Is your puppy hyper-attached to you? Your pup might not let you leave their sight and when you do, they become distressed. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone; 50-60% of dog owners say their dog has separation anxiety! Covid lockdowns certainly haven’t helped our fur-kids learn to exist on their own four legs.
Don’t fret, it’s not too late to turn this behaviour around. Studies have shown that extreme attachment is the biggest predictor of separation anxiety in dogs.
All puppies initially struggle when they’re left alone, for more on this you might be interested in Surviving the first 48 hours with your new puppy.
Today we’re going to share 10 training and management tips that can help treat separation anxiety in dogs and puppies.
What is Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety is an emotional response and occurs when your puppy gets distressed about you either leaving them or your puppy not being able to access you. It could be as simple as you leaving a room and they’re left in their crate or behind a baby gate.
What are the symptoms of separation anxiety?
There are a broad range of behaviours that are associated with separation anxiety and it can manifest differently depending on the individual dog, breed, experiences, environment etc.
It typically looks like barking, biting, howling, whining, chewing furniture, urinating and pooping indoors (potty training regression), digging, pacing, licking and chewing feet, scratching and even spinning.
What dog breeds have the most separation anxiety?
Some dog breeds are more prone to separation anxiety and poodle mix breeds are particularly affected. Poodles can be highly strung and crave the company of humans. Mixing this temperament in with other breeds that don’t do well alone such as the labrador, golden retriever, border collie, maltese terrier, Bernese mountain dog, cavalier king Charles spaniel, cocker spaniel etc can produce anxious pups.
But don’t despair, whether you have a cavoodle, bordoodle, groodle, labradoodle, moodle, golden doodle, bichoodle, spoodle or even a bernedoodle – there’s so much you can do to train your dog not to be hyper-attached to you.
Curing separation anxiety in puppies
Put simply, your puppy just needs to learn that you’ll come back and you can make this learning easier by making your absence a positive occurrence for them.
Our top tips for stopping separation anxiety in your puppy:
- Leave talkback radio on or relaxing music on Youtube – AM is good for this! Your pup will feel less alone.
- Environmental enrichment – Keep your puppy busy while you’re away. Place their favourite healthy grain-free food like Ziwi Peak in a snuffle mat, peanut butter stuff Kongs (if they’re teething, freeze them for extra soothing), food puzzles, long lasting chews like bully sticks, pigs ears, and goat horns. They’ll be in puppy heaven!
- Potty spot – Making sure your puppy is comfortable and doesn’t need to feel anxious about going to the toilet. They’re working hard with you to master their potty training routine after-all! Leave a pee-pad or grass loo for them to potty on.
- Exercise – take your puppy for a walk (if fully vaccinated) or simply play a game of fetch or tug. This will help to wear them out before you leave, increasing the likelihood that they’ll drift off to sleep soon. Remember puppies need 20 hours of quality sleep each day!
- Safe & secure place – a puppy pen or laundry is a good place to leave your puppy while you’re away. Place their crate in this space, with the door open. Leaving your puppy with access to the whole house, back-yard or a large portion of it, can increase their anxiety; movement tends to create more movement and arousal. We want our pups to be calm while we’re away.
- Your scent – leave an old t-shirt in their bed that has your scent on it. If you only recently brought your new puppy home, put their blanket or soft toy with smells from mum and siblings in, too. Familiar smells can be a great source of comfort. Some say pheromone sprays, Adaptil collars and diffusers can be calming.
- Start small – start with seconds of absence. You might simply turn your back on your puppy to begin with, dropping a treat as your turn away. For some dogs, not having your full attention can be extremely punishing and so the first step is counter-conditioning this response with their favourite treats and a calm approach. Grow your training to include a puppy pen or a baby gate and throw treats as you leave the pup behind for a few seconds at first.
- Leave the room – go out of the room for 5 seconds, 15 seconds, 30 seconds, a minute etc & then come back & give them a treat.
- Crate training – if your puppy is crate trained, this acts as handy barrier between the two of you. Your dog might be next to you in their crate while you’re working on your laptop. This helps them to work through the frustration they inevitably feel with not being able to access you.
- Practise calmness when you enter and leave – if you want your pup to be calm when you leave, leave in a calm state and more importantly when you return make sure you’re calm and if anything ignore your dog until they are also calm. Your return should not be a predictor of a party. If you make a big fuss upon your return, your pup will start to anticipate your return and their excitement will increase. Excitement and arousal are all part of the picture that is separation anxiety – something we’re wanting to avoid.
Presence doesn’t mean access
Keep in mind that your presence shouldn’t mean your puppy always has access to you. They might be sitting next to you on their bed while you’re on the lounge (separation) – you calmly deliver treats.
Your puppy shouldn’t be attached to you like velcro, if they are, it’s time to commit yourself to fixing this hyper-attachment before it develops into full blown separation anxiety that needs medication.
If you follow our 10 step approach to preventing separation anxiety, from the time you bring your new puppy home, they will flourish into a dog that feels secure with our without your company. It’s one of the hard parts of being a responsible puppy parent but your dog will thank you.
Dog trainers & Behaviourists specialising in Separation Anxiety Training
If your dog is approaching 6 months of age and you’re having behavioral issues relating to severe separation anxiety. Seek the help of a qualified dog behaviourist or dog trainer who uses positive reinforcement. Dealing with an adolescent dog comes with it’s own set of struggles, ensure your puppy has good life skills before the rebellious teenage phase kicks in.
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