Have you ever had the misfortune of walking into your house to find overturned furniture, inches-deep claw gouges on door frames, blood-stained tooth marks on window sills, and countless messages on your answering machine from neighbors complaining about your dog barking and howling for hours on end in your absence? If so, you’re probably familiar with the term separation anxiety, a mild label for a devastating and destructive behavior.

Most separation anxiety behavior happens within 30 minutes of the owners departure and within a similar period before the owners anticipated return. This is one of the keys to determining whether your dog’s behavior is truly an anxiety reaction or simply a bout of puppy hijinks.

If you can leave and come back in an hour to a normal home but four hours puts him over the top, chances are you’re dealing with boredom, excessive energy, or a housetraining issue rather than true separation anxiety. (Some dogs will become destructive in their efforts to go outside to relieve themselves if they are very committed to not soiling the house.)