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Separation Anxiety

 Yorkshire Terrier Separation Anxiety


Leaving a dog home alone (even for a small amount of time) is inevitable. Not only do most owners work, even with those who work from home or stay at home just running errands such as food shopping often involves leaving a dog home alone.
Separation anxiety goes way beyond a Yorkie simply missing his owners when left by himself. It involves an overwhelming emotional response to the isolation that is felt and is expressed by a range of certain behaviors. 

It is a very common issue with not only this breed, but all dogs in general; though some breeds are more prone to this than others. 

This can develop at any age. While it often begins at a young age and will continue unless steps are taken to help the dog, although older Yorkshire Terrier may start to have problems after seemingly being fine previously. 

The time that it takes for a dog to start to feel stressed will vary. Each dog has his tipping point; A Yorkie may have separation anxiety only when left home for long periods of time while another may be highly sensitive and show signs and symptoms of this when alone for just 30 minutes. 

Even before an owner leaves, a Yorkie may whine, pace or exhibit nervous behavior in anticipation of the isolation. 

Some dogs may even attempt to run and escape when they know that they are about to be placed into their playpen or other area that indicates that their owner is about to leave. 
home alone Yorkie
Deacon, photo courtesy of Sally Papin

Signs and Symptoms of Separation Anxiety

The main element of this is distress when left alone. This will manifest in different ways, including one or more of the following:

Excessive barking - A Yorkie may bark for hours and some dogs bark until they are complete tired out, only to regroup and begin again. Since owners are away from home, it may be neighbors that report this behavior. Owners may also hear this occurring as they approach the house after being away.

Excessive and/or destructive chewing - Thought to be a coping mechanisms for stress, a Yorkie that has separation anxiety may chew on non-toy items, often ripping them apart and causing damage.
Many dogs will chew on anything that they can reach. This includes table legs, blankets and bedding and food bowls. It is a projection of their anxiety and chewing works (to some degree) as a calming method. The destruction of items is done during a bombardment of overflowing emotions… A dog will be caught in a rush of panic and training as to what or what not to chew is difficult to summon.

Panic - Often as the hours tick by, stress will mount and eventually build into a type of panic. A Yorkie may repeatedly jump, spin around and smash into walls or other areas that are being used to confine him.

Excessive drooling - When a dog works himself up into a frenzy, there may be excessive drooling. 

Have urination or bowel movement "accidents"- Some owners wonder if their dog is purposely 'misbehaving'. However, when a dog becomes extremely upset, the body can "let loose" leading to urination or elimination. 

Pacing - A dog may pace back and forth; some will do this for hours before finally tiring out. 

Excessive licking - This is a nervous behavior and as with chewing, a dog may do this as a self-calming method. This can be very detrimental, as excessive self-licking can lead to hot spots in which hair thins or the skin becomes completely bald. This can lead to secondary infections. 

Whining - Whether a Yorkie curls in his bed or stands to try and look out of a window, he may consistently whine in a high-pitched vocalization. 

Coprophagia - This is the term that means "eating feces" and while many things can cause a dog to do this (including lack of proper nutrition- See Feeding), Yorkies that only do this when home alone, may be doing this purely out of nervousness. 

When the Owner Returns Home

Since a Yorkshire Terrier with separation anxiety is experiencing such an intense response to being home alone, it is often difficult for the puppy or dog to quickly rebound once an owner is home. When an owner comes home to greet a dog that has been overly anxious, that dog may then:

Have excitement urination - A dog can become so excited, that he displays excitement urination - This has nothing to do with housebreaking, it is a release of urine that happens when the body "lets go" of its anxiety and fear

Have a rapid release of pent up energy and emotions - A Yorkshire Terrier may jump all over his owner, circle around him over and over, jump up and more. While it is normal for a dog to be happy that his owner has arrived back home, dogs with separation anxiety will act in a way that shows they are finally free from a prison of perceived emotional torture.

Become clingy, shadowing the owner - A dog may behave as if he is afraid to leave his owner's side. He may beg for extra attention.
Signs of depression - Some owners wonder if their dog is "mad at them" for leaving them home alone. However, this is not the case. Some Yorkies with severe separation anxiety will have such a buildup of strong emotions and fear when alone, that when they are reunited with their owner, there is a rapid drop in adrenaline which causes the dog to become withdrawn.
Time VS Level of Distress

Each dog is different. Some Yorkies can enter a state of severe separation anxiety a relatively short amount of time after being left home alone. For others, they will do fine with shorter periods (1 or 2 hours) but they will have a certain line, that when crossed, panic and fear steps in. In either case, the training to help a Yorkie will be the same.

Why Dogs Experience Separation Anxiety

Dogs that suffer from this need training to build up their self-confidence and independence.

In addition, the environment the dog is in needs to be set up in a way that is conducive to a more relaxed and calm emotional state. 

The Yorkshire Terrier has been bred over centuries to be a companion lap dog. Wanting to be close to his owner and having a close bond with his owner are inbred traits. 

It will take some training to help a Yorkie learn new behaviors and have improved coping skills. It should be noted that a higher percentage of rescued shelter dogs experience separation anxiety.  
Yorkie up on pillows
Luna, 3 years old
Photo courtesy of Roberto (from Italy)
This may be due to what the dog experienced during his puppy years. Even older dogs can be helped to handle separation issues and will benefit from training.

Sudden Onset of Separation Anxiety

If a Yorkie suddenly struggles with being home alone, it is often due to a change. This includes:

Moving to a new house - A Yorkie may not yet feel "safe" and it will take time for a puppy or dog to know that the new home is indeed "their home"

A change of ownership - A seemingly confident and well behaved dog may develop anxiety when new owners take over, no matter what the age of the dog.

A change is schedule - If a dog was normally left home alone overnight and now it has turned to days… Or if an owner was usually home on weekends, but now is not, this can cause separation anxiety to develop. Dogs have amazing internal clocks and know when to expect things. 

Therefore, if a change happens and a dog is not prepared, he may panic since he "knows" that it is NOT the time that his owner should be leaving.
Loss of a Family Member - Dogs experience many of the emotions that humans do. If a human or if a canine family member no longer resides in the home, a dog can become distressed. 

This is especially relevant if a human family member who was a main caregiver to the dog is now gone… Or if a Yorkie had an animal playmate (another dog or even sometimes a strong attachment to a cat) and that pet is now gone. 

Training and Help for Yorkshire Terrier Separation Anxiety

Asking a Yorkie to be independent for a good portion of the day will take some training and will include setting up the right environment to help him cope. The goal will be to have a more confident dog that is able to handle himself well when home alone and has a healthy attachment to his owner. 


If someone placed you in a small room without anything to keep yourself occupied, you might experience distress as well. Here are some tips to make sure that your Yorkie remains safe AND has enough needed items and objects to be able to self sooth and keep busy.

1) Place your Yorkie in a gated area or an indoor canine playpen. This should be size appropriately, allowing enough room to move around, play and have room for all needed items.

2) Experiment with the placement of this. Some dogs do best with a window view (sliders off the kitchen is a good example of this) while for others, this will just be a trigger for barking. Try different areas to see which one your dog seems most comforted with. 

3) The area should be in a warm comfortable room. In the summer, be sure that your Yorkie is not in the direct pat of cold A/C air and in the winter be sure that he is not too close to heating vents.
Yorkie at home with birds in cage
Truffle, 2 and 1/2 years old
Photo courtesy of Deborah Marsh
4) Leave a light on. You may return home as the sun is setting or clouds and storms may roll in while you are gone. Either way, leaving a light on ensures that your dog will not be in a darkened house, which only exasperates stress and feelings of isolation.

 5) Leave on a radio or TV. Having pleasant 'easy listening' music or calming televisions shows can help a dog not feel quite so alone. Some dogs even enjoy looking at the TV. Studies have shown that dogs are more focused on television programs that show animals as opposed to those that do not. 

The only downside to this, is that you do not have control over any commercials that play and even if you choose a nice channel or station, it can change format over the course of the day. 

So, unless you have a setting you know you can trust....
6) Play soothing music made for canine ears. There are some fantastic MP3s, CDs and streaming options that offer fun songs and soothing sounds specifically for dogs that are home alone. Have these play on loop and your Yorkie will always be hearing happy voices that speak to him and interesting noises to wipe away feelings of isolation. 

Here's our favorites: 
Items to Have in the Area

Once you have the gated area or playpen situated in a good spot, you'll want to make sure that your Yorkie is set up for success to better cope with being home alone.
Have the following in the area:
1) Toys - It cannot be overstated how the correct toys are vital to a Yorkie coping with being alone. Some Yorkies can become so attached to favorite toys - only accessible when home alone- that they begin to look forward to this time that they will have access to them. Chew toys should be strong and durable, in an assortment of colors and textures to draw in focus and offer good chewing options. 

2) Water and Food - Water should be in a dispenser. It can help to give the allotted food and snacks via Kongs or other treat release toys. This alone can keep a puppy or dog occupied for hours. Some Yorkies can become so focused on this method of retrieving food that they forget all about being home alone while they stay occupied to retrieve the treats.

3) A quality canine bed- Have a well-cushioned, quality dog bed in this area, so that your Yorkie has an area to feel secure when resting or sleeping.

4) Pee-pads - If your Yorkie has been house trained go to the bathroom outside, do not expect him to suddenly know to use pee-pads. However, when set into the corner of the designated area, it allows a puppy or dog a chance to urinate and/or elimination away from the eating, playing and sleeping area.

5) Companion toy- The purpose of a companion toy for separation anxiety is to resolve the element of isolation. There are canine stuffed animal toys are that large enough to snuggle with that emit a soothing heartbeat. This has shown to be an incredible soothing toy for dogs that are fearful of being alone. A Yorkie may not show interest in it when others are present; it may be his or her "go to" item only when alone. Be careful in regard to which one you choose; some 'copycat' products may have elements that fall off or wear out with time.

This is the amazing companion toy we recommend, along with optional heat pads and heart replacement (not needed for at least several years).

Whether your Yorkie makes it clear that he understands that you are about to leave, or if he is calm when you walk out the door, just about all dogs do sense that their owner is preparing to leave the house. So let's talk about how things should change in regard to what happens before you even leave.

Think about what sounds or actions happen as you prepare to leave. This usually includes (but is not limited to):

• Putting on your shoes and coat
• Handling your car keys
• Opening the door to inspect the weather
• Pouring a cup of coffee into a "to-go" cup

The 1st step in the training will be show your Yorkie that doing these things does not necessarily mean that you are leaving for a long period of time, or leaving at all. On days that you will NOT be leaving, perform one (or some) of these actions, randomly throughout the day and then simply go on with your day. For example, if you were planning on reading a book, pick up your keys, jingle them and then sit down to read as if nothing were out of place.

This should be done many times throughout the days that you are not planning on leaving and it should continue to be done essentially forever, as it will be part of desensitization and this should be reinforced so that your Yorkie never again learns to read these "cues". 
handsome Yorkie
Beckham, 2 years old
Photo courtesy of Jenni McLean 
Once your Yorkie no longer becomes nervous when you do these things, each day that you are home, take the time to do just one…Handle the keys, or look out of the door, etc.

Pre-Departure Tips

1) Do not place your Yorkie in his designated area right before you leave. Your dog should be able to enjoy his area without making an association that being there leads to something "bad".

A playpen or an enclosed indoor area with doggie gates works well. At times that you are home, leave the entrance to this open and encourage your dog to go there to find treats and fun toys. When you are going to leave, place your Yorkie in his area a good 20 minutes before you actually leave.

2) Schedule your morning so that in addition to bringing your Yorkie outside for bathroom needs, you also have a good 15 to 20 minutes for some outdoor playtime. Running around in the yard or going for a morning walk can allow a dog to release energy (making him more prone to rest or nap later) and helps thwart the feeling of having the canine equivalent of cabin fever. 

3) When you are going to leave, do not shower your dog with hugs and kisses and promises that you will return. While it is human instinct to want to say goodbye in this way, it sends a signal to a dog that their owner is leaving for a good amount of time. Instead- if you really feel that you want to do this - you can give this sort of attention well before you leave (20 to 30 minutes). 

When you are ready to depart, do this in a matter-of-fact way. 

If your Yorkie seems shows signs of separation anxiety as you are closing the front door, so not reenter to sooth him. The training steps ahead will work to build up independence skills and reentering to offer soothing words or hugs will counteract this.

4) NEVER scold your Yorkie for bad behavior that stems from separation anxiety. This is uncontrolled behavior and with training - and other tips below- your puppy or dog will be able to overcome this. Scolding only adds stress to an already stressed dog.

Timed Sessions

For Yorkies with severe separation anxiety, it can be very helpful to train in small steps. Using the above guidelines for "Pre-Departure" and for "Environment" you can then begin training your Yorkie to be alone in the following way:

Step 1 - Not Actually Leaving: On days that you are home - following the Departure and Environment guidelines- do not leave the house, but DO remove yourself from the room. Your Yorkie will be in his designated area with all needed items. If this area is in the living room, go to the kitchen or bedroom…any room that your dog does NOT have a direct line of sight to you…but CAN hear you. 

No matter how much he whines, cries, jumps, paces or does otherwise, stay out of sight for 5 minutes and then in a matter-of-fact way, reenter the room. 

Wait 3 to 5 minutes and then allow your Yorkie to leave the pen or gated area. 

When your Yorkie learns to be fine with these 5 minutes, increase this to 10…then 15, then 20 and so on. And when your Yorkie shows no signs of Separation Anxiety, you will now be ready for Step 2

Step 2 - Actually Leaving for Timed Periods: On days that you are home - following the Departure and Environment guidelines- Leave the house for 10 minutes and 10 minutes only. Dogs are very intelligent, so it is best if you actually drive away. Do this randomly for about 1 week.

On week 2, increase this time to 15 minutes. On week 3, increase to 20 minutes. On week 4, increase this to 30 minutes.

Follow these times as closely as you can. The goal will be to show your Yorkie that he IS capable of being alone - and not being panicked- for 10 minutes. Then, when he gains the self-confidence of knowing that - which will be greatly helped along by following pre-departure guidelines and setting up the right environment - he will then learn that if he did okay for 10 minutes, he can do just fine for 15 and so on.

Tip- Each dog is unique and you will need to read your Yorkie's behavior to see if it is time to increase these sessions. For some dogs, an increase will be able to be done every few days…For others it may be every couple of weeks. The important element to keep in mind is that while this type of training can take a while, the end result will be a confident dog that can handle being home alone.
Yorkshire Terrier
Smokie, photo courtesy of Ida Cooper

When You Arrive Back Home

When you finally come home after a long day at work, it is natural to want to greet your dog and give him big hugs, kisses and tons of attention. 

If your Yorkie has trouble staying home alone, you may really want to pour on the attention.

However, when a dog suffers from separation anxiety, making a big deal out of arriving back home can be counterproductive.

If an owner rushes inside and then rushes to their dog to shower attention, this can be the same as sending a direct message that says "I can't believe I made it back home! Thank goodness I made it, thank goodness you're here! Oh, this is a miracle, let's celebrate!"

And this tells a dog that they were correct to be worried.

So, what should you do? 
When you enter the home, do NOT greet your Yorkie. This will be a bit difficult until you get used to the routine. However, it is best to casually enter, quietly walk to the kitchen to have a drink of water, thumb through the mail… and then after 1 to 3 minutes, calmly approach your dog and in a matter-of-fact manner, say "hello". 

After this, bring your puppy or dog outside for bathroom needs. Once that business is taken care of... It will be time to hug, kiss and play! If the weather permits, spend some time outside to run around with your Yorkie, allowing him to release pent-up energy and enjoy time with you.

Additional Help for Separation Anxiety

If you will be gone for extended periods of time, it can be very helpful to offer your Yorkie a break in his day. If possible, go home during lunch time - even a 10 minute session of play and a bathroom break for your Yorkie can be very helpful.

If this is not possible, you may wish to see if a friend or family member or a neighbor would like to visit your Yorkie one time per day. Sometimes older, retired friends, family or neighbors welcome this request. They have the pleasure of spending time "doggie sitting" and will be more than happy to help out.

If you choose to do this, be sure to go over the rules of Departure". Be sure that they follow the guidelines for when they leave and that they make sure that the designated area holds all of the needed items. 

Another option - if you are normally gone for long periods - is to hire a dog walker. Older neighborhood children may be thrilled to be asked to do this job. Alternatively, you may want to check with your local high school's guidance counselor for a list of recommended students who may appreciate this part-time job.

If you do choose someone, have them come over when you are home (3 or 4 times on various days) so that your Yorkie can become used to them. Be sure that they know to follow all of the rules and that they have your emergency contact number. 
Just 30 minutes to 1 hour per day of someone coming to your house to bring your Yorkie outside for a bathroom break, offer him/ her some exercise and to play with your dog can make a huge difference and stop Separation Anxiety issues.
Many owners who have Yorkies with separation anxiety ask if a Doggie Day Care would help. And the answer is, it all depends on your particular puppy or dog. Some dogs love the company of other dogs and will enjoy that time. Others are not yet socialized to other dogs enough to enjoy play time and/or the stress of being away from home overpowers the stress of being home alone.

Supplements & Additional Safe Aids

Calming collars - While this will not resolve all stress issues by itself, it can work as a supplemental aide to help a dog remain calm. This is a non-medicated, no chemical, break-away collar that slowly releases a lavender / chamomile fragrance that naturally relaxes dogs.
Supplements - There will always be some dogs that no matter what will have trouble with separation anxiety. In these cases, it can then be helpful to offer a safe, natural supplement that works to calm a dog. 

Be careful to choose the right product. Those that contain L-theanine and colostrum work very well and importantly, are safe. 

L-theanine is an amino acid that has relaxing effects; it does not cause drowsiness; however it works to increase dopamine which is an organic chemical released in the brain to regulate mood and relaxation. Colostrum has relaxing properties that reduce stress. 
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