Having a puppy with separation anxiety can be stressful and upsetting for both of you. And the pup’s resulting behavior can be particularly tricky to overcome. But don’t lose hope! With enough training and dedication, you can teach your puppy to be comfortable with being alone. Read on to learn how to help your puppy overcome separation anxiety.
In this article, we’ll give you some helpful tips and strategies for training your puppy to overcome separation anxiety. You’ll learn some effective behavior modification techniques, as well as become familiar with various resources, including professional assistance, that can help you and your puppy overcome this challenge together.
Start Fresh and Start Now!
There’s no doubt that the sounds of your puppy howling and crying can be heartbreaking. Add that to the fact that separation anxiety is often the cause of household destruction, and you might have a great deal of frustration (even resentment) for your puppy, or perhaps you just feel at a complete loss for how to deal with this behavior.
The first step to helping your puppy overcome separation anxiety is to start fresh and let go of any negative emotions you might be harboring about this behavior. It is up to you to teach your puppy, and the best way to do that is through positive reinforcement and encouragement… and to start immediately.
In reality, the best way to solve the issue of how to help your puppy overcome separation anxiety is to be proactive and teach your puppy to be comfortable being alone from the very start. However, sometimes you adopt a dog that already has separation anxiety or the behavior developed without you realizing it until it was too late.
This behavior can also be incredibly difficult to prevent in certain breeds that are more prone to separation anxiety (oftentimes its high-energy working breeds such as the Border Collie, Australian Shepherd, and German Shepherd).
Regardless of how this happened, the worst thing you can do is continue to put off dealing with it. Separation anxiety will almost always get worse when unaddressed, and the longer this becomes normal for your puppy, the harder the habit will be to break.
Begin With Brief Periods and Then Build Over Time
While we understand that most owners will want a quick fix to this problem, overcoming separation anxiety will take a lot of time and dedication. The best and most efficient way to solve this issue is to start slow and build.
When you start training your puppy to overcome separation anxiety and be comfortable with being alone, it is crucial that you start with very brief periods of solitude (and we don’t mean minutes, we mean seconds). Once the puppy seems comfortable alone for a set period, gradually increase the time.
This will be the brunt of your training, and it will undoubtedly be the most time-consuming and grueling process, especially if your puppy has severe separation anxiety. That being said, this is going to be the foundation of changing your puppy’s mindset about being alone, and it will teach them that you leaving them doesn’t mean you aren’t coming back.
To start, give your puppy a very special treat and then leave them alone somewhere for 10 seconds. For this, you could walk outside and stand outside the door. You could put them in one room and close the door behind you, or, if they’re crate trained, place them in the crate and walk out of sight.
If the puppy goes the entire 10 seconds in silence without crying out for you, come back, give them another special treat, and remove them from confinement. Repeat this while slowly increasing the time over several days, weeks, and then months.
If your puppy can’t make it through the 10 seconds without you, decrease the time until you can find the point that they’re comfortable with and build from there.
Dogs are incredibly smart and observant animals that find comfort in consistency. Because of this, they’re highly attuned to their owners’ habits, and this applies to the process of leaving.
A significant source of anxiety for a puppy that leads to their separation anxiety is when they can tell you’re about to get ready to leave them alone. Habits such as grabbing your coat, purse, and keys in that order will send off warning bells to them that you’re about the leave and they’re about to be alone. Break these routines!
If your puppy can’t tell you’re about to leave, they won’t have that extra time to work themselves up and be anxious before you’ve even walked out the door.
To desensitize them to your common leaving habits, try to walk around the house and touch these items (ex. wallet, keys, coat) but instead of playing out the typical leaving routine, pick the objects up or put them on and then put them right back down. Alternatively, you could walk around the house with them for a bit, maybe sit on the couch, and then take them off/ put them back.
This will confuse your puppy, and they will no longer associate these items with your absence. Apply the same concept to doors as well by opening them randomly and immediately shutting them. Or walking out the door and right back in.
Sometimes a significant reason why your puppy feels anxious when you’re gone is that they have nothing to do but wait for you to come home.
Providing your puppy with distractions can have a monumental effect in helping them overcome separation anxiety. Distractions like toys to play with, mind game toys to solve, or even a peanut butter stuffed Kong can keep them occupied for a blissful 30 minutes to hours.
Toys alone won’t be able to help your puppy overcome separation anxiety, especially if you’re leaving them alone for several hours, but they can do wonders for shorter periods. They’re also effective training tools that will help teach your puppy that there are interesting things they can do when you aren’t around.
Exercise Your Puppy Before Leaving Them Alone
If you want a method that will almost guarantee you an hour or more of silence and comfort from your puppy, it’s this one.
Exercising your puppy right before you’re about to leave is a great way to tire them out, so they don’t feel anxious in your absence, or even better, sleep through the whole thing.
There are few things worse than a wound-up puppy that hasn’t been exercised and is now expected to behave for hours on end when you aren’t around. Not only will this excess energy play into their general anxiety and discomfort, but it’s one of the leading causes of unwanted behaviors, such as damaging furniture.
So, if you know exactly when you’re going to leave, try to plan your puppy’s daily exercise around this time. For instance, if you know you go to work at 9 am every day, play with your puppy around 8-8:30 am so they get tuckered out, and you still have time to get ready before you leave. Be conscious that the length and level of play will depend on your puppy’s breed and age and potentially how long you expect to be gone.
Refrain from Overly Stimulating Exits and Entrances
Something puppy owners might not realize is that ordinary, and oftentimes subconscious behaviors can exacerbate their puppy’s separation anxiety.
When you start training your puppy to overcome their separation anxiety, it is important that you stop any overly stimulating entrance or exit behaviors. This includes excessive petting, use of high-pitched tones, and ultimately making a fuss of every time you leave them or come home.
Trust me, and I know that this might actually be the hardest habit to change of all the tips I’ve given you so far. As owners, we tend to think that if we don’t show our puppy’s outright demonstrations of affection, they won’t know we love them. And, let’s face it, it feels good to come home to an excited puppy and shower them with love.
Sadly, these energy-fueled entrances and exits can actually worsen your puppy’s separation anxiety because it reinforces and strengthens their reliance on you for attention and affection, making it harder for them to feel comfortable without you around.
So, stay strong and resist the urge to be overly stimulating before you leave or right as you get home. Instead, nonchalantly give them a treat and leave or calmly say hello when you get home.
Many dog trainers will actually recommend you ignore your dog completely when you come home until they’ve calmed down and you can greet them. While you could opt for this, an alternative would be to use your homecoming as a time to train your dog how to behave appropriately when someone enters the house, such as sitting or laying down before they get affection rather than jumping on people and barking.
Break Up Alone Time By Hiring Help or Asking a Friend
One of the hardest parts of training your puppy to overcome separation anxiety is that the shortest absence can set them back. This makes matters especially difficult for owners with full-time dogs who were hoping their puppy would be alright home alone for a few hours.
A great way to set your puppy up for success in overcoming their separation anxiety is to limit the time they spend alone during this sensitive training period. You can do this by hiring a dog sitter or asking friends and family to visit your puppy periodically throughout the day when you can’t be there.
There are sources that recommend you never leave your puppy alone when you’re training them to overcome separation anxiety, but we think this is unrealistic. Even the most dedicated owners who work from home and rarely leave the house have to go places without their puppy at some point.
Still, it is much easier for a puppy to go through one or two hours alone when they start this training than four or more. Having someone stop by and keep them company will help them learn being alone doesn’t last forever, and it gives them an opportunity to go outside for a bathroom break and get some playtime in before they need to be left alone again.
Increase Your Puppy’s Confidence and Independence
This is a big one and arguably the most important tip in this guide, as it is actually the root cause of nearly any puppy’s separation anxiety.
As a behavior, separation anxiety can be caused by a series of factors, such as trauma, abrupt schedule changes, owner change, and more, but the root of the issue is that your puppy lacks self-confidence and independence. Instead, they are overly dependent on you as an owner, and because of this, they don’t know what to do with themselves when you aren’t around. This needs to change.
The simple truth of the matter is that the more dependent your puppy is on you, the more stressed it will feel without you around. While we all want our puppies to be loving, loyal dogs that look to us for guidance, we can’t be the center of their whole world, or issues like this arise.
Therefore, you have to tackle this issue head-on and reduce their dependence on you while increasing their confidence.
Some ways you can help your dog be less dependent on you is by creating some distance with them. Stop taking them into the bathroom every time you need to pee or shower and stop carrying them everywhere like a newborn baby. It’s also helpful in their early months to crate train them, so they have a safe place where they feel comfortable being alone without you.
You can increase your puppy’s confidence by teaching them tricks and other types of training, providing them structure through a consistent schedule so they know what to expect every day, and giving them a sense of purpose through tasks or jobs around the house (ex., teaching them to grab or clean up toys).
Consider Hiring a Dog Behaviorist Specialist
Just like with humans, separation anxiety is an emotional and mental disorder in dogs that might require professional help. Although dogs don’t have therapists per se, they do have behavioral specialists.
If you feel completely overwhelmed or out of your comfort zone with training your puppy to overcome separation anxiety or their case is severe, I always recommend seeing a behavioral specialist for professional help.
Behavioral specialists are an exceptional resource in cases like this, as they will provide professional insight as to how you can more easily help your puppy overcome their separation anxiety. They’ll provide training schedules and lessons, analyze your puppy’s behavior to pinpoint root causes, and give you a source of support. They’re also a trusted and reliable resource for asking all your questions and concerns.
A Last Resort: Relaxation Medications and CBD Supplementation
The final tip we have should NOT be your first go-to option, but it is a legitimate resource nonetheless that has helped owners worldwide. We do NOT recommend medicating your pup unless it is a legitimate last resort decision reached by you AND your veterinarian. However, we are generally okay with CBD supplementation, but please still consult your vet first.
Puppies with severe separation anxiety (to the point that it is significantly affecting their or your quality of life) might be candidates for relaxation medications. These can be prescription drugs provided by a veterinarian or hemp-based CBD supplements.
Training your dog to help them overcome their separation anxiety is by far the best way to go about dealing with this issue, but sometimes a puppy’s separation anxiety is too intense that it starts to take a toll on its health and overall quality of life.
In these extreme cases, we recommend asking your vet if there are any calming supplements that they recommend to help your puppy feel less anxious when their humans aren’t around.
How to Help Your Puppy Overcome Separation Anxiety: Final Thoughts
It can be upsetting for both your dog and you when your pup experiences separation anxiety, because it can result in destructive actions and vocalizations. Getting a dog over separation anxiety can enhance their general well-being and deepen their relationship with their owner. Dogs can learn to feel more safe and at ease when left alone by receiving positive reinforcement, appropriate training, supplementation and, only if truly necessary, medication.