Separation Stress, Codependency, and Tips for Prevention

Man sitting with dog on a park bench

Our past few blogs on codependency have focused on ways to help pets adjust to a new routine as well as how pet parents can alleviate their concerns when leaving their dog behind. Now we want to share how separation stress and codependency may affect each other, plus how to prevent it throughout your dog's life.

What is separation stress?

Separation stress is a term applied to a variety of behavior that can occur when a dog is left alone. You may also hear it called separation anxiety or separation distress and these terms generally speak to the severity of the problem. There are many levels of separation stress and the severity of behaviors associated with this issue including, but not limited to clinginess (when the pet parent is preparing to leave or returns home), pacing, panting or drooling, vocalization, inability to settle, hovering near doors, house-soiling, destructiveness, self-injury, or attempts to escape.

These behaviors can also indicate other issues, so if you’re not sure what’s causing any troubling behavior, consider seeking the help of a behavior professional.

What contributes to codependency?

It’s also important to understand that how pet parents behave and interact with their dogs can have an effect on the stress of separation, particularly when that relationship become codependent. Codependency is a broad term, and while often applied to intraspecies relationships, it can also be seen interspecies relationships such as human to dogs. It can mean that a person’s emotional attachment to their dog (and vice versa) is such that they rely on the dog for comfort, companionship, or approval.

These types of relationships may mean that neither human nor dog can relax when the other is gone, constantly needs contact with or a visual on the other, and may excuse or accept poor or unwanted behavior simply because it’s coming from the other in the relationship.

For example, a pet parent may not like their dog’s method of asking for attention, but still gives the dog attention because they feel it could negatively impact the relationship if they don’t. From a dog’s point of view, a dog may accept hugs or being picked up even if it makes the dog nervous just because it’s coming from their pet parent.

How can you prevent a codependent relationship?

Good socialization from puppyhood means exposing a puppy to all types of stimulation in a safe and controlled way so that the puppy has a positive experience and can learn how to adapt and cope in new environments.

Socialization isn’t just about interacting with people and dogs, but it also includes exposure to sounds, textures, smells, objects, environments, and touch, and is paired with training and enrichment for a well-rounded and adaptable dog who can more readily problem-solve and cope with change.

While socialization during key developmental periods is vital for a dog’s well-being, it doesn’t stop there! A dog who has continued efforts to keep up socialization throughout its life is better able to adapt to change, cope with stress, and be able to problem-solve. This can help prevent codependency with the pet parent by allowing a dog to operate independently.

There’s a common misconception that once a dog has learned something, it sticks, but it’s important for a dog to continue learning and socializing through its life to maintain the ability to operate independently and be comfortable coping with the unknown.

Ways you can keep your dog thinking, learning, and socializing include:

  • Teaching new cues or tricks
  • Try out a dog sport
    • Check out a local club that offers rally, agility, barn hunts, nose work, flyball, or other fun sport to suit your dog’s interest and ability
  • Exercise your dog in different ways
    • Walk new routes, play games, use puzzles for mealtime
    • For more details on fun ways to improve your dog’s physical or mental well-being at all ages, see some of our other posts:
  • Take your dog to a reputable doggy day care like Camp Bow Wow® where they can interact with new dogs and people while also getting physical and mental energy out
    • This also provides pet parents a way to be apart from their pup with peace of mind

Other Resources

If you need tips on preparing your dog for being alone now that you may be traveling or returning to working away from home, check out our other blogs here: