Does Your Dog have Separation Anxiety? Think Again

Milo's mom was so upset (and rightfully so).  Her precious Lab who is normally the most well-behaved dog in the world, destroyed her window frame, window treatments and curtains one afternoon while the family was at church.  Milo's mom confessed that Milo has been doing things like this lately but this was by far the worse incident and she is lost as to what to do.  Being the 'expert' I am, I diagnosed Milo with separation anxiety. After all, he is a Labrador and they love to be around their people!  

A few months later, I followed up with the family and found out that Milo got progressively worse and they had to give him away.  I was heart-broken!  Soon after, an amazing book found it's way into my hands and changed my thoughts about separation anxiety.  I misdiagnosed Milo!!  And so did all the experts!  Please read this if your dog is exhibiting separation anxiety – it may be something completely else!

Separation Anxiety vs Containment Phobia by Karyn Garvin is the book I am referring to and one in which I believe all pet owners should have.  As the title suggests, there is another condition that effects 10-15% of the canine population known as Containment Phobia.

What's the Difference?

Separation Anxiety shows itself in the following ways: 1. Excessive or destructive chewing

2. Howling/barking

3. Excessive digging

4. Soiling the house

5. Self-Harm (licking or chewing oneself)

These dogs typically spend the majority of their days with their owners, especially if the two-leggers work from home or can bring their pets to work.  When left alone, these poor pets do not know how to cope.  Destroying furniture, licking their legs raw and having accidents in the house are some of the symptoms these pet owners deal with regularly.

Containment Phobia – a new theory that holds great truths! This phobia comes from the study of wolves and their extreme desire to escape confinement.  All dogs are descendants of wolves and thus it can effect any breed, age, temperament and size.  

Karyn points out in her book the following signs of Containment Phobia:

1. Attempts to break out of crate (resulting in cuts, scratches, broken teeth & nails)

2. Jumping over or going through dog gates inside home

3. Destroying exits – doors, window blinds, door moldings

4. Jumping fences and digging underneath

The key difference in the two types of stress is that Containment Phobia strictly targets getting out of 'somewhere.'  Both can be destructive and harmful to your pets and your stuff!  But with Containment Phobia, the innate desire to 'get out of here' outweighs everything else and your pet will react by doing just that!

Dogs are not spiteful - that is strictly a human trait.  Dogs do get frustrated and need to vent out that energy but it is not directed at someone.   

So what do you do if you have a dog that has either Separation Anxiety or Containment Phobia?  Simple!  Quit your job and never leave their side for the next 15 years! can get this book or contact your local dog trainer to help you!

I won’t leave you hanging!  Here are a few pointers from Separation Anxiety versus Containment Phobia that can help put you in the right direction:

Separation Training:

EVERY SINGLE DAY, and if possible, multiple times a day for a few weeks or months, do the Leave and Return Exercise.

Leave the house for a minute, 15 seconds, 8 minutes, etc. to teach your anxious pet that you always leave the same way and always return.  Have the same routine each time you do this exercise, such as putting on shoes, grabbing purse or wallet and walk out and lock door.


Treat this as if you were leaving work for the day.  A quick goodbye and you are out the door!  You would not hug and cry and tell your co-workers that you will be back in 8 hours – don't treat your dog that way either!  They feed off of your sadness of being gone, which heightens their anxiety.

Another quick type is to leave your pet with an activity.  Hide small treats around the house for her to find!  Make it a game so she can 'do something productive' while you are away!

Containment Phobia behavior modification may be a little bit more challenging but it is NOT a lost cause!

The philosophy of the treatment is simple – your pet feels trapped.  If you can allow them to pass freely from room to room, and ideally from inside to outside with a doggy door, the need to escape will pass.

Many of Karyn's clients were pleasantly surprised that when they were allowed free-roam, instead of being kenneled or baby gated in certain areas of the home, the destructive behavior ceased.  The biggest success was the installation of a doggy door, in conjunction with outside fencing or invisible fencing.  Passing inside and outside made for a happy dog and no bad behavior!

I know this sounds like a costly solution but if you weigh the options of constantly repairing door frames, doors, windows, curtains, flooring, get the really is not that bad.  

I would highly suggest discussing this and other solutions with a local dog trainer.  There is hope and your belongings can be saved! 

You can also check out Karyn at TedX on YouTube for more information.

So over 20 years in the pet care professional and I learned something new!  I would love to hear any of your personal stories and if you have any advice to help others with their dog that suffers from Separation Anxiety or Containment Phobia.  Leave a comment below so we can all benefit from your learning!  

Special thanks to Karyn Garvin for bringing this new idea to the pet care field!

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