Yorkies are often recognized as a bold bark in a little package. But they can experience anxiety just like you. While it may be an unpleasant emotion to experience, it affects all of us at some point and is completely normal and healthy.
When high levels of anxiety are not controlled, however, it can lead to an anxiety disorder and a variety of unpleasant behaviors.
But how do you know if your Yorkshire Terrier has anxiety? How do you treat it? In this guide, we’ll give you the answers to these questions and some tips on how to prevent Yorkie separation anxiety from developing in the first place.
In this guide:
- What is Yorkie separation anxiety?
- How to spot Yorkie anxiety symptoms
- How to treat Yorkie anxiety
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>> Keep reading: 7 Most Common Yorkie Health Issues
What is Yorkie separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety is the fear and distress a dog feels when separated from its owner, even if just for a short time. Usually, these dogs have an excessive attachment to their owner.7 It usually manifests itself in a variety of undesirable behaviors, which we’ll talk about later.
Separation anxiety is the second most common behavioral problem among dogs—with the first being aggression. Although an estimated 20% of the dog population exhibits some level of separation anxiety behaviors, experts still don’t quite know why it happens.4
If your Yorkie experiences separation anxiety, the emotional distress can be taxing on both of you. That’s why it is important to take steps to ease their anxiety and to seek help from your veterinarian as early as possible.
Why do Yorkies experience separation anxiety?
Although experts don’t know exactly why dogs experience separation anxiety, they do have a clue as to which dogs could experience it. Research3 has shown that dogs are more likely to develop separation-related behavior problems if they:
- Are male
- Came from shelters or were found
- Are separated from the litter before they are 60 days old
- Were rehomed
- Live in apartments
- Live in a home without children, although some studies indicate no difference
- Had limited exposure to humans and various experiences from 5–10 months old
- Experienced a change in the household like a new human resident, a routine change, a move, or a traumatic event
How to spot Yorkie separation anxiety symptoms
It can be difficult to determine if your Yorkie is experiencing separation anxiety. The first thing you’ll need to do is rule out the possibility that your Yorkie may be bored, under-exercised, or in need of basic obedience training. How do we do this?
Well, most dogs are passive and inactive while their owners are away. Anxious dogs, on the other hand, are likely to be very active and even destructive when left alone. This is often mistaken for simple naughtiness, but it isn’t; it’s fearful behavior manifesting itself.
A study done by Rebecca Sargisson suggests that if a dog is bored, the undesirable behaviors will gradually increase across the period of separation.1 However, a dog experiencing separation anxiety will have the highest peak of intense behavior soon after the owner’s departure. A camera may be helpful in determining when these behaviors are most prominent.
So, ask yourself a few questions:
- Does the excessive barking begin when my Yorkie sees me getting ready to leave the house?
- Does the most intense behavior occur at the onset of leaving?
- Or do the behaviors seem to occur toward the end of the separation?
Examples of Yorkie separation anxiety symptoms
Yorkie crying & excessive barking
Excessive Yorkie crying or barking is one of the most common ways your Yorkie will demonstrate they are anxious while you’re gone.
If your normally well-behaved Yorkie turns on a vocal meltdown in stressful or lonely situations, this may be a sign of anxiety.
However, just because your little pal is barking doesn’t mean they are anxious. They may just want a shot at the squirrel in the backyard, a toy they can’t reach, or something tasty sitting out of reach on the counter.
Anxious barking usually sounds higher-pitched, unsettled, and more frantic than a playful or prey-driven bark. It is also more excessive than normal barking.1
Unusual potty accidents
Another common sign of Yorkie anxiety is elimination accidents. If a once house-broken Yorkshire Terrier feels scared and isolated, they may suddenly have these accidents in the house, particularly in unusual locations.
Repetitive movements & restlessness
Your Yorkie’s behavior may suddenly change either when you begin preparing to leave or soon after you depart. The dog’s normal behavior may morph into restless and repetitive movements, such as pacing back and forth, excessive lip licking, and over-grooming.
A once well-behaved Yorkie may become destructive while their owner is away. Damage is often located around entry and exit points, like windows and doorways.
They may chew on things around the house, such as pillows or window blinds. If penned up, they may attempt to free themselves of their enclosure, which can result in painful injuries and expensive veterinary treatments.
While the most common symptoms of Yorkie separation anxiety are destruction and excessive vocalization, other behaviors may also exist. These include trembling, salivation, depression, and refusal to eat.
How to treat Yorkie anxiety
The most helpful thing you can do for your Yorkie is to speak with your veterinarian. Your vet will be able to help you determine if the anxiety is triggered by a specific situation or if it is an overarching problem. They will also be able to determine if there are any health issues that may be impacting your Yorkie.
Consider consulting with a professional dog trainer. These behaviors are not easy to tackle and a specialist may be able to help you select an approach best suited for your pup.
It’s important to stick to the treatment plan your vet provides for you. Research findings have shown that the best indicator of treatment success is the consistency of the owner in implementing the treatment.
The best way to treat Yorkie anxiety is prevention. Research has shown that puppies between the ages of 5 and 10 months who encounter a wide range of experiences outside the home and with other people are less likely to develop separation anxiety.1
Yorkies also do well in homes where daily routines are stable and the dog experiences a moderate amount of time absent from the owner. As they say, not too much, not too little, but juuust right.
Avoid punishment as a training tool; it tends to increase the chance of producing an anxious Yorkie.9 Dogs will respond better with positive reinforcement.1
A Yorkie showing excessive attachment to its owner can easily develop separation anxiety. Refrain from allowing your Yorkie to be overly attached by occasionally preventing them from following you from room to room and by minimizing your excitement when leaving and returning to your dog.
If your Yorkie does develop separation anxiety, the most beneficial treatment is most likely going to be behavior modification.1 Research on this topic suggests that a combination of desensitization and counterconditioning techniques will give you the most success.10
Make your absences very short in the beginning
At the beginning of training, you’ll want to desensitize your pup to your absence by practicing short intervals of separation and returning almost immediately.
Gradually increase the intervals when your Yorkie shows some success. Eventually, make the duration of your absence random. This will help reinforce the expectation that you are always going to return no matter how long you are gone.
Additionally, if your Yorkie gets worked up at just the sight of you getting ready for your day, you may need to take the time to desensitize them to these cues.
Things like putting on your shoes, grabbing keys, and packing bags tell your Yorkie you are leaving. Try to change things up by randomly grabbing your keys, making a to-go cup of coffee or putting on your shoes without actually leaving or leaving only for a few minutes.
Create a departure and return routine
Next, you’ll want to counter condition your Yorkie to associate your absence with a positive experience. Before you leave, provide your pup with a treat they love like frozen peanut butter in a kong. It could also be a favorite toy that they get to play with only when you leave. This will help them associate your departure with something positive.
Secondly, don’t make a huge deal of leaving. If you do, it will mark the event with an elevated sense of stress and emotion. Instead, give them a quick pet goodbye, whether you are leaving for five minutes or five hours, so they do not associate goodbyes with stress.
When you arrive home, give your dog a few minutes to calm down and acclimate to you being home before greeting them or removing them from their pen. Remain calm when greeting them upon your return—don’t make it a production of Olympic-opening-ceremony proportions. This only marks the event with an elevated sense of emotion or stress.
Without going overboard, follow-up with a positive interaction like play time or a walk.
Break up their day
When you need to be away for an extended period of time, consider ways you can break up your Yorkie’s alone time.
Is it possible for you to come home for a mini visit over your lunch break? Maybe you can ask a friend or neighbor to briefly visit your pup. Hiring a dog walker through a service like Rover is another good strategy to provide your pup with a social visit and some exercise.
Doggie daycares may be a good option for some Yorkies, but others may find being away from home even more stressful than being alone. It all depends on your dog.
Keep them mentally stimulated
Preoccupying a Yorkie with stimuli while you are gone may ease their anxious behaviors.
Interactive web cameras can help you stay in touch with your pet while you are away. They may help alleviate some of the stress your Yorkie experiences by giving them the ability to interact with you throughout the day.
Some of these devices are pretty basic, offering only video and audio interactions. Others, such as the PetChatz Digital Daycare, pack in enough tech to land a lunar module. It’s like having FaceTime, an essential oil diffuser, a cinema, and Pavlov’s treat experiment all wrapped up together.
Oh, and we can’t forget the dog-initiated paw button that alerts you when your pup would like to have a chat. But this begs the question: who is training whom?
- Remote treat dispenser
- Brain games
- 2-way HD camera with sound/motion detection & DOGTV streaming
- Calming aromatherapy
We love to give our Yorkie, Max, this puzzle toy right before we head out the door. It keeps him busy for a little while and rewards his effort with a few delicious treats.
Motion-activated toys can also be a great way to keep your dog engaged for a little while. We bought this squirrel toy for Max a few weeks ago. We can’t leave it with him in his pen, however, because he hasn’t quite figured out that the squirrel isn’t real and he tends to lose his mind over it.
To help combat feelings of loneliness, some owners provide a therapeutic companion toy to their Yorkies. These toys mimic a real dog with body warmth and a soothing heartbeat and can be especially useful during stressful times such as separation or storms.
Whatever toy or treat you choose, keep your pup’s size in mind. Many of the toys and treats on the market are intended for larger dogs, not our petite Yorkshire Terriers. Most toys and treats are marked with a weight range. Aim for products that are sized appropriately for their weight and paw and jaw size.
An entertaining view
Giving your dog a nice view from their pen may also keep their attention off of your absence. Consider putting their pen near a slider door, window, or in view of the TV. Max’s personal favorite TV channel is Animal Planet.
Calming aids and supplements for Yorkies
Research suggests that providing your Yorkie with something that carries your scent, like a T-shirt, may be calming.10 Noise machines or soft music may also be beneficial.
You could also ask your vet about diffusing pure essential oils into the air. Oils like Sweet Orange (Citrus Sinensis), Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata) may be good options to try.
- Duck flavored calming treats
- Alleviates symptoms due to separation anxiety, thunderstorms, and other stressful situations
- Natural ingredients like organic Passionflower, chamomile, valerian root, l-tryptophan, and organic ginger root
CBD (Cannabidiol) oil may be something else you may want to consider. It is an active ingredient extracted from the hemp plant. Some people have found it useful for both themselves and their dogs in treating a variety of health issues, including dog anxiety.
If you are interested in trying CBD oil, it’s best to consult with your vet first. CBD oil has not yet been approved by the FDA, and therefore, the purity of the substance cannot be validated. There are many CBD options available, so it may help to get one specific product cleared by your vet.
Dog-appeasing pheromone treatment has also proven to be successful in calming dogs.7 It is an artificial compound that is supposed to mimic the natural pheromone secretion of a new mother.
These pheromones are delivered to the anxious dog by an electric diffuser. There is evidence that this treatment is as effective as the antidepressant drug clomipramine when combined with behavior modification training. It also had fewer side effects.7
Some antidepressant medications made for humans, like clomipramine (Clomicalm®) and fluoxetine (Prozac®), have been helpful for dogs when used alongside behavior modification training.5, 6
They are most beneficial when applied sooner rather than later,1 in conjunction with a behavioral modification treatment plan and with the withdrawal of the medications over time. However, we do not recommend you medicate your dog without first consulting your veterinarian.
A companion dog
This may not be the best option for everyone, but there is some evidence to support that another animal, such as another dog, may help relieve your Yorkie’s anxiety.4 The evidence suggests, however, that an additional pet will probably not prevent the separation anxiety from developing in the first place.
Create a safe space for anxious Yorkies
Some Yorkie owners choose to contain anxiety-related behaviors by crating their dog while they are gone. Although we can understand why dog owners would choose to crate, be aware that some studies have shown that dogs kept in crates are no less likely to display these behaviors.
In fact, Yorkies may find the confinement even more stressful, attempt to break free, and injure themselves in the process. Baby-gating them into a safe room with their necessities may be a better option for some dogs.
Consider creating an enclosed, cozy, den-like space specifically for your Yorkie, and make sure small children that may aggravate your pup are kept out of the space.
Keep it open and accessible at all times for naps and voluntary retreats. Make sure it is well lit and neither too hot nor too cold. Note how sunlight impacts the space at different times of the day and how AC vents blow directly on the space.
Pee pads or grass pads (whether real or artificial) are a good choice for Yorkies that are penned or have no ability to relieve themselves outside in your absence.
Be sure to work alongside your veterinarian when dealing with Yorkie separation anxiety. They will be able to rule out other health issues so you can pinpoint what you need to address. You should also consider working with an animal behavior expert, as they will be knowledgeable about canine anxiety behaviors.
Whether you decide to tackle Yorkie anxiety behaviors by yourself or with professional help, you may find it helpful to place a video recording device in the room where the dog spends the most time in your absence. This way you can monitor your Yorkie’s behavior before and during treatment to determine if the interventions are working.
- Sargisson, R., Canine separation anxiety: strategies for treatment and management. Dovepress. Oct. 2014. pp. 143-151. https://www.dovepress.com/canine-separation-anxiety-strategies-for-treatment-and-management-peer-reviewed-article-VMRR
- Sherman B., Mills D. Canine anxieties and phobias: an update on separation anxiety and noise aversions. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract. Sep 2008;38(5):1081-106. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18672155
- Stephen J, Ledger R. Relinquishing dog owners’ ability to predict behavioural problems in shelter dogs post adoption. Appl Anim Behav Sci. 2007;107(1–2):88–99.
- Bradshaw J. In Defence of Dogs. Why Dogs Need Our Understanding. London, UK: Penguin Press; 2011.
- Cannas S, Frank D, Minero M, Aspesi A, Benedetti R, Palestrini C. Video analysis of dogs suffering from anxiety when left home alone and treated with clomipramine. J Vet Behav. 2014;9(2):50–57.
- Simpson BS, Landsberg GM, Reisner IR, et al. Effects of reconcile (fluoxetine) chewable tablets plus behaviour management for canine separation anxiety. Vet Ther. 2007;8(1):18–31.
- Gaultier E, Bonnafous L, Bougrat L, Lafont C, Pageat P. Comparison of the efficacy of a synthetic dog-appeasing pheromone with clomipramine for the treatment of separation-related disorders in dogs. Vet Rec. 2005;156(17):533–538.
- McGreevy PD, Masters AM. Risk factors for separation-related distress and feed-related aggression in dogs: additional findings from a survey of Australian dog owners. Appl Anim Behav Sci. 2008; 109(2–4):320–328.
- Arhant C, Bubna-Littitz H, Bartels A, Futschik A, Troxler J. Behaviour of smaller and larger dogs: effects of training methods, inconsistency of owner behaviour and level of engagement in activities with the dog. Appl Anim Behav Sci. 2010;123(3–4):131–142.
- Jiaying S, Jing Yan S, Qi Rou Y. The Use of Behavioral Advice in the Management of Separation Anxiety in Canines: A Literature Review. The International Journal of Advanced Research. August 2019: 545-558. http://www.journalijar.com/uploads/661_IJAR-28580.pdf
- Butler, Rynae & Sargisson, Rebecca & Elliffe, Douglas. (2011). The efficacy of systematic desensitization for treating the separation-related problem behaviour of domestic dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 129(2-4): 136-145.