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Discussion Starter #1
I am wondering about separation anxiety, not for personal training or work or anything, just out of curiosity...

Is separation anxiety totally preventable if owners do the right training during that crucial puppy stage? Or, is there a genetic component and are some dogs going to have it no matter what?

To be clear, I know some dogs are more anxious than others, and I know that some dogs will always be anxious due to genetics. But I've never heard of any cases (which doesn't mean it doesn't exist) where an owner got a puppy between 8-16 weeks of age), did proper separation training (ie, gradual, proper desensitization and counter conditioning), and ended up with a dog with severe SA. And I'm not talking about "the dog barks when people leave." I mean, the dog is breaking teeth, ripping up the wall, jumping out windows, shaking, defecating, urinating, refusing to eat, etc... I am not talking about dogs who simply 'don't like it' when people leave regardless of training.

Does severe separation anxiety show up at a certain age?

Most dogs don't like being left alone, some puppies are more screamers than others, adolescent dogs can break out of crates and chew up a couch... But again, I mean severe SA. I can see how a puppy who is subject to separation without thoughtful training can develop SA over time. But when does it go from whining/barking, peeing perhaps... To full blown panic-attack, must escape the house and find people... type of SA? Based on my limited experience I've only seen severe SA (as opposed to normal puppy stuff or unruly adolescent stuff) in adult dogs.

Interestingly, I've worked with hundreds of people and especially people who get puppies or have raised their dogs since puppyhood. I cannot think of a SINGLE client in that category who has SA problems. Maybe normal stuff like 'my dog barks out the window when I'm gone', but not severe SA. The few people I've spoken or worked with that had true SA issues, their dogs were adopted as adults, unknown histories. Maybe that's just my luck that this is what I've seen. But interesting!
 

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I know there is a genetic component to it at least somewhat. Some breeds are more prone to it than others. I'm guessing it isn't that severe if raised from puppyhood or nobody would be breeding/buying those dogs?

The only dog I have really met with severe SA was a rescue Beagle. He was raised with a brother and kept in an outdoor pen with him most of the time, so my guess is very little socialization. He was surrendered to the pound, his brother was adopted and then someone else adopted him. The person that adopted him found out just a few days into it that this Beagle had terrible SA. He could not be left loose in the house because he would bark/scream, poop all over, pace, drool, destroy the door and hurt himself in the process. Crates only made him more dangerous to himself.. inflicting injury to his mouth and paws. Also pacing in his own feces. They tried for over 6 months with the dog with meds and all the typical training advice for a SA dog. The dog had a babysitter everyday in order for them to be able to leave their house while they worked with him.. and it got to be too much when nothing was working. Eventually they had to surrender the dog to a rescue. They hoped having other dogs around would help. The dog ended up busting out of the house and wound up at another pound. No idea what happened to him.

Both of my foster dogs had mild forms of SA.

Just about every bad SA story I've heard of at least has been a rescue dog. I really do think it is more common in adult rescues because of the trauma the dog goes through. Many dogs that are surrendered never got proper socialization or training (most end up just fine still with a little bit of training, obviously) which doesn't help. Most are poorly bred. Some are downright neglected. Get the right combo of genes, lack of socialization/neglect plus the trauma of being passed around or put in a shelter.. doesn't help for sure.

SA is that one thing I'm really, really not able to deal with. The correlation I've seen with it and rescues makes me terrified to ever take on rescue anything ever again.

I'd really like to know if there are any severe SA dogs raised (and raised at least decently well) from puppyhood as well. I don't personally know any.. even from what I would consider not that great pet owners. That doesn't mean they aren't out there though.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
It is seriously the worst. Many trainers (including myself) prefer ANYTHING over SA. Like, please let it be severe human aggression or something instead :D

There was a dog in my shelter a while ago who had severe SA... Tried to chew through the wall and almost succeeded, wild blood shot eyes and would just sleep when he finally was around a human because he was so exhausted, HA (lunged at certain people, somewhat unpredictable, with serious intent to bite), DA (damage inducing, multiple times). This was with medication. It was tragic, because he was an absolute doll with people he knew. It still haunts me because he was housed adjacent to my office and I would hear him every night when I was last to leave, and there was nothing I could do for him. He was euthanized and honestly, I thought "finally." because he was truly suffering. And with a winning combination of having SA, HA, DA... He couldn't go out to foster, he couldn't mix with other dogs, he couldn't be left alone... What fate do dogs like that have? :(

And then there's someone in my books, whose dog went from 'totally fine with separation for a decade' to... 'pee all over herself when crated, trembling at predeparture cues, jumping out 2nd story windows, breaking teeth, panic barking' within a few months, who knows why (vet checked, blood and thyroid cleared, on three meds). Incidentally, this dog is also an adult rescue. The hard part is seeing people's lives fall apart and how deeply it affects them when their animals suffer.

Otherwise, I am thrilled to say that through hundreds of shelter and owned dogs, I have not seen much *truly severe* SA either. There are even shelter dogs who have had milder SA, like they did chew through a door or they did pee in the crate out of distress when adopted... But very workable cases. As in, it didn't degrade into self destruction and the owners could actually keep the dogs, fix the issue with a very reasonable amount of time, training, and maybe meds, and actually have a life outside of their dogs.

I had a person with a puppy who worried me because it sounded like she might have SA. Like, a baby puppy and for weeks and weeks they made no progress, wouldn't take food when people left and would pee in distress and be vocal every time. But by the time I saw them again and their dog was a little under a year old, separation was no longer an issue. The dog still "is sad" when they leave but is fine. No house training, vocalizing, or destruction. So... one point for puppy raised in home?
 

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Discussion Starter #4
I also fully admit I could never take on an SA dog. I have so much respect for people who knowingly choose to do so and commit to the dog's rehabilitation. That's some next level empathy and patience that I should be striving for.
 

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I think there is certainly a genetic component to it. I mean, there's shelter dog that had a crappy background and poor training and can be left alone fine, and there are dogs with better backgrounds, but perhaps not the best genetics, that end up with pretty severe separation anxiety. I imagine there's a certain balance of nature and nurture to each case. Sometimes theres probably nothing you can do, its just a terrible genetic cocktail.

I don't think I could deal with separation anxiety, either. I work full time, daycare is too expensive to have a dog in 5 days a week. It would simply be an incomparable lifestyle.
 

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True SA is a medical wiring issue in the dog's head and is very much genetic. True SA can only really be handled with medication. If you are lucky, it works.

You probably know this.. but a true SA dog will injure itself if left alone even in something REALLY secure like an Aluminum Dog Box. I knew such a dog when I was a kid. The dog was locked in a horse loose box when the owner went out. If they went away they could not board the dog.. they had to hire someone to stay with him and manage him (that was me and hello college tuition!). His SA showed up before he was a year old. German Show Line GSD as I recall.

SA behaviors can be increased in some dogs by people making a big deal out of leaving and returning in a dog that is "worried" to begin with.
 

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The only dog I've known with serious SA was a rescue... but he'd been rehomed twice before my friend adopted him because of his SA. I wouldn't be surprised if an unstable early life could aggravate or even cause SA. But this might also be a kind of chicken and egg situation, because dogs with SA are also more likely to be surrendered. I mean, if multiple experienced, dedicated, knowledgeable dog people on this forum are saying they wouldn't be able to handle SA (I certainly dread it), you can bet most "average" households are going to have difficulties.

I think, like most behavioral things, there's a major genetic component. Early separation training might be preventative in some dogs, but I doubt it'd be enough for dog hardwired for serious SA (though it may reduce the severity). I just also think that those dogs are - thankfully - rare, especially once you remove all the dogs who are falsely labeled "SA" because they whine and bark when they're left because they need a little more separation training or are bored.
 

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I got Ryker at 8 weeks old and tried to do everything right and he still had severe SA. At first I was told is was just normal puppy SA, but it never went away and only got worse as he got older. His SA thankfully plateaued around 3 years old and then got slightly better after medication. He is no longer on meds and his SA is to a level that I do not think it effects his quality of life. He still shakes when we are getting ready to leave and always barks for the first 10 minutes, occasionally soils inside, but his recovery time to our departure is MUCH less than it use to be (before he would literally bark and pace for 8 hours straight, chew through flooring, doors, crush door knobs, etc.). I also don't know if his neuter had any effect on his SA getting better. He will always have a level of SA that I would consider it a behavioral issue, but it is no longer to the point where I feel his quality of life is being affected. I have other dogs that will bark/whine when I leave, but I consider that a "normal" level of SA. I do think true severe SA is very much genetic.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Thanks for sharing your experience jade! Do you know if his littermates had similar challenges? Your story is the first I've heard of a puppy in a stable household developing SA! And I KNOW you would have done all the right things :D
 

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Thanks for sharing your experience jade! Do you know if his littermates had similar challenges? Your story is the first I've heard of a puppy in a stable household developing SA! And I KNOW you would have done all the right things :D
Unfortunately I've only been able to get in touch with one littermate owner. She does not have SA, but does share other behavioral issues that Ryker has (Resource guarding, DA tendencies).
 
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