Maybe it hit you as soon as your parents backed the family car out of the dormitory parking lot your freshman year at college and you realized you were on your own. Or, perhaps you felt it standing at the neighborhood bus stop as your child struggled up the school bus steps on his way to kindergarten for the first time. Separation anxiety can affect us all — even our puppies.
Your puppy likely has recently left behind her mama, her siblings and the only home she has ever known. She might be scared and lonely. She clings to what she knows makes her feel safe, warm and happy: you. So when you go off to work in the morning or spend a day at a football game, she mourns you. Unlike human beings, however, she doesn’t have the mechanisms to cope as well. As a result, she might drool, pant, bark excessively, soil the house or engage in destructive behavior. She might try to escape from your home. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help her adjust. Here’s how.
Diagnosing Separation Anxiety
Most puppies learn to embrace their new lives soon after being adopted. Old fears quickly evaporate as the puppy learns your household’s routines. But for 1 in 15 pets, separation anxiety remains acute. How do you know if your pup has a bad case? Veterinarians who see chronic cases report that the aforementioned behaviors occur within the first 30 minutes after you leave your home. Moreover, they happen consistently when your puppy is left alone.
How You Can Help
- Be empathetic. Pups that suffer from separation anxiety are not misbehaving or being spiteful. Never punish or isolate your dog. Both tactics can backfire and worsen the problem.
- Teach her to tolerate your comings and goings. Give her a treat, and then leave the house for a minute or two. She’ll begin associating your departures with pleasure (or at least the treat sweetens the deal). Then, gradually prolong the amount of time you’re gone until she can better cope.
- Redirect her behavior. Try feeding her a meal, as pups with full bellies are likely to be more relaxed than those who are hungry. You can also tuck a new toy into your puppy’s crate before departing.
- Tire her out. Stacy Braslau-Schneck, a trainer who blogs frequently for Exceptional Canine, suggests increasing your puppy’s mental and physical exercise.
- Consider crating your dog. Your dog might be more comfortable when confined to a small den, says Braslau-Schneck. Your dog needs to be able to “hold it” for as long as she’ll be in the crate. And you want her main activity in the crate to be sleeping; that’s where all the exercise beforehand comes in. Before using a crate, you need to understand your dog’s preference, since some dogs don’t do as well in crates, says Braslau-Schneck.
- Keep your departures and arrivals low-key. If your voice and body language say “This is no big deal,” she might start to believe you.
- Hire help. Use a pet sitter or doggie day care service so she’ll have company while you’re gone.
Seeking Professional Advice
Some pets do not outgrow separation anxiety. These animals need your utmost compassion and, perhaps, medical attention. Sedatives can be prescribed for extreme cases (though they are not long-term solutions). Moreover, professional animal trainers can help.
Like you, your puppy is a social creature. It’s normal for her to miss you. In time, she’ll learn you’re coming home, and the pangs of separation anxiety will fade. Someday soon, she’ll be so comfortable with solitude that you will be sure to catch her asleep atop your favorite couch.