Unlike the old days, when canines used to live outside helping people on their farms, today most dogs spend much of their time inside the house, while their owners are away.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that more and more dogs are starting to show signs of separation anxiety.
The good news is, there’s an easy way to prevent separation anxiety in puppies.
Let’s talk about what the symptoms of separation anxiety may look like in puppies, and what you should (and shouldn’t) do to avoid encouraging this behavior.
Separation Anxiety Symptoms in Puppies
Although these are the major signs you need to watch for, be aware that some of these symptoms may display themselves and have nothing to do with separation anxiety.
- Excessive barking
- Destructive acts
- Potty accidents
- Attempts to escape
- Lip licking
Do Puppies Grow out of Separation Anxiety?
The simple answer is, normally not.
While some breeds are more prone to suffering from anxiety than others, all dogs are born with the instinct to stay in a group or a pack. It’s because of this pack mentality they become frustrated and insecure when we leave them alone.
Since this response is encoded deep within our canine’s DNA, the best way to deal with this is to start practicing a technique called behavior modification.
This is a training method that entails teaching your dog to replace unwanted behaviors with appropriate ones by using positive reinforcement.
What that means is that in order to teach your puppy to stay calm when you go out, you need to divert his attention to something he finds more exciting. I’ll explain more about this below.
How to Prevent Separation Anxiety in Puppies?
Above all else, you want to start as early as possible.
It’s very important that you begin to implement these tips while your dog is still in his puppyhood, as it’s much harder to break old habits than to teach new ones.
That said, adult dogs can benefit from these tips as well.
1. Practice Leaving and Returning
You should make it a habit to leave the house for 30 seconds a couple of times a day while ignoring your puppy’s reaction. The point is to get him used to you being gone, while you can still monitor the situation from outside.
Keep on doing it until your pup is less nervous when you walk out the door. Then, gradually increase the time that he’s expected to stay alone quietly.
This way, you can also determine the intensity of his reaction, so you know the amount of anxiety you’re dealing with.
2. Plan a Daily Routine
Just like children, dogs and puppies both do well with having an established daily routine. Our dog knows exactly when it’s time to go into his crate and wait for his treat. This is because he always gets it before we leave.
You can do the same thing by leaving your house at certain times each day until your puppy learns to associate you leaving with that time of day.
As he begins to expect you to leave and builds your absence into a part of his daily routine, he will, as a result, become less anxious when it happens.
3. Use a Good Crate
Puppies are instinctively drawn towards small and enclosed spaces that can offer them warmth and protection. In other words, your puppy needs to feel secure and comfortable until you return home, and providing him with a crate is a perfect way to do so.
Crates are excellent for separation anxiety, as they can serve as your puppy’s go-to place for privacy, and can also keep him safe while you’re away.
Just make sure to make the crate a fun place to be by putting a weighted blanket and some toys and treats inside.
Remember — you want him to look at crating as a reward rather than a punishment.
Some puppies will try to escape from enclosed spaces like a kennel. In this case, look for a durable crate that will be strong enough for your dog’s escaping attempts.
4. Offer a Distraction
Building off of the previous tip, you’ll want to find something that your puppy loves, and put it in his crate before you leave the house. This can be a favorite chew toy, an old piece of clothing, or another comfort object. Alternatively, you can keep him busy with something delicious to occupy his time alone.
Personally, I like to take a Kong and fill it with wet dog food, mashed pumpkin, or peanut butter without additives.
Then, I freeze the toy with the stuffing inside, so it will be harder to get out and keep my dog busy for a while. Not only is he entertained and positively rewarded, but he also tires himself out so that he falls asleep in his crate immediately afterward.
What can I say? It’s magic!
5. Try a Behavioral Aid Toy
SmartPetLove Snuggle Puppy is a soft plush toy designed to ease separation anxiety in puppies by providing them with feelings of intimacy and physical warmth. When you can’t be home, this toy will fill your puppy’s need for a companion.
Along with the snuggle toy itself, it also comes with a pulsing heartbeat device, and a non-toxic heat source to mimic other littermates. This makes for a great gift for dog lovers, and for welcoming a new puppy home.
6. Leave a Background Noise
Odds are, your puppy associates the background noise from the TV with your presence. It makes sense then that having that same noise available while you’re gone goes a long way to producing a comforting environment.
Additionally, some genres such as classical music, soft rock, and even reggae are shown to reduce stress in dogs.
You can find different types of music for dogs on YouTube.
Not only does the background noise help to mask noises of cars, people, thunderstorms, and such, but it will also give your puppy the feeling as if you were home, so he won’t feel as lonely in your silent apartment.
7. Hire a Petsitter/Dogwalker
Dogs are social animals, and it’s not natural for them to be alone for a long time. Even the best-trained puppy shouldn’t be expected to stay home for more than a few hours.
If you know you’re going to be away from home for more than 8 hours straight, you need to ask for help. Your puppy will certainly be happy for some company in the meantime, especially if you’re not using pee pads and he needs to go outside.
Puppies also need to release a lot of energy, and they should eat a few times a day, so make sure you have a plan when you’re running late.
8. Don’t Skip Regular Exercise
Don’t forget that a tired puppy is far less likely to show signs of separation anxiety, as he would rather sleep instead of making trouble.
Be sure to take him for a brisk walk before you go out, and consider incorporating mental exercises and puzzle toys. These will also help your pup build patience, self-control, and focus.
9. Don’t Make a Scene
To your dog, your body language says a lot. Even if it feels right, don’t go out of your way to comfort your puppy before you head out, as this could worsen his reaction. Same goes for when you return home.
Leave the house as if you’re the only one in it. Don’t talk to your pup, or give him any attention before you go. Truth is, if you left him with a toy or a treat (like you should), he’s probably busy anyway.
Also, as you walk in, ignore him until he sits quietly. Once this happens, reinforce this positive behavior by showering your puppy with attention. If he’s barking and jumping, you’ll have to wait until he cools down.
10. Don’t Spoil Your Pup
Spoiling your puppy is the number one way to raise a dog with behavioral issues. Though I understand how cute they can be, you don’t want to pick puppies up or carry them around all the time, as this will result in a dog that will cry for your attention nonstop.
Of course, you still want your dog to know you love him. But you also need to be sure he develops enough independence to be able to function when you’re not around.
11. Don’t Encourage Clinging
This leads me to the next point. If your puppy starts to follow you to the bathroom, it means he has become overly dependent on you. In most cases, this could lead to an insecure dog when you’re not around.
As cute as the behavior may seem, you need to take steps to break the habit.
12. Don’t Use Punishments
You can be sure that your puppy doesn’t misbehave just to spite you. On the contrary, your pup wants nothing more than to please you and receive praise.
Accidents will happen, and you have to remember that separation anxiety is upsetting to your dog as well. So try to handle these things gently.
Punishing will only make him more anxious than he already is, and it probably won’t solve anything. If anything, the problem will get worse.
Besides, now that you know all of this, you can deal with the problem head-on rather than the symptoms.