Understanding your new puppy’s separation anxiety and the ways to fix it
You might think it’s kind of cute when your new puppy whimpers for you; this little cute fuzzball is already starting to show just how much he loves (and needs) you. A little whine here and there when your pup is alone is normal; it’s when those whines turn into uncontrollable howls and are accompanied by undesirable actions like scratching and biting at doors, chewing on furniture, and even hurting themselves, that immediate intervention is necessary. Separation anxiety is a serious issue that is not only stressful for you and your pup but can also cause legitimate damage and injury that can escalate if left unaddressed.
Roughly 14% of dogs experience separation anxiety. Dogs suffering from true separation anxiety experience real distress when they are left alone, even if only for a few minutes. A puppy that is merely acting out for attention might display certain behaviors that are similar to separation anxiety, such as urinating on the floor or chewing on baseboards. This situation is similar to a toddler that yells and hits because he figures any attention is good attention, but a puppy that is misbehaving for attention is different from a pup that has actual separation anxiety. While a pup that is misbehaving might just need some stern and consistent positive training to put a stop to his mischievous ways, separation anxiety calls for a much more directed and focused approach.
What Causes Puppy Separation Anxiety?
Many times, a puppy may develop separation anxiety because of his owner’s actions. If you take your puppy with you everywhere that you go, make a big fuss over him when you come home, or cause a big scene when you say goodbye, you can actually contribute to your dog’s separation anxiety. Of course, as an owner, when you do these things, you don’t realize that you are doing something that could potentially cause a serious issue for you and your pup.
There are a number of situations that can cause separation anxiety, although in many cases there may be no clear reason for your dog’s behavior. If your puppy is dealing with separation issues, one of these causes could be to blame; see if any of these apply to you and your pooch:
- Sudden Change in Routine -- Dogs are creatures of habit and puppies thrive on a schedule, so if something changes in your daily routine, this can cause anxiety for your pup.
- Previous Abandonment -- If your puppy was once abandoned or experienced some other sort of traumatic event, then this can make quite an impression on your pet. If he was left once before, he may wonder what is to stop you from doing the same thing?
- Change in Environment -- A dog gets used to his territory, and when he is suddenly somewhere new, this can be a jarring experience. When your pup is no longer in the safe place that he knows and has made his own, it can cause stress and anxiety because he feels a lack of control.
Even if you remain in the same house, your environment can still change. There might be something new that is introduced into the home. For example, a home renovation, or even a new family member, like a baby, can affect your dog’s stress levels. A good rule of thumb is if it is a situation that is stressful for you, it’s probably also a source of anxiety for your pup.
- Absent family member -- If your pup is brand new to the household, then this is most likely not a reason for his separation anxiety. However, a pup that has been with you for a while, or has formed a strong connection with a particular member of the household, might start to develop anxiety if this person is suddenly no longer in the home. For example, if an older child goes away to college, or a roommate moves out, or a spouse leaves because of divorce, these are all potential reasons for your pup to start to feel anxious about when you leave the home -- what if you don’t come back either?
Does Your Puppy Have Separation Anxiety?
There are several signs that your puppy may be suffering from separation anxiety, but before you draw that conclusion, rule out other possibilities first. For example, if when you come home from work you find the contents of the trashcan all over the floor and your slippers freshly chewed, take a moment to reflect on your dog’s usual routine. Is he getting enough exercise? Could your pup be under-stimulated or bored? Make sure your dog gets adequate exercise, and provide him with some engaging, interactive toys like the Rolly Cannoli, to help keep him distracted and busy while you’re away. If you come home to puddles of pee, consider if your pup has been properly housebroken, or if he is old enough to hold his bladder for a long enough period of time.
In other words, your pup might just be displaying some bad behaviors that can be adjusted with a more consistent schedule, proper training, and adequate exercise. If it is separation anxiety, then be on the lookout for the following clues:
- Your dog has accidents in the house, even though he is fully potty-trained.
- Your pup eats his own poop.
- Your pup constantly whines, howls, and barks when you’re gone (how do you know if you’re not there? You can set up a doggy camera to see how your dog acts when you’re away, or if you’re in a multiple-dwelling-unit, you might get some unpleasant feedback from your neighbors).
- Your dog destroys things, whether it’s chewing on the furniture, scratching up the baseboards, or digging holes throughout the backyard.
- Your dog seems to be constantly moving; he paces back and forth and jumps around as if he can’t control himself.
- Your pup is scratching or biting himself, maybe even causing injuries, such as chewing on his own nails or paws.
- Your dog won’t eat or drink when you’re away.
- Your dog drools excessively when he’s away from you
Three Key Ways to Reduce Puppy Separation Anxiety
There’s no need to be overwhelmed if your puppy is showing signs of separation anxiety. Remember to stay patient and calm, use positive reinforcement, and stay focused. If your efforts don’t get the results that you want, or you find that you are too frustrated, consult your vet immediately. You don’t want separation anxiety to go unchecked, it will only get worse over time. Therefore, when in doubt, talk to your veterinarian. It can be heartbreaking to know that your pup is so stressed out and upset, but with proper implementation, the following key points can help you work with your pup to ease his anxiety.
Start Training Your Puppy Early
It’s natural that you want to spend every moment with your new puppy, especially playing and cuddling with him when he’s so fluffy and cute, but he also needs to learn how to be alone. However, it’s important to establish rules and expectations as soon as possible. Basically, before you do anything else, you need to show your pup that you are the boss. Remember, dogs are pack animals by nature, and you must establish yourself as the leader of the pack from the beginning. Training and discipline need to be the foundation of your relationship, and once your dog understands the proper hierarchy, then you can bring on the affection and cuddles.
It’s critical to devote adequate time to basic obedience training plus potty training your puppy. Training teaches your puppy valuable discipline, helps him establish a potty schedule, and it also provides an important opportunity for bonding with your pup and establishing yourself as the one in charge. When you work with your pup on how he is expected to behave when you leave the house, start with small segments of time and gradually increase the length of time that you are away.
For example, you may step out of the room and have your pup stay put for ten seconds, then twenty seconds, and so on, eventually progressing to several minutes. Next, step it up a notch and actually leave the house, starting by just stepping onto your front porch and closing the front door, then returning after two minutes. The idea is to gradually increase the amount of time that you are away until your dog is able to handle being alone for a regular workday.
Crate training is another valuable method that can work wonders for your puppy. Let your puppy get used to his crate by having him remain inside of it for short periods of time while you are in the same room. Make sure to reward calm behavior with treats and praise. You can also give your pup a special toy that he only gets when he is in his crate. You can get your pup familiar with his crate in the same way you help him adjust to when you leave the house; start with your pup inside his crate for small periods of time and gradually increase the duration, rewarding him for quiet and calm behavior.
Establish a Routine That Includes Adequate Exercise for Your Puppy
Creating a schedule for your puppy and sticking to it makes a huge difference when it comes to training your pup and acclimating him to his new environment. Your pup’s schedule should include ample opportunities for exercise, playtime, meals, and potty breaks. Incorporate different activities that encourage mental stimulation into playtime with your pup. When you have a schedule, your pup gets used to what happens when, and this sense of routine helps provide your pup with a sense of control, which can alleviate stress and anxiety.
If you are unable to spend enough time exercising your pup, perhaps because you are working long hours, it’s worth it to ask friends or family to come by and walk your dog during the day. Another alternative is to hire a professional dog walking service or look into doggy daycares in your area.
Learn Your Pup’s Anxiety Cues and Stay Calm
Once anxiety starts to form it can build before you know it, sometimes even leading to a full-blown panic attack. Therefore, get to know your dog’s stress cues so you can try to prevent anxiety in the first place. Remember, dogs, very much like humans, are creatures of habit, and your dog will start to notice which of your habits indicate your imminent departure. For example, if you always fill your water bottle before you leave the house, the mere sight of you grabbing your water bottle can send your pup into a frenzy. Desensitize your pup to behaviors like this by changing up your routine a bit and doing them at other times of the day, instead of just when you leave the house. Plus, give your pup a tasty treat, so your dog starts to associate these behaviors with something positive.
Another way to quell your pup’s anxiety before it gets out of hand is to maintain a calm mood when you leave and return home. Sure, you want to greet your puppy with tons of affection, especially when he’s so happy to see you, but making a big deal about it can add to your dog’s separation anxiety. Therefore, for about ten minutes before you leave and after you return, keep things low-key. Basically, show your puppy that it’s really not a catastrophe when you come and go; your pup will start to see that there’s no need to cause a commotion.Separation anxiety can be a worrisome issue to deal with, especially since you don’t want to see your puppy upset and stressed out all of the time. Since staying home with your pup twenty-four-seven is not a viable solution, give these steps a try to work with your puppy and help reduce his anxiety when you leave the house. If you’re struggling to alleviate your pup’s separation anxiety, talk with your vet as soon as possible. For more helpful tips to make your pooch happy in his new home, check out the rest of our blog at Neater Pets. We’re here for you so that you can be there for them!