As a certified dog trainer who specializes with puppies, separation anxiety is a big concern for puppy ownersThe changes in our lifestyles in response to COVID-19 have led to an increase in separation related problems with our dogs. Canine Separation Anxiety is when a dog cannot cope at home alone. It’s a phobia of being alone.
Many of us are staying at home more often. Eventually you will need to leave your dog for longer periods. If they have not gotten used to this gradually while they are young (or even older dogs who are new to your home), they can struggle when it’s time for you to leave.
Begin with these steps:
1. When you first bring a puppy or dog home, it is important to take some time away from your regular routine and bond with your Pup to build trust. This helps to smooth the transition back into your normal lifestyle.
- Once they have settled in for a few days or weeks, depending on how well they are doing, you can start conditioning their alone time.
The training process is crucial. Especially prior to 16 weeks old. It will take time to sort out how long your dog is comfortable being home alone. Most puppies will adapt well to being alone if you follow a recommended training plan.
Some dogs have a genetic predisposition and will need very specific incremental training. Dogs suffering from separation related anxiety can display signs of panic when left for longer than they can handle. Many dogs who get anxious on their own do better if someone, anyone is with them. Some dogs have to be with a particular person but these cases are much less common. These dogs can benefit from the support of a trainer that is a certified separation anxiety trainer CSAT or an online program.
Here are some common signs of Separation Anxiety
- Chewing, Digging and Destruction - of floors/walls/doors; particularly around entrances
- Vocalization - Excessive Barking/Howling/Whining/Crying
- Getting Anxious Well Before You Leave
- Indoor Soiling
- Excessive Salivation, Drooling, or Panting
- Intense Pacing
- Frantic Attempts to Escape - Sometimes to the point of self-harm
Leaving these dogs alone will not teach them to get used to it. On the contrary, it may worsen the situation.
Some of these signs are mistaken for Separation Anxiety:
- Boredom/Lack of Enrichment
- Incomplete House Training
- Submissive or Excitement Urination, Urine Marking
- Some Barking or Howling
- Frustration Intolerance
- FOMO dog—the “fear of missing out”
- Velcro Dogs
- Juvenile Destruction
Your puppy or young dog might do best initially confined in parts of the house, but not necessarily the whole house. Some dogs thrive with free access to any room, but others feel more secure if they are confined to only part of the house or in a crate or exercise pen. Consider the age, breed, personality of the individual dog, the time of the day and the energy of the Pup at the time you are thinking about giving more freedom.
Dogs go through developmental stages that include changes in behavior and adolescent dogs are constantly looking for things to get into. Don’t presume that your mellow puppy will be fine when seven to fourteen months old running free in the whole house, even if it's been problem free before. It is safer to train containment.
Whether you need to leave your dog at the veterinarians for a surgery, board them at a facility while you go on vacation, or even leave the house to go to the grocery store, having a dog that is comfortable in safe spaces makes life easier for both you and your Pup.
If your dog hides or gets stressed when contained, even after you’ve taken time to build up the value for the small space, they may be phobic about being confined. Many dogs that suffer with separation anxiety can also struggle with containment. If this is your dog, it’s time to get an expert to help you with a detailed training plan.
Conditioning Alone Time
Puppies are rarely if ever alone when with their littermates, mom and the family raising them. During this time they learn to rely on those around them. After bringing them home, it is important to teach them how to cope with separation as you help them adapt to your lifestyle.
Think of what a typical day looks like for you, and what parts of your day would be good times for naps.
- A laundry room or bathroom with a baby gate.
- An exercise pen (xpen) / play pen
- An eventual outside shaded kennel area
Have a crate with the door open in that area so they can choose to go in there to sleep. Leaving some safe toys or long lasting chews in there can give them something to keep their brain occupied when you aren’t playing with or training with them.
Staying close by to monitor how they handle being in confinement allows you to make sure they won’t try to ingest any of the toys/chews you left in there and prevents them from thinking you will always go away when they go in. Consistently going into their long-term containment area during the same time every day helps build a routine. Not only will they begin to get used to it during that time, but they’ll also be able to comfortably relax there outside of those times as well.
As your puppy gets used to relaxing you can start gradually leaving for very short periods of time. A simple example would be not letting them follow you into the bathroom, then eventually shutting the door while you shower to build their confidence to be alone without you.
If they are occupied in their Zen Den, you want to start going into other rooms in your house for short periods of time. If this goes well, you can slowly start doing sessions out of the house, such as taking a trip to the mailbox, having a chat with the neighbor, or sitting in your car to get some work done on your phone.
Most dogs are social and enjoy spending LOTS of time with us, it's one of the many reasons we love them. You can train dogs to be ok with being on their own.
I'm happy to help if you need more support or you can contact a (CSAT) certified separation anxiety specialist.
CPDT Certified Dog Trainer
The Puppy Care Company