Separation anxiety is a very common issue for puppies and one that many owners struggle to manage. It can really tug at your heartstrings as the dog owner when your pet clearly suffers as a result of being apart from you, and yet it is not possible to be with your dog round the clock. Dealing with separation anxiety is not always easy but rest assured that it is entirely possible to overcome it and be able to leave your dog without creating anxiety for both you and your pet.
Separation anxiety shows itself in various ways. Some signs of separation anxiety in puppies include the following:
- Barking, whining, and howling – even very young puppies will often make as much noise as they can when they feel anxious at being left alone. As well as being very distressing for the animal and owner, this can also cause serious problems for relations between neighbors.
- Anxious pacing/running – running back and forth across the area, the dog may do this out of anxiety or because they are looking for a way to escape, such as a window or door (this may result in damage to windows and doors) or fence (look for damage to fencing). Some dogs may be very determined to escape, either because they are frightened at being enclosed on their own or because they want to find you.
- Destructive behavior – chewing furniture or other belongings, clawing at things, moving things around. This might be down to boredom when they are alone, but often it is anxious behavior as a result of separation anxiety.
- Defecating – some dogs will urinate or defecate in inappropriate places when they are anxious. This can even happen if the dog has been outside and had the opportunity to ‘go’ before they are left alone, and can be a sign of anxiety rather than a physical issue.
Let’s take a look at some expert advice on helping your puppy through the upsetting experience of separation anxiety.
Why Does My Puppy Have Separation Anxiety?
Some puppies experience separation anxiety, while others don’t. This can be down to the dog’s personality – after all, they are all different and experience their own feelings. However, there are some risk factors for separation anxiety that it is good to be aware of.
Age – young puppies are more likely to suffer from separation anxiety than older dogs; this is simply because they require a lot of attention and are not used to being alone.
Habit – if a dog is not used to being left alone or not used to being alone for long periods, then a change to their routine, which sees them being left for long, may cause anxiety.
Traumatic experiences – dogs with a history of mistreatment or trauma are more prone to experiencing separation anxiety.
Change – moving home, welcoming a new family member (human or animal!), or things like having renovations done to the home can cause the dog to be unsettled, and this can lead to separation anxiety.
Boredom – sometimes dogs become anxious when they are bored, so what they are experiencing is not anxiety at being alone, but anxiety because of the boredom they experience when you are not around to keep them company or entertain them. Much as humans can begin to feel anxious if they spend long periods of time without interaction.
Pain – sometimes, dogs show signs of separation anxiety when they are actually feeling unwell or experiencing pain. This can cause more anxiety when they are not with a trusted person as they can feel endangered. If your dog suddenly displays signs of anxiety when left alone, it is worthwhile getting them checked out by a vet to ensure no physical issues are causing the problem.
Reassuring an Anxious Puppy
Dealing with anxiety-related behavior in dogs requires patience. It can be very useful to seek the advice of a dog trainer who can help assess your puppy’s needs and give you practical advice on dealing with the problem. However, there are things you can do right away to try and reassure the dog and help cure puppy separation anxiety.
- Gradually Increase Time Spent Alone – leaving a puppy for long periods can be very frightening for them. Start by leaving the puppy for shorter periods. This could start with a couple of minutes alone in another room. Building this amount of time up will reassure them as they begin to learn that you always return.
- Exercise – ensure your dog has plenty of exercise when you are around, going for good walks frequently, playing in the park, or even doggy play park facilities. Whatever your dog loves to do, build it into your routine. This will mean that they are happy to rest and need less stimulation when you are gone. It also means that they will be happier and healthier in general, and this is a good foundation for eliminating anxious behavior.
- Make Being Alone Easier – you can do this by creating a safe space for your puppy or older dog. This means making sure they have a safe area to be in, enough space to move around, and a comfortable bed. Remove anything that might get damaged and make sure the dog has things to stop it from getting bored. A few toys can make a big difference to anxiety levels, and puzzle toys that reward with a treat are a great idea. You can also leave something that smells of you; this can be especially reassuring to young puppies.
- Comfort Breaks – It is most important that the dog either has access to an outdoor area (through a dog flap, for example) or that someone lets them out throughout the day. Not being able to get outside to do their business can create high anxiety.
- Keep Calm – leaving the puppy calmly is so important, and this may mean not saying goodbye, as harsh as this may seem. When you return, return calmly and don’t make a fuss. Let the dog see that you leaving and returning is normal and that this is nothing to get overly excited about. Of course, the dog will be pleased to see you, but try not to build this up further with excited energy.
If you are concerned about separation anxiety as you return to work after working from home, or you have a new puppy who is experiencing anxiety when left alone, then speak to your veterinarian or get advice from a reputable dog behavior expert or trainer who will be able to offer tailored advice.