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Separation anxiety is when a dog experiences stress and even panic when left alone, and unfortunately, it can happen with Golden Retrievers.
As an owner, it can be heartbreaking to know your dog is feeling that much anxiety when you’re not home.
You may also be frustrated if your dog gets destructive while you’re away, having to replace rugs or furniture, or even having to repair doors or walls.
For your dog, all that stress can have a negative effect on their overall wellbeing and health.
We won’t make you wait until the end of the article to hear that separation anxiety is a treatable condition, and there is lots of hope for Golden Retrievers who become anxious when left alone.
Separation anxiety is also surrounded by a lot of misinformation and myths, which can lead you astray.
This article will rely on the most up-to-date information and science-based facts about separation anxiety to help you understand the issue and help your dog feel better about being home without you.
In this article, you will learn:
- What is separation anxiety
- What does separation anxiety look like
- What causes separation anxiety
- What does not cause separation anxiety
- How to treat your Golden’s separation anxiety
- How to prevent separation anxiety
- And much more!
What is Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety is when a dog becomes distressed when left alone, even for short periods of time.
It is a panic disorder and can only be diagnosed by a veterinarian.
The American College of Veterinary Behaviorists estimates that 17% of dogs suffer from separation anxiety.
Of dogs treated by veterinary behavioral specialists, 20 to 40% are affected by separation anxiety.
Sadly, it’s a prevalent issue and Golden Retrievers are not immune from developing separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety is not just your dog being dramatic or your dog showing how much they love you.
It’s a real disorder that is considered a medical emergency and should be taken seriously.
What Does Separation Anxiety Look Like?
Common signs of separation anxiety include:
- Persistent crying, barking, or howling
- Destructive behavior
- Urinating or defecating
- Trying to escape a crate or house
- Drooling, shaking or pacing
Depending on the severity of a Golden Retriever’s separation anxiety, the symptoms may vary.
If left untreated, separation anxiety can escalate and you might notice more extreme signs as time goes on.
What Causes Separation Anxiety?
The cause of separation anxiety is not entirely known, though more recent research suggests some dogs may be genetically predisposed to the disorder.
It could also be triggered by a traumatic experience when left alone, such as a burglary or a fire.
Some dogs can even be triggered by a scary experience unrelated to being home alone, such as being attacked by another dog.
Additionally, a big life change could also spark separation anxiety, such as moving to a new home, the loss of another dog in the family, or their owners having a baby.
Exposure to frequent, long absences by their owner can also lead to separation anxiety.
Feeling okay with being home alone is not necessarily an innate skill for dogs, and it’s best to train them how, rather than just assuming they’ll be okay and leaving the house.
If a dog was never taught how to be home alone, that could also contribute to separation anxiety.
It’s likely that for many dogs it is a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors that lead to separation anxiety.
Their genes set them up for separation anxiety, and something like a move or a scary experience triggers it.
What does NOT Cause Separation Anxiety?
You may come across information that says separation anxiety is caused by owners who spoil or pamper their dogs too much.
There is actually no evidence to suggest that is true.
Letting your Golden Retriever sleep on your bed doesn’t cause separation anxiety.
Neither does allowing them on furniture.
Or giving them cuddles and attention.
Giving your dog treats or sharing a bite of your pizza won’t cause separation anxiety either.
Separation anxiety also isn’t caused by your dog being spiteful towards you for leaving.
Your dog isn’t angry at you for leaving, rather they are scared of being alone.
So you don’t have to worry that giving your dog attention and having snuggle time together is causing separation anxiety.
How to Treat Your Golden’s Separation Anxiety
It can be so heart-wrenching to leave your Golden Retriever and hear them crying as you close the door.
You might have tried things like giving your dog a stuffed kong to chew, diffusing essential oils, playing music, or leaving the TV on to keep them company.
These kinds of quick fixes almost never work.
The reality is that treating separation anxiety is a process, but it is possible for your Golden to learn how to be okay while home alone.
Talk to Your Vet or a Veterinary Behaviorist
If you suspect your dog has separation anxiety, you should first consult your veterinarian.
Medication can sometimes help resolve the issue more quickly, as it helps your dog feel less anxious about your absence.
It’s best to talk to a vet that is savvy about behavior issues.
If your regular vet isn’t up to date on the latest treatment options for dogs with separation anxiety, you can also consult a veterinary behaviorist.
A veterinary behaviorist is a vet with additional specialized training to effectively treat behavior issues.
You can use this directory to find a veterinary behaviorist local to you.
If there isn’t one nearby, you can also have your regular vet consult with a veterinary behaviorist, which will ensure you’re getting the best treatment plan for your Golden Retriever.
A quick note – an animal or dog behaviorist is not the same as a veterinary behaviorist, as the former cannot prescribe medication.
Create a Plan So Your Dog Isn’t Left Alone
A key part of resolving your Golden Retriever’s separation anxiety is to make sure your dog is never left alone for longer than they can handle.
When you first start tackling your dog’s separation anxiety, your dog probably can’t be home alone for any amount of time without becoming distressed.
As you work on training, they will be able to be left alone for gradually longer periods of time, but you never want to push them beyond what they can handle, as this will set you back.
If you keep leaving your dog alone and they keep being triggered by it, they will never learn how to be home alone.
There is a myth out there that if you just keep leaving them alone, eventually they will get over it.
Usually, the opposite is true.
The more you leave them alone, the more and more panicked they become.
Of course, never leaving your dog alone is not a long-term plan.
The goal is to get your dog to a point where they can be home alone and feel just fine.
Ensuring they are never left alone is just a temporary thing while you teach your dog the skills they need to be home alone successfully.
You might be thinking, “This is impossible! I have to work and run errands. How can I never leave them alone?”
It might not be easy, but with some creative thinking, you can likely come up with a plan.
Here are some ideas:
- Doggie daycare
- Bring your dog to work (it’s worth an ask!)
- Ask if you can work from home (even partially is helpful)
- See if a family member, neighbor or friend can watch your dog at your house or theirs
- Use social media to find people who can help you out
- Use delivery services as much as possible to minimize your absences
- Bring your dog with you on short errands (if they do okay left in the car)
Remember, this won’t be forever.
It’s just a phase while you work on training.
You never know who might love hanging out with your dog while you’re out of the house, so don’t be afraid to ask.
Meet Your Dog’s Needs
While this may not seem directly related to separation anxiety, it’s important to consistently meet your dog’s physical and mental needs.
This means ensuring they’re getting plenty of exercise.
Golden Retrievers love spending time out in nature, and long walks in nature can be a great stress reliever.
Exercise will not cure separation anxiety, but an under-exercised dog with lots of pent-up energy may be even more nervous and stressed out when left alone.
You’ll also want to exercise your Golden Retriever’s brain so they don’t have a bunch of excess mental energy.
Make sure they have plenty of safe options for chewing, which is natural stress-relieving for dogs and Goldens especially can be very mouthy.
Change Your Dog’s Feelings with Desensitization
Desensitization is a process of gradually exposing your dog to the trigger (in this case being left alone) at such a low level that they are never distressed.
You slowly increase the intensity of the trigger (in this case duration) so that your dog becomes desensitized to it and is no longer panicked.
Full disclosure, this can be a slow process.
You have to go at your dog’s pace so that they aren’t freaked out at any point.
Often, you need to start with simply being out of view of your dog before you progress to actually leaving the house.
You will also need to desensitize your dog to your departure cues, such as grabbing your keys or purse, putting on your shoes, or opening or closing doors.
Often these events can spark your dog’s anxiety before you’ve even left, so you will want to change your dog’s feelings about them through desensitization.
It’s best to work with a qualified professional to help you with this process.
This book, Separation Anxiety in Dogs: Next Generation Treatment Protocols and Practices by leading dog separation anxiety expert Malena DeMartini, offers more detailed information on understanding and resolving your pup’s separation anxiety.
The longer the issue persists, often the harder it is to treat, so it’s best to seek professional help early for the best outcome.
Leverage Technology for Your Training
Since you will be eventually leaving the house during the training process, it can be really helpful to use a camera to keep an eye on your dog.
If you leave and then come home, you have no idea what your dog was doing in your absence.
It’s also common for dogs to stop vocalizing, pacing or whatever other panicked behaviors they were doing when they hear you coming home.
So just because they were quiet and seemed “fine” when you came home, that doesn’t mean they were okay the whole time.
Using a device, like a Wyze camera, allows you to see what your dog is doing on your smartphone while you’re out of the house.
Then you can know for certain if they were relaxed or panicked, which will help you adjust your training plan accordingly.
How to Prevent Separation Anxiety
Maybe you have a Golden Retriever puppy or a newly adopted adult Golden and you want to help prevent separation anxiety.
Preventing this issue is actually quite similar to treating the issue: exposure to short absences, gradually increasing the time without the dog ever becoming stressed.
Remember that Golden Retrievers really love being with their humans and so this is a learned skill.
It’s better to go slow, than to leave your new pup alone for four hours and hope for the best.
This online course from trainer Sarah Stremming, called Happy Crating, is an excellent resource for teaching your puppy or dog how to be okay in your absence.
Even though it has the word “crating” in the name, the concepts and training apply to any form of confinement, whether it’s a crate, a pen, a baby gate or a room.
The process in the course keeps your Golden Retriever feeling safe and comfortable at every step, so your absence never becomes a trigger for panic.
The goal is for your pup to feel relaxed when you’re away, rather than panicked.
This course is not for dogs that already have separation anxiety, but is great for preventing it for puppies or recently rescued adult dogs.
Separation Anxiety Misconceptions to Avoid
You’ll find all kinds of misguided ideas about separation anxiety from friends, family, coworkers, and the internet.
Here are some of the most common ones to look out for, so you can avoid making your dog’s separation anxiety worse.
“Just Put Them in a Crate”
A very common idea about separation anxiety is that you just need to crate the dog, which will prevent them from causing destruction.
The reality is that crating does not solve separation anxiety, and it might even make it worse.
In fact, your dog might hurt themselves in an attempt to escape the crate.
Being crated does not change the fact that you’re gone or that your dog is freaking out about it.
Some Golden Retrievers may end up doing best in a crate, and a crate will be part of their separation anxiety resolution plan.
But for others, being confined in a small space makes their anxiety worse and they do better with a larger area when you’re away from home.
So simply putting your pup in a crate is not going to resolve separation anxiety.
“They’ll Get Over It With Time”
If a dog truly has separation anxiety, it’s not something they just get over without the proper help.
Usually, it gets worse as time goes on because the dog builds up a bigger history of traumatic experiences with every time you leave.
Plus, it’s really not humane to put your dog through that much stress every time you leave the house.
Your Golden Retriever needs help to learn how to be okay in your absence, rather than being thrown in the deep end again and again.
“Get a Second Dog”
It might seem like getting a second dog to keep your anxious dog company is the perfect solution.
Then they don’t have to be home alone anymore.
The truth is that this might work, but it might not.
You should only get a second dog if you truly want one, not because you think it will cure your first dog of their separation anxiety.
Because there is a good chance your dog will still be just as distressed by your departures even with a new friend around.
And there is no guarantee the second dog won’t also have separation anxiety.
If the second dog does resolve your first dog’s issue, what happens when you need to take the new dog to the vet and your first dog is now left alone?
Or what if the second dog tragically passes away before your first dog?
It’s best to truly resolve the separation anxiety issue instead of hoping another dog will do that for you.
Is it Separation Anxiety or Something Else?
Sometimes a Golden Retriever might show signs of separation anxiety, but in reality, there is a different issue at play.
Remember that only a veterinary professional can diagnose separation anxiety, and if you suspect that your dog may have separation anxiety, set up an appointment to talk about it.
It can help to set up a device to film your dog while you are away so you can see their behavior while you are away.
It’s impossible to know what’s really going on without, and it can help you determine if they may have separation anxiety or if there is another cause for their behavior.
Here are some other common issues that you can rule out when trying to determine if your dog might have separation anxiety.
Some medical issues can create behavior that might seem like separation anxiety.
A urinary tract infection or a gastrointestianl issue might cause potty accidents, which is a common thing for dogs who have separation anxiety.
Cognitive disorders might also mimic some aspects of separation anxiety.
Potty Training Issues
You might think your dog is pottying due to stress while you’re away, but it’s possible that they aren’t fully potty trained, or that they simply cannot hold it for as long as you’re gone.
Additionally, if your dog has been punished for potty accidents in the house, they might hold it until you’re away and then go in order to avoid a punishment.
Accidents while you’re not home may be due to separation anxiety, but it’s possible there are holes in their potty training and that’s the real cause of the poop and pee you find upon coming home.
Sometimes a dog is totally fine with being home alone, but they experience intense anxiety around being confined in a small space, such as a crate.
For some Goldens, giving them a larger area to chill in while you’re gone can resolve the issue.
Some dogs become destructive because they are bored and have energy to burn.
They aren’t destroying your home and stuff out of panic, rather it’s fun for them.
Barking can also stem from boredom.
Ensuring your dog is well-exercised before you depart, and leaving some durable puzzle toys for them to work on can help.
If your dog has a noise phobia, such as to storms or a smoke alarm, they may exhibit behavior that is very similar to separation anxiety.
The only difference is that for a noise phobia, the cause of the panic is sound, and for separation anxiety, the cause is your absence.
Does My Dog Have Separation Anxiety or Do They Just Prefer Not to Be Alone?
Let’s face it – if your dog got to decide, you’d never leave them.
This is why we love Golden Retreivers so much.
They’re so loyal and loving and want to be with us as much as possible.
So how can you tell if your dog is just a little bummed that you have to leave or if they have full-blown separation anxiety?
If your dog shows any of these behaviors, definitely talk with your vet about separation anxiety:
- Persistent crying, barking, or howling
- Destructive behavior
- Urinating or defecating
- Trying to escape a crate or house
- Drooling, shaking or pacing
But sometimes your dog might just be a little antsy or down that you are away.
They might be helped by something like a frozen kong to work on while you’re away, as chewing and licking are naturally calming for dogs, or by leaving the TV or music on for them.
Making sure that they have gotten quality exercise and mental stimulation can also help them feel more able to settle in while you’re out.
Even if your dog doesn’t have extreme separation anxiety, if you notice that they are stressed by your absence, it’s a good idea to help them feel better about being home alone.
A trainer or behavior consultant can help you ease your dog’s discomfort.
You might think that because they aren’t ripping off door frames and howling for six straight hours that they are fine, but even if your dog is having lower levels of distress every time you leave it will take a toll on their overall health and wellbeing.
Additionally, more mild separation distress can snowball into actual separation anxiety, so it’s best to resolve their stress issue early.
If you’re not sure if your dog has actual separation anxiety or if they’re just a little bummed that you’re gone, talk to your veterinarian or a certified dog behavior consultant.
Separation Anxiety In Golden Retriever Puppies
Is your Golden Retriever puppy crying in their crate?
Do they cry and bark when you’re out of the room and they can’t get to you?
You might be worried that they have separation anxiety.
While it’s possible that your puppy does have separation anxiety, there is also a very good chance that they simply need help learning how to be okay while alone.
Puppies do not come with pre-installed crate or home alone skills.
They generally do not come naturally to dogs.
Puppies are baby animals who are small and vulnerable and being alone is scary.
It makes sense that they vocalize when left alone, whether in a crate, behind a gate or in a room.
So it’s really impossible to know if your puppy has separation anxiety or not until you’ve worked on teaching them how to be okay without you right by them.
This is a process and every puppy will progress at different speeds.
Remember that confinement distress is a separate issue from separation anxiety, and so you may need to work on them separately.
For example, you can work on alone time by putting them in the laundry room behind a baby gate where they have more space, and then you can work on crate training at the puppy’s pace so they aren’t panicked while confined.
If you’re struggling to teach your puppy crate and home alone skills, it can help to consult a professional trainer who uses positive reinforcement methods, or a certified dog behavior consultant to help you with your puppy.
This is a vital skill for every puppy to learn so it’s worth spending time teaching them, rather than hoping they figure it out on their own.
- Getting a Golden Retriever puppy? Check out the Golden Retriever Puppy Handbook here!
Separation Anxiety Success
Life with a Golden Retriever with separation anxiety can be tough.
Knowing how much distress your pup experiences in your absence is heart-wrenching.
Planning everything around your dog can be exhausting.
It can feel like there is no end in sight to the stress separation anxiety creates for both you and your dog.
But the good thing is that this issue is highly treatable and many owners with Golden Retrievers have been able to resolve their dog’s separation anxiety.
It’s so worth investing the time and energy into treating your dog’s separation anxiety now, so you and your dog can enjoy more time without all that stress.
When you’re on the other side of your separation anxiety journey, you will both enjoy a higher quality of life.
How amazing will it feel to leave the house confidently knowing that your dog will be relaxed and comfortable the whole time you’re away?
It’s totally possible with patience and the right plan!
Have any questions about separation anxiety? Let us know down in the comments.
And if you liked this article, you’ll like this next one about how to get your Golden Retriever to stop barking so much.
- Golden Retriever Anxiety: Symptoms, Solutions, Causes, & Mistakes
- 5 Best Harnesses For Golden Retrievers (For Safety & Pulling)
- 10 Best Chew Toys For Golden Retriever Puppies (For Teething & Training)
About the author:
Alisa Healy is a professional dog trainer in the Chicago suburbs, with a wide range of training experience from shelters to in-home training to dog sports. She is a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner and is passionate about helping people and dogs live fulfilling, harmonious lives together.