Does my Labrador have separation anxiety?

Missing out?  Click here to get our new articles delivered to you

Some Labradors are scared of being left alone.

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.

What a mess

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

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.

Just 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 often do so because they have problems of this nature which makes 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 and reduce 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 keep him occupied.

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 from 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.

How about you?  Does your dog get upset when you go out,  and what do you find helps him to relax?

This article is part of our Labrador Fears and Phobias category.  Other behaviour articles you might enjoy:  ‘Night waking, how to restore the peace’  and ‘No more jumping up’

If you enjoy Pippa’s articles, you will love her new book: The Happy Puppy Handbook – a definitive guide to early puppy care and training.

Be Sociable, Share!

Pippa Mattinson

The Labrador Site is brought to you by Pippa Mattinson. Pippa's latest book The Happy Puppy Handbook is a definitive guide to early puppy care and training

by Pippa on November 17, 2011

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Carole Batchelor November 17, 2011 at 6:03 pm

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”.

Reply

Barbara May 14, 2012 at 9:14 pm

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

Reply

Pippa May 14, 2012 at 10:00 pm

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!

Reply

isabell barton May 19, 2012 at 5:53 pm

how to stop my lab from barking at people when they walk past or from the house when he can see them

Reply

Pippa May 20, 2012 at 4:59 pm

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.

Reply

Julieann September 25, 2012 at 2:44 pm

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

Reply

Pippa September 25, 2012 at 4:42 pm

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

Reply

Julieann September 28, 2012 at 2:49 pm

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

Reply

Pippa September 28, 2012 at 3:04 pm

She sounds lovely! Hope she manages to avoid any more accidents for a while :)

Reply

Sally Linnane-Hemmens January 10, 2013 at 5:05 am

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!!

Reply

Pippa January 11, 2013 at 9:20 am

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

Reply

leanne January 23, 2013 at 6:56 pm

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

Reply

Pippa January 23, 2013 at 7:45 pm

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

Reply

Leanne January 24, 2013 at 9:37 pm

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

Reply

maureen sheldon February 26, 2013 at 8:45 pm

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

Reply

Pippa February 27, 2013 at 12:26 pm

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

Reply

Maureen February 27, 2013 at 6:29 pm

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

Reply

emma June 1, 2013 at 7:08 pm

it’s me that gets the separation anxiety!! i worry about them all the time, is there a cure for me ? !!!!

Reply

Bee August 2, 2013 at 4:10 am

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

Reply

Pippa August 2, 2013 at 8:19 pm

Hi Bee, I recommend you seek the help of a qualified behaviourist who will visit your dog and asses him in your home. Best wishes
Pippa

Reply

Katie Reeves October 29, 2013 at 11:34 pm

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 :-)

Reply

Angela March 8, 2014 at 12:55 pm

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

Reply

CD April 10, 2014 at 9:11 am

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!

Reply

Pippa April 10, 2014 at 4:05 pm

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.

Reply

Margaret H. September 3, 2014 at 1:34 am

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!

Reply

Barb M. September 6, 2014 at 7:28 pm

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?

Reply

Barb M. September 6, 2014 at 7:34 pm

He is also an AKC registered lab from a very reputable breeder, we are the only owners and he has never been abused or neglected.

Reply

john October 1, 2014 at 2:24 pm

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

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: