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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.

The following behaviors are pretty normal for a puppy so don't jump to the conclusion that your pup has separation anxiety if little Fido is:

  • Clingy and whiny
  • Cries when you're out of sight
  • Follows you around like a shadow
  • Wants to be picked up and loved on at all times

Your new puppy acts like this because 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 full of unfamilar people, and possibly 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, with more severe symptoms, and somewhere between 10 and 14% of dogs (of all ages) suffer from it to some degree.

Close up head shot of pug puppy with an anxious expression

Why Puppy Separation Anxiety Happens

Circumstances or conditions which may make separation more likely in a puppy or dog include:

Rottweiler puppy lying on paving stones

puppy mill or Pet Store puppies

Puppies who are bred in puppy mills have a very stressful life, as do their parents. They're not socialized with humans and may be genetically in-bred or the result of physically and/or emotionally damaged parents. This start means they are at a disadvantage in many ways and are often scared and anxious when they get to their new homes as everything is strange to them.

Pet shop puppies often come from puppy mills so all the above applies. In addition they stress of being confined to small cages or pens with little stimulation or socialization compounds the problem. 

abandoned, neglected or mistreated puppies/dogs

Puppies who have been abandoned, neglected or mistreated tend to have a higher incidence of separation anxiety, which isn't surprising as they have experienced pain, fear, distrust and abandonment at least once in their lives already. 

a traumatic experience

A traumatic experience such as being involved in a car accident or dog fight, or suffering an injury or illness, can all scare a puppy and trigger behavioral issues, including separation anxiety.

separation anxiety in adult dogs

Abandonment, mistreatment, trauma, illness or injury, the aftermath of a death in the family, or the emotional addition of a new baby can also cause an older pup or adult dog to develop behavior problems, including separation anxiety. Even if he's never shown signs of it before. 

For senior dogs, the infirmities of old age such as cataracts, loss of hearing and so on, can do the same.

If you have an adult dog (or even an older pup) who is having problems like this, then check out this page... Separation Anxiety In Your Dog

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 separation anxiety.

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 separation anxiety that's causing Fido to act this way, or if it's just normal puppy behavior enhanced by the stress of coming into his new home?

Let's take a look at what is NORMAL puppy behavior first, then how it may look different if you're dealing with true puppy separation anxiety.

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.

Because they're so  young and helpless, they're hard wired to want to stay close to their pack, to ensure they stay alive.

Litter of dachshund puppies playing together

Whoever is most involved with a puppy's care becomes his mom, or dad, and he has a strong desire to stick close to that person at all times.

This is why little Fido 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.

Some whining, crying, barking or even howling when he's crated, or even when 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. These may all be totally new to him.

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 if you raise him right by giving him:

  • A predictable routine
  • Asafe environment
  • Regular socialization
  • Positive rewards-based training

you will be helping him to grow in self-confidence and mature to be a happy, friendly adult dog.

behavior of a puppy with separation anxiety

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 will bark rapidly and frantically for as long as he can manage before he's entirely exhausted. His barking will probably be interspersed with whining and/or howling, He may fall asleep for a few minutes and then wake up and repeat the whole desperate process. On, and on, and on.

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.

Boston Terrier puppy with anxiety trying to tear his way through a door

He will likely bite/tear at whatever is around him. It could be the interior of the crate, the doorway or walls, carpeting, flooring, toys, blankets... anything he can get his teeth into.

He may pant continuously, and this is often accompanied by drooling and yawning, all signs of stress in dogs.

He may lose control of his bladder/bowels, and he might pee/poop several times - even if he's just been for a potty break. This happens because he is so panicked that his body can't handle it. If he poops it will likely be diarrhea.

Over time your puppy 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 separation anxiety from developing 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.

Puppy sitting beside open crate

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 your puppy from developing separation anxiety:

  • 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 him to be totally dependent 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 best avoided!

    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, 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, play-times, 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 true separation anxiety 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.

Little puppy with sad expression

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.

One very simple but surprisingly effective one that works great for puppies and older dogs alike is a pheromone diffuser like the Comfort Zone with DAP for Dogs Diffuser (also available are Pheromone collars which are good for all types of anxiety-inducing situations such as travel, house moves etc.).

These use natural pheromones to keep little Fido calm and relaxed, without any side effects and our family has used them to help puppies and dogs of all ages and sizes. 

A diffuser is perfect for separation anxiety issues because you can plug it into a socket that is near your puppy's crate. The collars are wonderful too, especially for large breed puppies and adult dogs, but don't leave a collar on a puppy who is crated and unsupervised. It could be a safety risk.

Pheromone products aren't an instant solution, and it can take up to two days for you to notice the difference, but some pups/dogs respond much faster. 

I previously recommended one of these diffusers to a site visitor with a puppy who barked constantly when left alone, and she was thrilled with the result....
'I noticed it start working within eight hours. 
I have a completely different dog!'

There are different types of pheromone collars. Adaptil and Sentry are the two that we use in our family.

The Adaptil brand has a higher concentration of pheromones so I believe they're more effective. However the Sentry brand has other calming scents (they actually smell great right out of the packet) and also seem to work well. The choice is yours.

There are a host of different things you can use to help a puppy who's stressed out and anxious.

CBD or Hemp Oil are also natural options when it comes to reducing anxiety in dogs. There are many great products to choose from. If you want to try CBD Oil for your puppy I'd suggest using one that has been specifically formulated for dogs and follow dosing instructions carefully. Preferably choose a product that is USA made, organic and non-GMO, doesn't contain pesticides or solvents and has a CO2 or cold-press extraction process. If it comes from a ISO-17025 certified laboratory so much the better. 

If you're interested in taking a look at a further selection of natural products that can help with separation anxiety in dogs and puppies, try this page... Dog Separation Anxiety Medication.

I love to read and research, and always find that a good book is worth it's weight in gold and there are several great books that can help you to understand your anxious/fearful or shy pup/dog.

Whether Fido is just mildly anxious, or devolves into full-fledged hysteria when you're out of sight, there's a book here which can help.....

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