8 Pro Tips to Prevent Puppy Separation Anxiety
Puppy separation anxiety happens when a puppy becomes stressed out about being left alone and the symptoms can actually begin before you leave the house.
You might notice that your dog starts to pant, pace, whine, bark, or shake as you’re preparing to leave. Or you might come home to find that your adorable little puppy has been up to some pretty destructive behavior or doesn’t want to come out from hiding. And these behaviors can escalate over time.
Even a confident pup can develop separation anxiety after spending lots of one-on-one time with its owners, such as over the holidays or summer vacations.
Think about it like this… when you have time off, or when you first adopt your puppy, you spend 24/7 with them then all of a sudden one day you’re not there.
What is a puppy to think?
Fortunately, we can prepare our puppies to be calm and confident for the days when we have to go to work or leave them at home alone.
8 Pro Tips to Prevent Puppy Separation Anxiety and Have a Happy Pup
1. Start Crate Training Right Away!
Crate training helps teach your puppy how to handle short periods without your attention, while keeping your puppy in a safe, comforting place. As training progresses, we increase the time your puppy is left alone in the crate so puppy’s tolerance and confidence increase.
A puppy can stay in their crate for about 1-2 hours per month of age because that’s about how long they can hold their bladder. So an 8-week old pup might only be able to stay in the crate for 1-2 hours at a time.
Crate training is important because pups are curious and explore by chewing interesting things they find – such as electrical cords, furniture, and belongings. That’s why we never leave a puppy out to roam around when you’re not able to supervise them.
During the day we provide safe chew toys in the crate such as a Nylabone or puzzle toys like a seek-a-treat shuffle bone.
We don’t put soft easily destroyable items with stuffing in their crate because these items can become choking hazards or create a blockage if pieces get stuck in their intestines and can’t be passed.
2. Start With Short Durations of Independent Play
Your first session of crate time or independent play should be one hour or less so your puppy can gradually become accustomed to time alone.
When you do this training, you don’t have to leave your house. You simply want to get your puppy used to being in their crate or puppy pen, without your attention.
Start out with short durations by letting your puppy play in their puppy pen while you’re busy cooking, doing household chores, or bathing or showering. Go outside for a walk without them, weed the garden, sit and read… just make sure you do something away from your pup.
3. Practice This Training Periodically Throughout The Day
You’re going to want to give your pup some alone time in their crate and puppy pen periodically throughout the day.
After eating and going out to potty, young puppies are generally ready for a nap. This is a great time for your pup to go into his crate.
When puppy wakes up, he will need to go potty again and will likely want to play. This may be when you play catch or chase and work on training important commands like sit, stay, come.
Then it’s time for some independent play time in his puppy pen with an enrichment toy.
Putting your pup in their crate periodically throughout the day is important for more than preventing puppy separation anxiety.
Puppies need naps and downtime otherwise they get overstimulated. An overstimulated puppy gets cranky, bitey, and can’t focus or stop unwanted behaviors easily.
Crate time helps prevent over-stimulation by giving your puppy a safe, comfortable place to relax and nap.
It’s beneficial for your pup’s mental health and well being when you teach them that it’s ok to be away from you for periods of time.
4. Gradually Increase Periods of Independent Play
The goal of this training is to gradually work your way up so your puppy becomes accustomed to being alone for a typical workday. So you’ll slowly increase the amount of time your puppy is in his crate or puppy pen, playing independently while you leave the room or run an errand until you’re living like you would on a typical workday.
The sooner you start this training, the less anxious your pup will be when vacation ends and your puppy must be left at home alone.
5. Expect An Adjustment Period
A dog with true separation anxiety will excessively bark, chew, dig, destroy, and try to escape. Now I know what you're thinking… “but my puppy cries when I leave her alone.”
This doesn’t mean your puppy has separation anxiety… Usually, it means they haven’t been taught how to self-soothe just yet.
Yes, they will cry but we have to teach them how to self-soothe and remain calm and relaxed in your absence. Otherwise, you’re never going to get your puppy over their anxiousness when you’re not home.
When puppies are really young and are still with their littermates and mother, they cry for their mother, who comes running back to care for her pup’s needs. So your pup’s natural instinct is… cry and wait for attention.
But even a dog mom eventually weans her pup of this behavior as the puppy grows and becomes more capable and independent.
This is why it’s important that you don’t come running back every time your pup cries when you leave because doing so continually reinforces the crying behavior.
It’s ok to immediately respond to puppy’s cries when your pup is 8 weeks and younger. But after that, it’s time to help them work towards the next developmental stage in their life.
6. The “Extinction Burst” and Learning to Self-Soothe
Puppies will have to go through what we call an extinction burst… Your pup is going to have to cry it out many times, without a response from you, before they learn how to settle down on their own.
As hard as it is to ignore puppy’s cries for attention, this is how we help puppy learn to self-soothe (which is a necessary skill to learn).
During this time, it’s important NOT to pick your pup up or give them attention when you let them out and they cry or bark because doing so reinforces the crying or barking behavior. Each time we reinforce an unwanted behavior, our puppies have a setback and we start back at the beginning with the training.
It takes several repetitions to create a new habit so, if you don’t let your pup cry when you step away, you’re only setting your puppy up on that separation anxiety path I mentioned earlier.
7. Make The Experience As Pleasant As Possible
Before putting a puppy in her crate, we want to make sure all her needs have been met first.
This means we take the puppy out to go potty before going in the crate. We also make sure pup has been well exercised before going in the crate, both mentally and physically too. This helps her settle faster and won’t make the experience traumatic.
8. Give Puppy Mental Exercise Too
Obedience games and training are part of the mental exercise your puppy needs each day. These games work on their manners, listening skills, and ability to focus while ignoring distractions. It’s as important to teach your puppy what you WANT them to know and do as it is to correct the behaviors you want them to STOP like pulling on the leash, biting, barking for attention, not coming when called, and so much more.
Mental and physical exercise help your pup burn off excess energy that can lead to anxiety, overstimulation, and unwanted behaviors.
If you want to learn more about these training games and be able to ask me questions whenever you get stuck… I invite you to take a peek at my at-home online puppy training program 30 Days to Puppy Perfection.
Follow these tips and you’ll have a much easier time leaving your puppy at home when you have to go to work.
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About the trainer
After spending 20 years helping families with their dogs face to face as a professional dog trainer, Michele realized that so much of what she knows could be shared with families everywhere - in a way that actually works. People sometimes think their dog is just SUPER difficult because the advice they’ve gotten was incomplete, confusing or just wrong. So she set out to help. Michele loves training dogs because of the impact that it has on the families she gets to help. The peace and joy they get from being able to enjoy their dog LISTENING. Besides teaching classes, helping private clients and running seminars, Michele is also a foodie and fantasizes about being a food critic or secret shopper for restaurants. Talk to her about food and your instant best friends.