Pet parents are very familiar with the term “Separation Anxiety” and want to know how to alleviate this behavioral problem. I’m happy to address the issue but need to first explain how pet parents can actually cause separation anxiety and that learning to avoid creating it, is a lot easier than dealing with and trying to correct the symptoms of separation anxiety, when it’s full blown.
So, let’s examine how a pet parent creates separation anxiety. Here’s a perfect example. A schoolteacher is home for the entire summer vacation and decides to get a puppy. The schoolteacher; let’s use the name Alex, decides to get a puppy and names it Sam. Alex spends close to 24 hours a day with Sam, making sure the new puppy is well taken care of, and has everything needed to start life in a new home. Alex even takes the Sam out to pee and poo every 2 hours. Sounds good but by the end of summer when Alex has to go back to teaching, Alex’s “coddling” has turned into “enabling” and Sam cannot handle being left alone. Sam also cannot “hold it in” for more than 2 hours! Sam is now barking, whining, chewing, peeing and pooping in the house, salivating and stressed out.
Of course, this example is extreme. But the point is, Alex needs “Alex time” and Sam needs “Sam time”. And then there is Alex and Sam together time. If you think this sounds ridiculous, I assure you that I talk to pet parents about this all the time. We all do the same thing. We get a puppy and want to spend as much time as possible with it, but the puppy needs to be separated from the pet parent even for 10 – 15 minutes at a time in the beginning. Then gradually increase the time. You may not be going to work in the next few days, but you will need personal time. ..meaning, avoid taking the puppy with you to the bathroom! to shower! To make a phone call! to work on the computer! Give the puppy something he will be interested in and leave him in a crate or confinement. Deliberately leave the puppy and go into another room and work up to going outside for short intervals. Then use the same routine you would use when actually leaving the house; like picking up your keys, taking a bag or attaché, putting on shoes. Those are triggers that will set off barking or other unwanted behaviors in the future, when done without a dress rehearsal.
Your puppy already has separation anxiety. What now? Same routine. Leave the puppy alone for 5- 10 minutes at first with a chew or toy that’s new and interesting. Build up the time and start by going into another room, then outside.
If your puppy is in a crate, it sometime helps to move the crate to another part of the room or a different room. The heartbeat of the house, usually the kitchen is the best place and being close to the door you use for house training is also helpful. A wire crate is preferred over a kennel cab (plastic crate), because the puppy can see you better, you can see the puppy better, has better ventilation and easier to clean. If the crate is in the corner of the room, try moving it out away from the wall.
If you’re using a confined area of the house, make sure it’s not too large, as smaller spaces give the puppy more comfort and security. Additionally, you can’t housebreak well in large areas where the puppy can urinate on one side of the room and move away to the other.
A laundry room or room that may be tucked away in the back of the house, is usually too isolated and will cause added stress to the puppy.
I do not suggest or condone letting the puppy cry for extended periods of time causing unnecessary stress. The puppy should only be left for short intervals of time until a comfort level is reached. Correcting unwanted behavior is a slow process. Remember… take puppy steps.