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Dealing with Your Puppy's Separation Anxiety

Puppies hate separation. If they had their way, they’d follow you to the ends of the Earth. Puppies suffering from separation anxiety may chew destructively, claw at the door, soil the house, bark excessively, or act out other destructive behaviors.

These behaviors can also indicate a restless puppy who needs more exercise or is poorly socialized to household etiquette — so how do you know the difference, and what can you do to help? To get started, recognize that your puppy is not behaving badly out of spite. Puppies just can’t think that way. Your puppy doesn’t like being left alone, and what you’re seeing is anxiety, canine style.

Separation anxiety can be exhibited by puppies with either of the following reactivity types:

  • Passive puppy: This puppy is sweet but undirected and needy. No matter the amount of affection you offer her, it never seems to be enough. What she needs to feel more secure in her world is more direction, not more attention, but because she’s not getting it, she feels the need to direct herself. Without direction, this type of puppy is prone to a virtual panic attack when left alone in the house.

  • Assertive puppy: Left to their own devices, confident and bossy puppies like to organize the household activity, so they need to learn the manners and be trained to listen to their people. Headstrong and willful, they’re often unimpressed with you — until that is, you leave the den (your home). A panic-like level of frustration sets in when your puppy is left alone.

Some ground rules to follow

Separation anxiety demands a multi-approach solution that involves training and often medication when the anxiety is so severe that a puppy is destructive in her surroundings. If you need help, get it. In the meantime, follow these ground rules:

  • Never correct your puppy after the fact. Never. Corrections aren’t connected to the destruction; they’re connected to your arrival, which makes your puppy more anxious the next time you leave.

  • Avoid theatrical hellos and goodbyes. Lavishing your puppy with kisses, biscuits, and drawn-out declarations of devotion don’t reassure her, they stress her out.

  • Leave a radio playing classical music to cover unfamiliar sounds.

  • Place your puppy in a dimly lit area to encourage sleep.

  • Leave a favorite chew toy. Rub it between your palms so that it smells like you.

If you’re leaving for more than six hours, try to find someone to walk your puppy. If necessary, proof the house from destruction or buy an indoor pen. Indoor pens, which fold nicely for storage when you’re home, can be expanded before you leave to give your puppy space when you’re gone for extended periods.

When you’re home, temporarily decrease the attention you give your puppy by 50 percent for two weeks while practicing the other exercises listed here. Don’t give in to “pet me” solicitations. Petting her just makes being alone all day even more difficult for her. Going from lots of attention to no attention is too sharp a contrast for a pup.

Setting up practice departures

Also try setting up practice departures by following these steps:

  1. Station your puppy in a familiar spot.

  2. Instruct “Wait” and leave the room for 15 seconds.

  3. Return and ignore her until she’s calm and then praise her lovingly.

Continue these short separations until she shows no anxiety. Then double the separation time and repeat the procedure. Continue doubling the departure time until you’re able to leave the room for 20 minutes (do this exercise after you’ve fed, exercised, and taken your puppy out to potty).

After your puppy’s comfortable being alone for 20 minutes, go back to short separations, but this time leave the house. Gradually work your way up to being outside for 30 minutes. Start over once more, but this time get into and start your car. With patience, you’ll be able to build your puppy’s confidence and leave her for longer and longer periods of time.

If your puppy’s prone to destruction when you leave, make her a party bag: Put a selection of treats, toys, and chewies in a brown paper lunch bag, crumple it closed, and place it in the middle of the floor just as you walk out the door. The party bag will give her something to focus on for the first few minutes after your departure, which is when most of the tension happens.

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