Destructive Dogs: Separation Anxiety vs. Boredom

Chien sur son fauteuil.  Le fauteuil est totalement détruit!Can you relate to the photo above? Telling the difference between boredom and separation anxiety destructiveness is one of the most frequent topics discussed with our Doctors! So where do you, as a pet owner, go from here? What are the symptoms of each and how do you tell them apart? Read on to learn more!

What Does The Condition Look Like?

  • Separation Anxiety
    • Separation anxiety is a serious behavioral problem that manifests itself when an owner leaves the pet for any period of time and can result in destructive behavior.
  • Boredom Destruction
    • Boredom destruction is a result of just what it says, boredom. These behaviors most often happen when an owner is away due to a lack of stimulation and consequences.

How Do I Tell The Conditions Apart At Home With My Pet?

Now that we know a little bit about what each condition stems from and looks like, let’s explore how to tell the two apart from one another.


  • Video Footage
    • One of the most valuable tools in determining anxiety vs boredom is video footage of your pet after you leave the home.
      • The best time to video is right after you leave the house since that is when the most destruction typically occurs.
      • The footage can show whether the destructive behavior is due to separation anxiety (panic reaction) or boredom (the pet looks to be having a grand old time)
  • Separation Anxiety Behaviors
    • Dogs and cats with separation anxiety will start to panic once they are left alone. This panic can manifest in different ways for each pet:
      • Pacing
      • Whining/Crying/Howling
      • Urination/Defecation
      • Destruction (Usually doorways, windows, or the area the owner left from)
      • Lack of interest in food or water
      • Inability to be confined to crate or small space
  • Boredom Behaviors
    • Dogs and cats with boredom will appear to be having fun during the destructive behavior.
      • Often have a preferred material: shoes, pillows, furniture, etc.
      • Pet is not stressed for more than a short time
      • Pet will readily eat and drink: counter surfers, trash pickers, etc.

In both groups, your pet may appear what humans would consider “guilty” about their destruction when the owner returns home. Animals, however, are not capable of this emotion but instead are simply feeding off of our reaction of disapproval. It is important to remember that reprimanding them will not modify the behavior, you should simply clean up the mess and try not to convey your disapproval.

So How Do I Treat This?

If you feel your pet is suffering from separation anxiety, please call your veterinarian to get started with a behavioral modification and treatment plan right away. The earlier these symptoms are addressed and corrected, the happier you and your pet will be! Separation anxiety is absolutely treatable, but the earlier you intervene the more success you will have! These cases take lots of time and more than simple behavior modification techniques due to the nature of the panic attacks.

Managing a pet with destructive behaviors due to boredom takes time and patience. Using tools such as crates, and interactive toys, and simply increasing their exercise time can greatly reduce destructive boredom behaviors. A few starting tips:

  • Go Back to basics – Puppy Proof the home
    • Confine with a crate or safe small room
  • Eliminate favorite target objects – If your dog loves to shred pillows remove any from their safe space so they aren’t tempted to reinforce the behavior
  • “A Tired Dog is a Good Dog” holds true – Wear your pup out for a long walk.
    • Walks provide physical and mental stimulation needed to tire your dog out
  • Utilize engaging puzzle toys for your pet – Slow feeder bowls and puzzle toys are all over the pet market right now, use them to your advantage by filling them with high-value rewards to encourage your dog to expend their energy in the right place

As always consult with your veterinarian to create the best plan for you and your pet. Give our office a call to set up a Behavior Consult with Dr. Loeffler if your pet is in need of a destruction intervention!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s