 6/7mth old labradoodle boy. He has been fantastic since we bought him home at 16 weeks. I have crate trained him and he has always been very good with his toys only chewing appropriate toys and not the house.

    About 2 weeks ago we started extending his freedom on my work days and left him in the kitchen crate open, lots of toys and a kong etc. no problems. A friend comes in after 2 hours and takes him for a walk until I get home 2 hours later.

    He was fine until this week – he has started to take things off the sides whilst left alone, iPad, cook books etc and destroyed! I can’t leave the room without him taking something.

    I think it may be anxiety seperation perhaps but am stumped as to what to do. I have gone back to crating him whilst I am out and am going to have to start crating him to go upstairs etc.
    I have worked a few extra hours this week but not extending his normal length just extra days – he is such a happy boy and so affectionate but don’t want to have to crate him every time I leave the room!

  24. Hi Pippa,
    My 3 year old Lab is a sweet boy. Typically he is very calm and well behaved. Recently, he started showing signs of separation anxiety and thunderstorm phobia. He has clawed up the front door and carpeting when left home during a thunderstorm. When I am home during a storm, he pants excessively, paces and trembles and sometimes refuses to be comforted. I have had him in to see the veterinarian and he is perfectly healthy. The vet has given me a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication and that has helped with the separation anxiety but the storm phobia is unaffected. I just want him to be safe and happy and the fear during storms is just awful for both of us!

    When I first brought him home at 8 weeks, I crate trained him, but the other dog I had at the time decided that dogs should not be in crates and he destroyed 4 crates before I gave up buying them. I’ve read both pros and cons about crating dogs with phobias, what do you suggest?

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