Hyper-attachment in Pet Dogs, a Likely Pathway to Separation Anxiety


September 13, 2015 by antoniaszymanek

Introduction. Some people may recall their very first day of school as a child and all of the emotion that accompanied that experience. There was a sense of independence, a feeling of excitement to begin a new stage in life, a sense of wonder about who you will meet, what you will learn, what lunch will be like etc. For some first time students, there was also a feeling of nervousness, fear, and anxiety. It can be difficult for some to try new things, and part of this difficulty is leaving your parent or guardian for quite possibly the first time ever. Some individuals go through separation anxiety from being away from their caretaker. In the majority of these cases the children were strongly attached to their caretaker, or hyper-attached. When a child is hyper-attached to their parent or guardian they usually go everywhere, and do everything with their caretaker; when these children are away from their caretaker they get very nervous and anxiety may kick in. This specific from of anxiety is known as separation anxiety, and it is not exclusive to human beings. Pet dogs can also suffer from separation anxiety; this happens when their caretaker leaves their furry friend, and dogs may act out in ways such as barking, chewing objects in the home, pacing, urinating in the home or releasing their bowels,  or scratching/climbing on furniture. Hyper-attachment in humans is commonly linked to separation anxiety, and may be for dogs as well.

Researchers Parthasarathy and Crowell-Davis (2006) conducted a study attempting to discover a link between hyper-attachment in dogs to their caretakers and separation anxiety. Specifically they aimed to prove hyper-attachment as an underlying cause of separation anxiety in pet dogs. Parthasarathy and Crowell-Davis acknowledged that the bond between dogs and their owners as one of the main reasons they are so desirable to have as pets, but the behaviors dogs exhibit when suffering from separation anxiety are main reasons owners get rid of them. Perhaps if owners understood more about what causes separation anxiety in dogs they might be capable of avoiding the development of separation anxiety in their companions.

Methods. In their experiment seventy-five pet dogs were studied. The sample set included both males and females between the ages of 2 and 8 that were living with their owners since four months or younger. These inclusions allowed for the pets to have enough time to form an attachment to their owners. Dogs with a history of aggression, or that were kept outside most of their lives were excluded from the study. Prior to physical observation, owners were asked to fill out two questionnaires: one providing behavioral history of their dogs and one anxiety survey in order to determine if the dog truly had separation anxiety.

The dogs and their owners then took part in an attachment test. The attachment test was held in an exam room containing two chairs, one for the owner and the other for a stranger. The participants were instructed to ignore the dog while in the room in order to avoid any reinforcement for the dogs behavior. During the attachment test a number of different scenarios were presented to the dogs, and their behavior was observed and recorded. For example the test would begin with the owner alone with the dog, next a stranger would enter and sit in the room, and then the stranger would leave after a few minutes, followed by the owner leaving the room for a short period of time, and then the stranger re-entering the room, etc.

Untitled 2

Table 1. Attachment Test

Once the attachment test was completed, the dogs behaviors in their home environment was observed. The researchers placed a video camera in the owners homes facing the entry and exit ways in order to observe the dogs proximity to their owners (how close they were to the exit door when their owner leaves the home and how close they were to their owner while the owner was in the home) and how long they lingered in that area. The researchers were also interested in what kinds of physical behaviors the dog would exhibit upon the exit of their owner, and how they would react when the owner arrived back home. The researchers then reviewed the behavior of the dogs in order to identify which dogs had separation anxiety and hyper-attachment. Table 2 provides a list of specific behaviors the researchers looked for.

anxiety symptoms

Table 2. Anxiety Symptomatic Behavior.

Predictions. During the experiment the hypothesis that dogs with hyper-attachment also suffer from separation anxiety was tested by observing the dogs behaviors in specific situations. These situations included being alone in an exam room, being with their owner in an exam room, being with a stranger in an exam room, being home alone, and being with their owner at home. If the dog was hyper-attached they would exhibit attention seeking behaviors with their owner, and keep a close proximity to their owner. If the dog did behave this way, then he/she should also display symptoms separation anxiety when their owner leaves them and act uneasy around strangers. If this hypothesis is true, we can expect that dogs who are not hyper-attached to their owner will not display symptoms of separation anxiety and will act the same way toward strangers and they do their owner.

If the dog is not hyper-attached to their owner, but still shows symptoms of separation anxiety, or the dog is indeed hyper-attached to their owner but shows no symptoms of separation anxiety, we can assume there is no causation from hyper-attachment to separation anxiety. These scenarios would thus disprove the hypothesis presented.

Results. Both the dogs proximity behavior and symptomatic behaviors observed did not yield significant results confirming the hypothesis. Dogs that were initially self reported by their owners to have separation anxiety, and those that self reported not having separation anxiety behaved very similarly in the experiment.

Table 6. To simplify the results and decrease the chance of false significant results only the behaviors the could be measured efficiently were included in the chart. Both dogs reported to suffer from separation anxiety and dogs reported not to suffer from separation anxiety displayed similar behaviors during the experiment.

Table 6. To simplify the results and decrease the chance of false significant results only the behaviors that could be measured efficiently were included in the chart. Both dogs reported to suffer from separation anxiety and dogs reported not to suffer from separation anxiety displayed similar behaviors during the experiment.

Researchers’ Conclusions. The results of this study show that hyper-attachment in dogs is not a reliable indicator of separation anxiety. Both dogs reported to have separation anxiety and those reported no separation anxiety showed similar behaviors in the same situations. The researchers hypothesized that perhaps dogs that suffer from separation anxiety do not have excessive attachment to their owner but simply an attachment pattern that is abnormal or inappropriate. Additionally they concluded that proximity is not a symptom of separation anxiety in dogs.

Personal Commentary. Can you predict separation anxiety in dogs? Is it possible to identify certain behaviors that lead to separation anxiety? Or is it random and unforseeable? Perhaps separation anxiety in dogs is a part of their personality, and inherited genetically, rather than an effect of how they were raised or treated.

Method. It would be interesting to examine multiple dogs that are the same age, and were raised in the same exact environment for behaviors that are diagnostic of separation anxiety. To test this hypothesis we can raise a group of dogs in a controlled environment to ensure each dog is being treated the same and there is no deviation from one dog to another. We could then run similar experiments such as exposing the dogs to strangers, observing their behavior when the owner enters or leaves a room, and removing the dogs from their comfort zone in order to confirm or deny possible separation anxiety in dogs as a personality trait rather than an acquired ailment.

Limitations. To ensure reliable results it is important to confirm exactly what behaviors suggest separation anxiety. We now know that proximity is not a valid behavior, therefore prior research would be imperative to producing significant results.

Predictions. In order to confirm the hypothesis that separation anxiety is a personality trait in dogs we would have to observe only a portion of the dogs displaying behaviors believed to suggest separation anxiety, the other dogs should show no symptomatic behaviors. If the experiment produces results of no observed symptomatic behavior, or all dogs showing symptomatic behavior we can safely assume that something environmental led to the manifestation of separation anxiety, and perhaps the method is flawed.

Parthasarathy, V., & Crowell-Davis, S. (2006). Relationship between attachment to owners and separation anxiety in pet dogs (Canis lupus familiaris). Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 109-120.


7 thoughts on “Hyper-attachment in Pet Dogs, a Likely Pathway to Separation Anxiety

  1. Shannon Smith says:

    When reading through this article I did not think that hyper-attachment in dogs would be a reliable indicator of separation anxiety because attachment doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with anxiety as a whole. After reading your personal commentary I agree that I do not think separation anxiety in dogs is something one can truly predict. I really enjoyed this article because it is something I can personally relate too. I have two dogs of my own of different breeds who are both around my parents the same amount of time and receive equal attention as a whole. My one dog gets anxiety when my parents leave oppose to my other dog who doesn’t seem to care too much. In my opinion I think separation anxiety in dogs has to do with their personalities and how they feel as you stated in your commentary. Anxiety as a whole is hard to pin point on the reasoning’s why, I think each individual brain of human, animals etc. effects their attachment and anxiety differently.
    Great article choice!
    Shannon Smith

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This has been a very interesting and intriguing study…


  3. ashj324 says:

    Anxiety is a tough physiological occurrence to pin down. Many different factors can attribute to its occurrence such as previous experience or just personality like mentioned before. Great topic! Hopefully with further study they will uncover more knowledge of this issue.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. David Pratta says:

    I enjoyed reading this, I have seen several cases of anxiety in dogs. My own personal experience was with my first dog. He seemed to be hyper attached to the entire family, he followed our routines and such. Something as little as packing a day bag would get him to go insane thinking we were leaving him for the day. I would say he was hyper attached to the entire family and lead to him having anxiety. His anxiety was so bad at times he had a prescription from the Veterinarian. Once he passed, my family got two more dogs both the same breed as the first (Bichon Frise), and they seem to cling to one another. They tend to get angry when anyone leaves or deprives them of attention. However they mainly depend on one another. I would even say one is more “Alpha” than the other and depends on the other dog more often. The study was interesting I just think each case varies from breed to breed and several other factors as well. Great Job!


    Liked by 1 person

  5. chelseajaconetti says:

    I found this article to be quite interesting. I believe my dog has separation anxiety as well as hyper attachment issues. There are times when my dog will follow me everywhere around the house. Sometimes when I am in my room she will be scratching at my bedroom door. Someone would think something was wrong but all she wants to do is be in the same room as me. When my mother leaves for work there are times when she cries at the front door. I believe she can even tell the time in the day in where my mother comes home from work because she waits at the door. All of these things are forms of separation anxiety and hyper-attachment. Even after this study I believe hyper-attachment and separation anxiety are linked. Perhaps conduct the experiment in a different way. I feel an experiment, such as this one, should not be conducted in a lab or controlled environment. An experiment like this should be conducted where the dog is most comfortable. Just like people, dogs have their own personalities and reasons for feelings of anxiety. My dog does not always show signs of hyper-attachment and separation anxiety. Just like people do, dogs get in different moods for various reasons.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Robyn says:

    Thank you for all of this information I have found it very interesting.


  7. Tracy Viano says:

    Terrific content. Expect to integrate this.


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