Do you have a second shadow? You know. The furry, little one who follows you from room to room. Who looks at you quizzically in the bathroom. Who’s on your heels in the bedroom. And no matter how many times you say otherwise, who’s alongside you in the kitchen.
It’s your precious, new puppy.
At times, it gets frustrating. But there’s no reason for concern. You’ll be patient until he grows out of it…Puppies do grow out of it, right?
Truth be told, dogs who cling to their owners and constantly crave attention are more likely to develop separation anxiety (SA).
Separation anxiety is a serious condition where puppies or adult dogs exhibit stress and/or behavioral problems when left alone.
The severity varies. For some puppies, SA occurs when they’re completely alone. For others, it occurs when the person they’re most bonded to is absent, even though other people are around.
Many times these anxiety attacks are mistaken for misbehaviors, making it one of the most common reasons owners opt to part with their pet.
It’s sad to think of such a drastic end, especially when SA is treatable and sometimes preventable. So today we’ll arm you with the knowledge to help you and your puppy survive separation anxiety.
Recognize the Symptoms
Separation anxiety goes beyond the usual whimpers, curious exploring, and independent acts of growing puppies. SA is the result of genuine stress. Here are some signs your pup may show. If you occasionally notice one or two, it might not be SA. However, if you notice a few signs regularly, chances are it’s SA.
- Excessive barking, whining or howling (If you’re not sure, your neighbors can probably tell you or try filming your puppy when you’re away.)
- Excessive drooling or panting
- Extreme pacing
- Urinating or defecating in your home
- Chewing on furniture or possessions
- Biting and clawing on doors and windows
- Refusing to eat or drink
- Continued efforts to escape when confined
What Causes Separation Anxiety?
Before we talk prevention of separation anxiety, let’s try to understand the causes. Dogs are social animals. In the wild, their communal bonds are fundamental for sustainability. If alone, they’re without protection, and they have a lower chance of survival than dogs with a pack. Your pup has the same instincts. You’re the alpha leader and your family is the pack. Puppies with SA feel unprotected when left alone.
While you can’t be certain whether a puppy will develop SA, there are triggers that seem to spark the behavior.
- Impaired socialization – puppies from shelters, puppy mills or those removed from their mothers too early can lack key social skills for adapting to separation. Abandonment by an important person in their life can also have a similar effect.
- Hyper-attachment – people-oriented breeds or smaller dogs accustomed to nearly constant companionship are more susceptible.
- Change in routine – some cases of SA build over time. Others begin after a change, like a move, the puppy parent returns to work after being home, kids go back to school, and yes, divorce too.
- Temperament – some puppies are more dependent or anxious by nature. Just like us, they have altered brain chemicals that contribute to anxiety-related behaviors.
How to Prevent Separation Anxiety Puppies
While there’s no foolproof way to prevent separation anxiety, there are parts of your everyday puppy routine that address SA.
- Crate training – the crate is an important training tool, and it alleviates several puppy problems. Dogs are den animals. In the wild, they seek small, enclosed spaces for warmth and protection. Use that hardwired instinct to give your puppy a safe place to go, especially when you’re not home. Observe your pup’s behavior in the crate, does he appear to get comfortable and settle down, or become unsettled?
- Conditioning – try teaching your puppy that separation is positive. Right now, he’s conditioned to switch to panic mode when you’re about to leave. Try offsetting that reaction by using a treat he really loves, one you only offer for big rewards. If he gets a treat right before you leave, fearfulness might be replaced with eagerness.
- Exercise – puppies who get their daily dose of exercise are more likely to settle down when you’re gone. Make room in your schedule for playtime and walks, especially for high-energy breeds. Mental games are important too. They help your puppy develop focus, self-control, and patience.
Treatment for Separation Anxiety
Sometimes our best efforts aren’t enough prevention. So where do you go for help? Start with your veterinarian. They will perform a behavioral assessment, followed by physical and laboratory examinations to rule out medical problems. Most veterinarians are experienced to treat separation anxiety in dogs. However, difficult cases may be referred to a veterinary behaviorist.
Your vet may discuss medication or natural supplements to help reduce stress levels. Though, it would only aid, not replace, the need for behavior modification. Much like human therapy, through a series of changes, you’d work to alter your pup’s environment, eliminate triggers, and boost confidence. Here are examples of what to expect.
- Don’t make a fuss when you’re leaving or returning.
- Don’t reward needy, attention-seeking behaviors like whining and jumping. Ignore, until your pup calms down.
- Don’t punish your puppy for anxiety-related misbehavior. It’s not done intentionally or because of poor training. Remember the root cause is stress.
- Do vary your exit routine. Jingle your keys, then sit back down instead of leaving. Pour your coffee, then watch TV; don’t walk out the door.
Separation anxiety is a heavy load for you and your puppy to carry. What’s more, there’s no quick-fix. It takes hard work, time, and commitment to modify behaviors; and through it all, your little one still needs your love. Yet, think of when you do succeed, and he feels brave and safe. Your lives and your relationship will be all the better for it.