Help For Puppy Separation Anxiety

Puppy separation anxiety can be a significant behavior problem and it's important to be able to tell the difference between normal puppy 'complaining' and acute emotional distress.

So....

  • Is your new puppy clingy and whiny?
  • Does he cry when you're out of sight?
  • Follow you around like a shadow?
  • Want to be picked up and loved on at all times?

Well, don't worry too much because all of these behaviors are perfectly normal and it probably doesn't mean that you have a puppy who's in the throes of separation anxiety.

To understand why he acts like this, think about things from his point of view.... your pup is just a tiny baby and in the last few days he's had to......

  • Leave his momma and siblings
  • Been in a car/van/airplane for probably the first time
  • Come to a new home where he's suddenly surrounded by complete strangers - and possibly other older (and bigger) dogs or other pets....

That's a lot for anyone to handle, so it's not surprising he's feeling a bit nervous!

True separation anxiety (SA) IS a real condition, and somewhere between 10% and 14% of dogs suffer to some degree.

Puppy-mill and pet-shop puppies are more likely to have behavior problems in general, and some breeds tend to be more nervous and highly strung than others.

With older dogs, those who have been abandoned, neglected or mistreated tend to have a higher incidence of SA (not surprising of course, as they have reason to be afraid of being abandoned).

A traumatic experience (such as being involved in a car accident, dog fight, or living in the aftermath of a death in the family, or the emotional addition of a new baby), serious injury or illness, or the infirmities of old age such as cataracts, loss of hearing and so on, can all trigger behavioral issues including separation anxiety.

But back to puppies, and in order to help your pup and keep his emotions on an even keel, it's important that you be able to tell the difference between normal homesickness, loneliness, nervousness or boredom and true SA.

The section below will help you do just that.


Symptoms of Separation Anxiety in Puppies

Okay, so you've finally brought your new puppy home and now he seems upset, scared and anxious!

How do you know if it's SA that's causing Fido to act this way, or if it's just normal puppy behavior highlighted by stress of coming into his new home?

Let's take a look.....


Normal puppy behavior

Dogs are pack animals, so they're very social and in the wild they would spend their lives in groups (like wolves do), so they instinctively consider their family - canine or human - as their pack.

Puppies are baby dogs, and as babies they're pretty much helpless and unable to take care of themselves, so their survival instincts mean that they are hard-wired to stay close to the rest of the pack - to make sure they stay alive.

Your new pup just lost the only family he's ever known, and he's a tiny baby, so he 'latches on' to his new family and makes them his 'pack'.

The person who is most involved with his care becomes his 'momma' (even if he's a man!) and he has a strong desire to stick close to her/his side at all times.

This is why your new family member seems to be under your feet at all times, and cries when you are out of sight. Ancient survival instincts tell him it's not safe to be alone, and so he gets scared when he's by himself. This is totally normal.

But of course, your pup now lives in the (relatively) safe human world, and he's not going to be eaten by bears or shot by a hunter while you're in the kitchen and he's in the den. Unfortunately for both of you, he doesn't know that!

Some whining, crying, barking or even howling when he's crated or just left alone is to be expected.

He might scrabble at the door of his crate, or the baby-gate at the open doorway. Depending on his own individual personality he might only cry for a few minutes before wandering off to play with his toys, or curling up to take a nap in his crate.

Or, he might howl and bark for 30 minutes or more, stopping only to take a few breaths, or chew disconsolately on his bone for 10 seconds!

BUT he will stop after a while, and the worst of the behavior will be the noise... it wears you down and jangles your nerves.

It's also normal for your pup to be afraid of certain things like loud noises, the vacuum cleaner or riding mower, thunderstorms, or raised voices at first.

If he's not been socialized very much he probably also has some fear of strange people, places or other animals.

Luckily it's pretty easy to recognize and help a puppy who's averagely fearful , and a predictable routine, a safe environment, regular socialization and positive training can all help your little one grow in self-confidence and mature to be a happy, friendly adult dog.


Behavior of a puppy with separation anxiety

Chihuahua puppy in his crate

If your pup really is experiencing separation anxiety his behavior will be much more extreme and you should be able to tell that something is really wrong.

He won't just bark, whine or cry for 10 - 30 minutes or so....

... instead he'll probably bark rapidly and frantically, probably interspersed with whining and/or howling, pretty much for as long as he can manage before he's entirely exhausted... and that can be a l-o-n-g time.

Your pup will be incapable of being still. He's fueled by hysteria and will probably pace, run around, jump, spin or all of these.

He'll also probably bite/tear at the interior of the crate, the doorway or walls, carpeting, flooring, toys, blankets... anything he can get his teeth into.

His constant panting is usually accompanied by drooling and yawning, all signs of stress in dogs.

The absolute panic will likely make him lose control of his bladder/bowels at some point and he might pee/poop several times - even if he's just been for a potty break.

Diarrhea or loose stools are common.

Over time he might start to show compulsive behaviors. Some, such as spinning or tail-chasing are obvious, others such as compulsive licking (himself, the wall, you...) or chewing on his feet can go unnoticed for a while before you realize what's happening.

If you think your pup really is suffering from SA, then there are things you can do to help him learn that the world is not coming to an end when you leave, and to improve his self-confidence and ability to relax when alone.

Treating his 'issues' takes a lot of patience, effort, time and loving understanding and getting angry with your pup will only make him more upset and cause more trouble.

Preventing separation anxiety in the first place is actually the best way of dealing with the problem, and although this is more difficult with older dogs who may already have entrenched behavior issues, for all but the most neurotic of puppies it's actually pretty straightforward.




Preventing Puppy Separation Anxiety

So, how can you prevent SA from taking hold in the first place if puppies are naturally anxious during those early days?

There are a few really simple ways to do this. They don't take a lot of time, and are very effective in the long run, but they do go a little against our natural instincts to 'coddle' an adorable little puppy who is glued to our side.

Even though it might tug on your heartstrings to follow this advice, it really is in the best interests of your pup in the long run, and will help him grow up to be a much calmer, happier and more confident dog - so just hold onto that thought!

Help prevent SA from rearing it's head in the first place by....

  • Your pup is so cute you could eat him up, and of course he's adorably cuddly and loves being held... but don't make the mistake of carrying him around everywhere or constantly hugging, kissing or petting him. He'll get dependent on that real fast and be crying for attention 24/7.

  • Don't allow him to be right by your side at all times (awake and asleep), this encourages too much dependence (on his part) and when all of his security comes from being glued to your side, he's going to get very upset when you're out of sight. This is what I call 'velcro-dog' syndrome, and it's to be avoided at all costs. Put him in his crate or a separate room and then leave him alone for short periods from day one, and ignore any fuss he makes. Do this for 5 minutes two or three times a day to begin with and then work up so that you can eventually leave him for longer periods without him getting upset.

  • When you do put your pup in his crate or a separate room and leave (whether it's to another part of the house or to the shops or whatever) don't make a big fuss about it. If you get all emotional he'll get scared and that will cause him to get upset. Make sure he's had a potty break, has a couple of good sturdy chew toys, isn't too hot or too cold, and then just leave him. A quick 'bye Fido, see you soon' is enough.

  • Pretty much the same thing goes for when you come home. Don't make your homecoming a huge, emotional circus. Don't make eye contact right away, and don't hug him as though you've been gone for weeks. Just pick him up, say 'hi' in a calm voice and and take him outside to potty. Once he's 'done his business' you can give him praise and a hug or a treat and then it's business as usual.

  • You can help your pup feel more secure in his new environment by setting up a predictable daily routine so that he knows what to expect in terms of mealtimes, playtimes, naps and so on. This doesn't just regulate his little body physically but emotionally as well. A good nutritious diet and enough exercise to keep him tired and burn off excess energy helps keep him calm too.

  • DON'T get angry or upset with your puppy if he gets too upset now and then. Always stay calm and keep your voice low and your movements slow. Be firm but loving and insist that he follows your lead. Don't allow his actions to dictate yours or you will undermine his confidence in you which could kick-start anxiety issues that weren't there before.


Treating Separation Anxiety in Puppies

There is no one-size-fits-all 'cure' for SA in puppies or dogs, but the younger your pup is the quicker and easier it is to find a way to help him overcome his fears and build up his shaky self-confidence.

Following the advice above helps because it's designed to help him feel less frantic when you're out of his sight and to de-sensitize him so that he's not as reactive or emotional.

But there are also other things you can do for a pup who is hysterical or truly panicked when left alone.

My Dog Training For Separation Anxiety  page has lots and lots of information and advice on simple behavior modification techniques that you can use to calm things down.

Sometimes some soothing music or sounds can help calm our frayed nerves, and this often works for our dogs as well.

There are several different dog relaxation CD's to choose from and these are a simple, and inexpensive tool worth trying.

Natural products can also help take the edge of extreme anxiety and help calm a pup enough to begin his path towards self-confidence and self-reliance.

Learn more about natural options for treating separation anxiety here.


› Puppy Separation Anxiety

› Puppy Separation Anxiety


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