How To Help Puppies With Separation Anxiety
As puppies learn about their new world, many things can seem unfamiliar to them. Feelings of isolation and loneliness can be unsettling to a new puppy - especially as we, their family, provide them with confidence and feelings of safety just by being with them. But what happens when we are not around?
Puppy separation anxiety can cause emotional stress for your pet (and even you as their owner), especially early in a dog’s life. When you leave your dog or puppy alone in the house, they may not know if or when you’re coming back, which can make them unsettled and anxious.
Younger pets or pets that are experiencing new surroundings can be dealing with a lot already. New puppies have often recently separated from their mother and siblings so we advise taking things really slow and gentle here. But don't worry - there are things you can do to help.
For advice that is specific to your pet please always consult with your veterinarian. We’ve put together this general guide on how to help dogs and puppies with separation anxiety, along with including some additional background information so you can understand the concept better.
How do I know if my dog has separation anxiety?
When it comes to spotting an anxious puppy there are various tell-tale signs that you can look out for, and noticing them quickly is the first step in resolving them. We’ve put together this simple list so you can diagnose separation anxiety in your puppy early on.
- Trembling or pacing when you’re about to leave
- Being destructive by chewing or biting your possessions
- Taking potty-breaks inside the house
- Barking, whining, or howling more than usual
- Attempting to escape your home
- Excessive excitement when you return
If you can notice these symptoms early, you’ll have a better idea of whether your puppy is suffering from separation anxiety, meaning you can start to help them sooner.
Here are some ways you can help your puppy.
Solution 1: Calming practices
One thing that can cause separation anxiety to be exacerbated is the energy that surrounds you leaving or coming back home. If you spend time playing with your dog vigorously prior to leaving and also as soon as you arrive home, you’re creating an association between high-energy activity and the dog being left alone. This can be a signal to them that you're about to leave and you've put your pup in an unrelaxed state. Zoomies can be one example of a stress response in dogs so watch for this and other signals to keep things calmer.
Try to leave and come home quietly, rather than drawing your pup’s attention to your presence or lack thereof. Hearing a puppy crying when left alone can make it hard not to smother them in attention before leaving or when coming back, but a calming and relaxed manner will help them to manage their emotions better. Showing them love and affection is always fine - but try to keep it calm and soft in tone.
Solution 2: Desensitizing your puppy to leaving cues
Along with not creating high-energy moments when you leave and depart your home, you can help your dog become accustomed to the signs that you might be leaving the house, which will make them less sensitive to the real thing. The way to do this is by simulating the leaving process and then staying in the house, so the dog doesn’t always associate those signs with being alone.
Maybe practice grabbing your keys and putting on your shoes or opening the door, and then staying with your dog for longer. This will show them that these signs aren’t necessarily a cause for panic and make them more comfortable with the times that you do actually have to leave.
Solution 3: Creating a comfortable space
It’s vital that your pup feels that the home is comfortable even without you there. Do this by creating a positive environment for them, whether using crate training or otherwise. Leave toys and activities for them in their spaces and crates, so they can stay occupied by themselves rather than simply waiting for you to come back. More curious and intelligent dogs may yearn for stimulation more in these moments so leaving them with an activity to occupy them can help greatly (and prevent any destructive behaviour too).
Background noise can be highly beneficial in this practice as well, such as leaving on the radio or the TV as a means of “keeping your puppy company”. Especially if you live alone with your dog, the simulated presence of someone else in the home can help to ease their stress.
Solution 4: Leave for shorter periods
The amount of time that you spend away from home when you leave will influence your puppy’s reactions to you not being there. If you only leave the house for a full day of work, the dog will know that every time you leave they’ll have to be alone for hours, which can make your comings and goings more triggering to a puppy with separation anxiety. In these early days this can create a negative association with you leaving - so try to mix things up a bit.
Go for a 15-minute walk on your own, complete errands out of the house one by one rather than packing them in, or go for a coffee in the middle of the day. These short trips out will teach your dog that your leaving will always lead to you coming back, regardless of the time spent out. You can steadily increase the time (or just vary the periods of time) so your puppy doesn't associate your departure with a certain period of absence.
Solution 5: Routine, exercise, and training
While this isn’t a direct preventer or cure for separation anxiety, having times in place for giving your dog more specific attention will help to create a sense of structure for them while also strengthening your bond.
By giving your dog some time to exercise before you leave, you might wear them out a little bit, helping them to relax and be restful for longer when you’re gone. Along with this, if they’re crate trained, you could suggest that they “go to bed” and play with their toys while you’re gone. A well-trained, well-exercised dog with a strong routine is much less likely to suffer from serious separation anxiety.
Finally, be patient
Remember, these tips may not work immediately and some of them may not work at all, but dogs are complicated animals and sometimes they need time to adjust. If your dog is exhibiting signs of anxiety then remember that they're scared to be apart from you - never punish your dog for this. With some practice and some trial and error you’ll be able to create a sense of comfort and happiness in most dogs to conquer separation anxiety.
Budgeting for unexpected expenses like large veterinary medical bills can help bring predictability to household budgets in Canada and, most importantly, keep your dog or cat happy and healthy.
Featured image by Berkay Gumusteki on Upslash