Some puppies with separation anxiety whine, pace, pant and howl when they see their human parents walking out the front door. Others wile away their solitary hours with destructive pursuits, including chewing and scratching the furniture. Whatever the symptoms, a proactive approach to puppy separation anxiety minimizes discomfort for both pet owners and their canine companions. While extreme cases sometimes require veterinary intervention, most dogs respond to gentle training methods.
Easing the Transition
Your house is different when you aren't there. The familiar sights, sounds and smells your dog associates with your presence suddenly disappear, and this change can trigger anxiety in puppies. To minimize this stark contrast, reduce interaction with your puppy during the 30 minutes before you leave and the 30 minutes after you return. Avoid petting, feeding, or playing with him during the transition period so he doesn't associate your absence with lack of attention.
Increasing Alone Time
Reinforce the idea that solitude isn't permanent. Leave your puppy alone for 5 to 10 minutes at a time, then increase the duration to 15 minutes, half an hour and one hour. Don't make a fuss over your return, as this suggests to your puppy that he has a reason to worry. Dogs with severe puppy separation anxiety might not tolerate absences well, so you can try leaving the room instead of the house at first.
Some puppies start to get nervous when they see their human parents performing pre-departure rituals. This could include getting dressed in the morning, packing your briefcase or picking up your car keys. Continue the anxiety training by performing some of those rituals without leaving the house. Pick up your car keys, for example, walk around the house, then put the car keys back. In time, your puppy will no longer associate those activities with your leaving, so they won't trigger his anxiety.
Creating a Safe Place
Crates rarely relieve anxiety in puppies because the confinement adds another stressor. However, creating a larger safe place for your dog might help. Use a baby gate or other barrier to cordon off a section of kitchen, living area or dining room. Put your puppy in the "safe place" several times a day for short periods of time, then start the gradual process of leaving him confined while you are out of the house.
Adding Commands and Challenges
While you work on reducing separation anxiety, add other commands to challenge your puppy intellectually. When you leave the room or house for short periods of time, give commands he has learned such as "Sit," "Stay" and "Down." You can also give your puppy puzzle toys that require him to figure out how to retrieve a hidden treat inside. Another option is to hide treats in his safe area for him to find while you are gone.
Laura College is a former riding instructor, horse trainer and veterinary assistant. She has worked as a writer since 2004, producing articles and sales copy for corporations and nonprofits. College has also published articles in numerous publications, including "On the Bit," "Practical Horseman" and "American Quarter Horse Journal."