Dealing with anxiety is just terrible in any way it comes. As a new puppy parent, puppy separation anxiety is a challenge you might run into, even for the most devoted owners. Puppies can just really struggle with being left alone sometimes, and it’s one that can be a slow process to fix…sometimes it can feel like you’re trapped at home too.
Why some puppies struggle with being left on their own (and others don’t) is a bit of a mystery, but lucky for you, we are here to help. Puppy separation anxiety, be gone!
In this article I’ll be teaching you about:
- What is separation anxiety?
- Signs of your dog’s separation anxiety
- How to help a puppy struggling with separation anxiety
- What breeds are more likely to have separation anxiety
- What to do about puppy separation anxiety at night
Why do puppies suffer from separation anxiety?
Many owners mistakenly understand separation anxiety as your puppy being upset because you have had to leave them on their own however, this is not the case. Puppy separation anxiety is a coping mechanism which arises from not learning the correct coping ability when being alone. Thus, leading to their fear of being alone.
It is a difficult behavioural problem to get under control, as it comes with a few problems that need to be addressed. However, if you make sure to take preventative measures right at the beginning, this will go a long way in minimizing those anxious behaviours.
What is dog separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety is a catch-all term that people use to describe when dogs and puppies find it challenging to be alone…and show it through their behaviour. Most often, separation anxiety is actually isolation distress – which means that your puppy might be happy being with a human, and any human will do but doesn’t like being on their own.
Separation anxiety can also be all sorts of other things like:
- Barrier frustration
- Confinement or containment phobia
- Clinical separation anxiety – a fancier term where dogs are only happy when left with a particular person. They’re like the ‘chosen one’.
In this article, we use the terms separation anxiety and separation-related problems for any of the above!
Signs of puppy separation anxiety to watch out for
Newsflash! Dogs can’t talk (if only!). But they sure are fantastic storytellers through their body language, behaviour, posture and vocalisations – or dog-singing-voices.
Dogs with separation-related problems will often be rather outspoken about how they are feeling by way of their body language, so it’s a good idea for us to learn it so we can keep an eye on it. As you can see, body language is a popular tool for expression.
By the way, it’s worth saying that these signs should only happen when you’re not there. If your puppy is doing these things in front of you, then it’s likely that they’re not separation-related behaviours. Conversely, if they only happen when you’re gone, then bingo. It’s probably the case that they have puppy separation anxiety.
In case of puppy separation anxiety, you’ll get introduced to the whining, howling and barking soon…or at least your neighbour’s will. These are all sure signs that your puppy is trying to tell you that they’re not happy being home alone. Trust us. They’re not celebratory howls.
Puppies who chew up your furniture when you’re gone. This might be walls, skirting boards, doors or your shoes and they could indicate they are struggling with being home alone and what we think of as puppy separation anxiety.
They’re not trying to make you a welcome home gift. Chewing makes dogs feel good, so they turn to it for a reliable self-soothing activity to feel better at being on their own.
But chewing may also be due to being bored or teething, so you’ll want to make sure that during the time you’re gone and before you leave them, there is a way for them to have these basic needs met.
Going to the bathroom in the house
If you’ve already confident about your puppy’s toilet training skills, then running into stinky accidents around the house when you come back from being out can be a sign of your puppy having separation-related problems or separation anxiety.
How to help with puppy separation anxiety
Lucky for you, I’m a certified separation anxiety trainer (CSAT). I’ve seen it all, and always up for a challenge, so let’s get going to waving your puppy’s separation anxiety goodbye.
1. Start slowly by leaving the puppy alone for short intervals of time
Comfort is key for your puppy when you’re gone. Sending them ‘over threshold’ will not fix the problem faster, I promise!
A pet camera will be a good companion at the start, so you can see what your puppy is up to while you’re away. But before you make the jump, start off nice and slow:
You want to bore them at the beginning of this journey. Start with going up to your front door several times randomly throughout the day for a couple of days so that your puppy stops thinking too much of it.
For the next 3 days just open and close the door. No biggie, nothing to see here.
Then, step outside the front door just for 3 seconds. Make a habit of having your keys in your pocket or put the door on the latch – that way your puppy doesn’t make associations just yet.
If your puppy is happy with that, start upping the time for just a few seconds, and do this time for several days.
Always make sure your puppy is comfortable before you increase the time – a blanket, a cosy crate and chew toys around are also great.
2. Create a routine
Routines make dogs and puppies thrive. They love knowing that playtime, walks and meal times are reliable and that they shouldn’t stress about them not happening during the day. Our ideal daily puppy routine article outlines a rather great schedule you can follow with your puppy. Schedules will do magic for puppy separation anxiety, as well as for other things too like toilet training.
3. Introduce the puppy to their crate
Crates can be a useful tool for helping them cope with puppy separation anxiety. Especially if you help them feel like crates are a peaceful sanctuary, you can start leaving them in there for a little while, while you’re just in the other room.
Pro Tip: Besides your cuddles, food is the way to their heart. Give your puppy food toys to chew on when they’re inside the crate during the day and walk around without paying too much attention. This way, they’ll get used to you popping in and out and moving around while they’re enjoying a yummy meal.
Our full guide on crate training will get you well on your way to helping them see their crates as lovely places to be.
4. Make sure they get enough physical and mental exercise
There’s no need to run them ragged every day, but the saying ‘a tired dog is a happy dog’ is not to be sniffed at. Make sure to include mental exercises such as:
- Brain training and enrichment with puzzle feeders
- Positive reinforcement-based training
- Some good cardio exercise – tug and fetch help get their heart rate up, no need to overdo it though.
During their playtimes and walks around the park. If they feel tired, it will make your being gone much easier to deal with as they’re likely to pay far more attention to catching some good sleep.
How to prevent puppy separation anxiety
Separation anxiety in puppies is tricky to master, but with patience you can minimise the behaviours associated with it. Here are a few ways to help prevent separation anxiety in your pup/
Make your leaving as stress-free as possible
When it comes to having to leave your pup, don’t give them a might fuss beforehand. Make your leaving and entrance fuss-free. This way making it more of a daily norm for them will help them get used to it quicker.
Try to also do smaller tasks alone, such as showering, and using the loo. Or even putting the dishes away. This will help them learn how to be more independent, and will show them that you will come back.
Slowly, but surely, increase their alone time
This should only be a very gradual step in the separation process. Start with as little as 5-minute stints away from your puppy, and slowly increase. When you find that they are happy to be on their own for about an hour, make sure you always leave them in a safe place.
This time can also be increased, the older they get. As they will be able to have more control over the bladders for a long amount of time.
Make sure they know you will come back
Much like human trust issues, puppies need to trust that you will come back. As soon as you bring your bundle of joy home, make sure you give them every reason to trust you. To begin with, make sure your pup can see where you are at all times.
If you need to keep them separate, set up baby gates so that they can keep a watchful eye on you. If you have to leave them alone for a short time to do something, make sure it is only for a few minutes with something they can have fun with whilst you are away.
Are some puppy breeds more prone to separation anxiety than others?
There are some dog breeds which are genetically more likely to be anxious and therefore have more chances of having to deal with puppy separation anxiety. It’s not their fault – lots of these dogs are ‘companion dogs’ after all, which means they were bred to thrive on human company. It makes quite good sense that they don’t fancy being left on their own.
Others on the list are more sensitive to noise since they were probably bred for it. These dogs were designed to do jobs such as hunting or herding. If they’re left alone with no one around but maybe weird noises around the house going off, the likelihood of feeling anxiety when left alone is higher.
- Italian Greyhound
- Toy Poodle
- Yorkshire Terrier
- Bichon Frise
- French Bulldog
- Border Collie
- Hungarian Vizsla
- Australian Shepherd
- Labrador Retriever
- Cocker Spaniel
- German Shorthaired Pointer
But there’s no need to worry. Just because you have one of these breeds doesn’t automatically mean they will develop puppy separation anxiety. Every puppy is completely different, and might be just fine when on their own as far as you know. Let’s just keep our eyes open, hope for the best, and if separation anxiety starts being a thing, take a deep breath and turn to Zigzag – the land of puppy experts that are always happy to help.
In fact, we have a step-by-step alone programme to prevent separation anxiety in our Zigzag puppy training app if you want to take a look. Start ‘em young, and teach them to be confident about alone time. Everything will be fine.
How to deal with puppy separation anxiety at night:
Oh, the night. Dark skies and hooting owls. Night time can be a little scary for puppies – especially since they’ve come from sleeping next to their mother and littermates, all tucked up and warm to a new home where they’re expected to sleep on their own. It all sounds a little sad, not going to lie.
To help puppy separation anxiety at night as much as possible, we suggest having your puppy sleep in your room next to your bed – at least for the first few weeks. This way, you can:
- Hear when they wake up and need the toilet. Trust us. They will need the toilet sometimes several times a night when they’re small. Remember – small bodies equal small bladders.
- Reassure them when they wake up and are scared. Sometimes they just need a bit of love and comfort – a gentle hand to sniff and a soft voice to hear will make them feel much better.
Once they’re older and feeling more confident in their new home, you can start moving them out of your room…that is unless you love to have them sleep next to you. But we know that night-time can be a little bit of a rough one at the start in general, for more reasons than puppy separation anxiety. Our common paw-nic moments at night guide can help you through it if need be!
We hope our article on puppy separation anxiety has helped! Please be reassured that this needn’t be a lifelong problem, and thanks to your patience, care and lovely teaching skills it can be worked through. For more help with puppy separation anxiety, our Puppy Training Experts on Zigzag would love to have a chat with you! If you feel like you need extra support, contacting a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer (CSAT) might also be a good idea.
Before you click away, remember you can find that step-by-step alone time programme in the Zigzag puppy training app! We’ll guide you on how to build up the alone time, week by week, slowly but surely for a bright, independent doggy.
Want to learn more about How the Zigzag app works? You know where to click.