Aggressive Behaviors that Point to Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Updated: Nov 22
Most dog owners are familiar with the typical signs of separation anxiety or separation related behavior problems – barking, howling, destruction, and elimination when left alone. But some distressed dogs display aggressive behaviors that owners may not associate with separation distress. Aggressive behavior can sometimes signal underlying anxiety or frustration in our dogs. Let’s explore some uncommon aggressive responses that may surface when you prepare to leave or depart from your dog who has a separation disorder.
Some separation-stressed dogs will firmly plant themselves in front of doors or block pathways when they sense you’re about to leave. They may refuse to budge or escalate to growling, baring teeth, or snapping if you attempt to move them. This behavior can progress to biting if the dog feels sufficiently threatened by your attempts to move them. Preventing your movement toward the exit door is a red flag.
Grabbing and Holding
Desperate dogs may physically grab and hold onto their owner's body parts or clothes with their mouth as they are attempting to exit. Fixating on and refusing to release hands, arms, or clothing often surfaces during departure routines like picking up keys or putting on shoes. Your dog may begin biting and mouthing at your hands and feet as you attempt to put your shoes on to leave the house.
Jumping Up and Biting
Another potential separation related behavior is when dogs frantically jump up and nip or bite at their owners' arms, hands, or clothing as they attempt to depart. The dog may be calm one moment, then erupt into this vertical leaping and biting only when the owner begins to get ready to leave the house. While aimed at the human, this behavior stems from panic or frustration about being left alone. But it can rapidly escalate to painful bites if not addressed.
Why It Matters
These behaviors often get mistaken for other behavior problems. Aggressive behavior related to separation anxiety is a cry for help from a dog in distress. Punishing the dog or forcing them to move can provoke a stronger response from the dog overtime. If left unaddressed, aggressive responses tend to escalate with practice, sometimes leading to bites. Recognizing these symptoms early and consulting experts is key.
What You Can Do
If your dog displays any aggressive behavior aimed at controlling your movement or preventing your departure, contact a dog behavior specialist right away. There are evidence based approaches that are effective at managing and treating separation anxiety and other separation related behavior problems. An expert assessment can identify your dog’s unique triggers and craft an individualized plan incorporating management tools, counterconditioning, and desensitization. In some cases, medication can help set the stage for successful implementation of a behavior modification plan.
Don’t ignore your dog’s warnings. Unaddressed separation anxiety tends to intensify over time. With early intervention and a science backed approach, you can help your dog relax whether you’re home or away.
As a certified professional dog trainer, I know how distressing these aggressive anxiety behaviors can be. If your dog is exhibiting any of the symptoms described in this article, I urge you - do not delay, reach out for help today. I have successfully helped many dogs conquer these struggles and find confidence when alone. Please click here to contact me directly to schedule a consultation. Together we can get your best friend back to happy days ahead.