Distinguishing Between Separation Anxiety and Boredom: A Guide for Certified Dog Trainers

behaviour training tips Nov 08, 2023

 As certified dog trainers, we are well aware that every dog is unique. Their personalities, backgrounds, and experiences shape their behaviour. Among the myriad of issues we encounter, two common challenges are separation anxiety and plain old boredom. The kicker is that they can often look similar. However, identifying which issue you're dealing with is crucial for effective training. In this blog post, we'll explore how to distinguish between separation anxiety and boredom, and how to adjust your training protocols accordingly.

Recognizing the Symptoms

Start by recording the dog's behavior as the owner prepares to leave and after they've departed for varying durations. Review the footage to identify displayed behaviors.

Separation Anxiety:

  • Destructive Behaviour: Dogs with separation anxiety often engage in destructive behaviors, especially around exits like doors and windows. This might include scratching, chewing, or trying to escape and often harming themselves in the process.

  • Excessive Vocalization: They might bark, whine, or howl excessively when left alone. These vocalizations often start as soon as their owner prepares to leave.

  • Potty Accidents: Dogs with separation anxiety might urinate or defecate indoors, even if they are house-trained.

  • Pacing and Restlessness: They tend to be very restless, moving around continuously, and not settling down. This often includes not being able to take food as soon as they recognize the owner is preparing to leave.


  • Chewing Furniture or Shoes: A bored dog is more likely to chew on whatever they can find. This often includes furniture, shoes, or anything they can reach.

  • Digging: Dogs may start digging in the yard or even inside the house, searching for entertainment.

  • Vocalness: The dog may have bursts of different vocalizations, but will settle in between these sessions. This is one of the common symptoms that is often confused with separation anxiety from dog owners.

Observing Behaviour

Separation Anxiety:

  • Immediate Reaction: Dogs with separation anxiety often start showing signs of distress as soon as they realize their owner is preparing to leave.

  • Dependency: They tend to follow their owners around the house and might become extremely clingy.


  • Gradual Boredom: Boredom-related behaviours often emerge gradually. They aren't as closely tied to your departure.

  • Independence: Bored dogs are more likely to entertain themselves when left alone, even if it involves destructive behaviour.

Training Approaches

Separation Anxiety:

  • Desensitization: Gradual, systematic desensitization to departures helps dogs with separation anxiety. This involves practicing short departures and returning quickly, gradually increasing the time away.

  • Counterconditioning: Pair departures with positive experiences like treats or toys to change the dog's emotional response to your leaving.

  • Medication: In severe cases, medication might be necessary, and you might need to collaborate with a vet.


  • Enrichment: Focus on providing mental and physical stimulation. Puzzle toys, interactive games, and regular exercise can alleviate boredom.

  • Structured Training: Engage in obedience training, teaching new tricks, or using "place" or "stay" commands to help dogs focus and expend energy constructively.


As certified dog trainers, your ability to identify the root cause of your canine clients' issues is invaluable. Recognizing the differences between separation anxiety and boredom is the first step in developing effective training protocols. Each condition requires a distinct approach, and your expertise can make a world of difference for dogs and their owners. By understanding these nuances, you can help dogs overcome these challenges and lead happier, healthier lives.