Preventing Separation Anxiety in Puppies: During COVID and Beyond

Bringing home a puppy is a joyous occasion and one that will change the dynamics in a household.  This new member of your family will alter your daily routine and will require quite a bit of time and care. Raising a confident, well-trained dog is key in order to prevent separation anxiety (CSA), a condition in which dogs exhibit uncontrollable anxiety when they are separated – or even anticipate – being separated from their owner. Although CSA is not always avoidable, proper training during your puppy’s first year will significantly reduce the risk of developing this condition. If you think that your puppy is suffering from separation anxiety – or want to ensure that they do not develop anxiety issues in the future – this piece is for you.

 

Development in Puppies

Compared to human development, a puppy’s physical and mental development is accelerated, making it very important that you lay a solid foundation for success during that first year together. By the end of year one, a puppy is already entering adulthood. This means that a great deal needs to occur during that first year in order to ensure that you raise a well-behaved, confident, and happy dog.

 

Complications of Diagnosing Separation Anxiety in Puppies

You may be thinking, “But my puppy already has separation anxiety!” Unfortunately, many symptoms of separation anxiety mirror the natural behaviors of puppies, making it difficult to diagnose CSA in dogs under a year old. CSA puts a dog’s brain in overdrive, causing chemical and hormonal imbalances, along with chronic inflammation in the emotional center of the brain. This hectic emotional state is often misinterpreted, as on the surface puppies appear to exhibit similar behavioral extremes.

 

Growing pains are natural. As a puppy matures, they often experience a bit of discomfort and anxiety, which can result in behavioral issues. Working with a professional behaviorist is the perfect place to start; together, you’ll be able to thoroughly investigate your dog’s behavior. Often, all it takes is training and time for your puppy to mature and for these anxious behaviors to cease.

 

Preventing Separation Anxiety

Proper training is key during your puppy’s first year, as it helps to encourage good behavior and prevent CSA. Puppyhood is a time in which your dog’s brain is developing and creating a “virtual blueprint of what they expect to see in the world,” determining what is safe and what might be dangerous. The key to preventing CSA is to create good habits for your puppy; this will help them become confident and independent adults. Their sad eyes will inevitably make it difficult to not grant them everything their heart desires, but it is important to teach your dog – with kindness and understanding –  that there are rules to follow.

 

In addition to training your dog at a young age, it is also essential that you get them comfortable with spending time on their own. According to the AKC, “puppy training, socialization, crate training, and teaching your puppy how to enjoy being alone” are all essential preventative measures for new puppy parents to take. During this formative year, it will also be important that you spend time observing how your pet “communicates” when they are stressed; the more you learn how to interpret your puppy’s behavior, the easier it will be to quell any potential anxiety.

Training Tips for Puppies

 

As you work with a professional behaviorist, these are some tips to help guide you:

 

  1. Clicker Training
    Many professionals suggest clicker training, also known as “mark and reward,” in order to teach puppies how to properly behave. This method involves positively reinforcing your dog’s behaviors by pressing the clicker, immediately followed by giving them a treat. Dog trainer Emily Larlham recommends keeping these clicker training sessions short in order to ensure that your puppy is still having fun and isn’t becoming stressed.
  2. Make sure your puppy has positive time alone
    Ensuring that your puppy has alone time will help them grow comfortable and confident on their own. Many dog owners choose to set up a safe enclosure such as a crate and allow their dog to choose whenever they want to retreat to their “safe space.” As your dog learns that it’s okay to be alone, they may even begin to enjoy their time on their own, partaking in solitary activities such as grooming or chewing on their favorite toy.
  3. Don’t let your dog train YOU
    The special bond you form with your puppy creates a relationship full of trust and love, but it is important for you to be a firm but kind guide to your puppy, setting clear guidelines and sticking to them. This will help to ensure that your training sessions stick – and that all your hard work will pay off.
  4. Keep calm
    If you’re anxious, your puppy will notice – and will likely become anxious themselves. Just as humans feed off of each other’s anxiety, puppies look to their owners to see how they should act.
  5. Investigate your puppy’s past
    Many puppies, especially those adopted from shelters, are holding onto trauma from past experiences. Whether they were left out in a storm, were alone for too long, or had a bad experience with another dog, there are countless events that can trigger a dog’s anxiety. These stressful events condition puppies to respond anxiously when they feel that they are in stressful situations. An understanding of your puppy’s past will help you to better quell their fears.
    Dogs wear their hearts on their “sleeves.” So, even if you can’t figure out what trauma might have triggered your dog’s anxiety, there is a great deal we can interpret from our dog’s behaviors. Learn more about how to investigate your dog’s anxious responses – and prevent the development of CSA – by checking out this resource.

The Pandemic Puppy

 

These days, there’s more stress – and more isolation – than ever for everyone. That’s why so many of us have chosen to adopt pets this year. A puppy will surely help lessen our isolation, but it is also essential to follow new puppy guidelines. Even though the structure of your day has changed, that doesn’t mean you can be lax about the structure of your puppy’s day!

Preparing your puppy for your return to your “normal” routine, such as returning to your office, is essential. So, teach your puppy how to handle short periods of your absence – go on a walk without them or go to the grocery store. It is this predictability that studies suggest will help to reduce separation anxiety.

Professionals also recommend starting your puppy on crate training as soon as possible – even if you’re home all day. Make sure they have all their needs met – including mental and physical exercise, as well as bathroom visits – before putting them in their crate. Then, allow them to have some crate time throughout the day. Your puppy will need plenty of downtime, and this is the perfect way to do it!

Make sure to balance your snuggles and playtime with plenty of puppy “me time.” As they grow confident on their own, they’ll learn how to overcome stressful situations on their own.  Puppies need to work through problems in order to develop and move onto the next stage in life. This doesn’t mean neglecting your puppy, but rather simply giving them space to discover independently. This method will help you slowly introduce your puppy to new concepts.

It’s all about gradual changes. For example, if your puppy tends to cry when you’re out of the house, practice baby steps: separate yourself from them in the same room. This will allow you to slowly introduce them to bigger changes, such as your return to the office.

 

Black dog on leash looking up at owner

Socializing Safely

Although we are unable to socialize normally right now, it is still important that your puppy be exposed to other people and dogs. So, take them out and about with you and have them safely interact with others. This will help ensure that your puppy is confident and understands that, although you might be the center of their world, you’re not their entire world.

Get Going!

Although separation anxiety is not always preventable, the good news is it is manageable. So, the sooner the better: observe your puppy and work with a professional who can guide you as you raise your pup to feel confident and safe.