Which is Harder: Separation Anxiety or Aggression?

This week I took a heartbreaking call. The owner’s dog had separation anxiety. And the dog had recently developed some issues with other dogs. This new development meant that she was concerned about leaving her dog at daycare. But of course, she couldn’t leave him at home, either. Oof, what a tough one!

Having to deal with separation anxiety and reactivity in the same dog is a tall order. But this case made me think: if I had to chose one condition, which would I chose?

Why me? Why my dog?

I’ll confess I’ve had moments where I’ve wailed “Why did I end up with the dog with separation anxiety? It’s just not fair. Why couldn’t he have [fill in the blank with some other behaviour problem]?”

And I used to wonder if separation anxiety was the worst behavioural condition going. It’s limiting, restrictive, life changing. It’s far from how you imagine dog ownership to be.

However, when I adopted a dog, Tex, who turned out to be dog-agressive, wary of strangers, and who spooked at everything from plastic bags to ceiling lights to bikes, I started to reassess. Maybe separation anxiety wasn’t so blighting after all.

But otherwise, they’re angels!

When they’re not losing it about you leaving, separation anxiety dogs are often the sweetest and easiest of dogs. Owner after owner tells me. “Apart from the separation anxiety, he’s such a wonderful dog.”

There’s no law to this but it does seem that many separation anxiety dogs are great in so many other ways. And this was definitely our Percy.

Labrador walking on leash in field

But at least we could go out and leave Tex.


And even though Tex isn’t great at the dog park, we can do lots of normal dog stuff with him. And he’s just as adorable with us as Percy is.

Not that we couldn’t leave Percy by the time we’d adopted Tex. We could. But the memory of watching him on video, thinking he was going to be ok, only to see him freaking out, never quite left us.

With Tex, we’d leave the house and not look back.

Aggressive or anxious?

So does a spooky and aggressive dog top home alone stress bunny?

I’m not sure.

Most trainers will tell you that in the league table of behaviour problems stranger aggression is the biggie. While Tex can be wary of people, he’s not out-and-out aggressive towards people.

A dog who doesn’t like other dogs and nicks an ear, or even punctures skin, is not as much of a risk as a dog who does the same to a child. It’s easier to keep dogs away from dogs. Harder to keep them away from people entirely.

Stranger aggression is about the hardest to problem to crack. And there’s no room for error.

Because Tex doesn’t present this sort of risk (and I’ve now muzzle trained him for any station where I might worry about his reaction), I don’t see his issues as being more difficult or more complicated than separation anxiety.


After I put down the phone today, I’ve said to my husband, which would you take, separation anxiety over dog aggression/spooky? And the answer we both gave was “Just don’t know”.

Not better or worse, just different

Where we landed is “One isn’t harder or easier, better or worse. Both are differently difficult. ”

Here’s the kicker though, what if your dog has separation anxiety and stranger aggression? Oh, my now that is truly tough!

This presents a range of issues. Not least of which is, “what the heck do I do with my dog all day if he can’t go to a dog walker or to a daycare?”

If this is your dog, don’t despair. There is always a solution. And the most obvious one is to get a start on fixing his separation anxiety. It’s a highly treatable condition with a good success rate.

If you invest your time separation anxiety training you won’t have to worry about what to do with your dog when you go out. Oh, and nice bonus, you’ll save a lot of money in daycare and petsitting fees!

Contact me for a free consultation