SEPARATION anxiety is a fear-based behaviour that some dogs exhibit when separated from their pack (left alone).
The behaviour is expressed by the dog being highly agitated and destructive as it attempts to free itself from the confines it has been placed in.
This can take place while the dog is left in a car, a crate or a home. The destructiveness is typically isolated to the areas of escape such as destroying the area around the font door (or rear door if that is the door the owner and dog usually exit from).
In the car a dog will destroy the interior of the car around the door and window.
When left in a crate a dog suffering from separation anxiety \will attempt to get out of the crate by scratching and digging at the inside of the crate entrance, or chewing at the plastic shell of the crate, or grab the cage door with its incisors and try to pull it open, often causing themselves harm such as broken teeth and nails.
Separation anxiety should not be confused with an adolescent dog that is left alone with too much freedom and not enough exercise.
Many young dogs - who are given far too much free rein of the house, little or no supervision, and little to no exercise before an owner leaves them home - will display destructive behaviour in an attempt to entertain themselves while left alone.
Their destructiveness usually involves tearing apart their toys, maybe a throw carpet, shoes, laundry left on the floor or even their own bed.
It is markedly different from the destructiveness of a dog with separation anxiety. A bored dog will look as if it has had joy in its destruction; as if it has been mentally and physically satisfied, because it has been. A separation anxiety dog will look mentally and physically exhausted due to stress and panic.
I have often said that canine separation anxiety occurs when there is a perfect storm between a dog and their owner.
Dogs, being highly social creatures, have needs that include contact with their pack. Some dogs have higher social needs than others, just like some dogs have higher play needs than others. These dogs find great comfort when they are in constant company of their pack and when they are not able to have that comfort they panic.
More often than not these dogs are genetically programmed to be that way. They got an extra dose of "gotta be in a pack" in their DNA.
The perfect storm occurs when a dog owner doesn't recognize they have a dog with high social needs, and lacks either knowledge or confidence to be a strong leader (something a separation anxiety dog needs desperately), combined with a lifestyle that requires the dog be left alone for lengthy periods of time.
If that same dog was in a pack where there was a family member or another dog around at all times, it is very probable that the anxious behaviour would never be exhibited as the pack needs are being satisfied by constant companionship.
If that same dog had a strong leader who was experienced with dogs and able to teach the dog, when young, how to find comfort in their own personal space, it is very likely that anxious dog would never display extreme destructive behaviour. If that dog had an owner who had a lifestyle that allowed it to take the dog with them wherever they went - thus allowing the dog to be involved with the pack at all times - that dog would probably never feel anxious.
Separation anxiety is a difficult behaviour to fix once it has been established. It is advisable to seek a qualified trainer who will go through the lengthy step-by-step desensitization process involved and initiate strong leadership skills instilling confidence in the dog.
Often bringing a second dog into the home can have wonderful effects. Some people have even found success after bringing a cat into the pack! In any case, it doesn't "go away" as a dog matures (it may get worse), so please seek advice from a qualified professional.