Separation anxiety is a puppy’s conditioned response to the terror of being left alone.
To manage puppy separation anxiety, the best way is to use training to re-condition and desensitize the puppy to get her understand that it is safe for her to be alone.
The training takes time and patience, especially if your puppy cannot even tolerate you being in another room in the house! However, it is worth it – it can save your furniture, your sanity, and perhaps even your puppy’s life.
Remember, do not get frustrated and punish your puppy for her anxiety-related behavior. Always use positive reinforcement.
Puppy Separation Anxiety Training
This is a puppy separation anxiety training program that works well:
- Tether your puppy and stand next to her. Wait for her to calm down and accept the tether. Then take one step away from her, say “Yes!” immediately before she has a chance to get upset. Praise her and give her a treat. Repeat until she shows no anxiety when you are one step away.
- Gradually increase the length of time that you stay one step away before you say “Yes” and return, until your puppy is comfortable with your one-step-away distance for over a full minute. Vary the length of time to make it unpredictable for your puppy.
- Next, take 2 steps away, say “Yes!”, and immediately return and give her praises and a treat. Repeat until she is totally comfortable with you being 2 steps away. Gradually, increase the length of time at this distance.
- Continue with the above, gradually increasing the distance, making sure that your puppy is comfortable with the new distance. Then gradually increase the time at each new distance.
- Continue with the above training until your puppy is comfortable with you being at the other side of the room, sitting down, and reading a newspaper. Once your puppy is calm and cool with this, you are ready for Phase II.
- Begin the training with your puppy tethered. Then walk to the door of the room, step outside the room briefly, say “Yes!” and immediately get back into the room before your puppy gets anxious. Praise and feed your puppy a treat. Repeat this until she is totally at ease about you stepping outside the room, and gradually increase the length of time that you stay out of the room.
- Next, do the same exercise but sometimes close the door as you step out of the room, briefly at first, then gradually increase the length of time. Vary the length of time to make it unpredictable for your puppy. Be sure to return and reward each time before your puppy gets anxious.
- Repeat the above step with your puppy off the tether. When your puppy is comfortable with you outside the room for several minutes with the door closed, you are ready for Phase III.
- Start stepping outside the room but also do something that resembles your departure routine. For example, pick up your key and step outside the room briefly. Then return before your puppy gets anxious, say “Yes!”, praise and reward. Then gradually add more pieces of departure routine to the training. For example, go outside, open and close the car door, return, say “Yes!”, praise and reward.
- If you drive to work, the next step is actually get in the car, start the engine, get back inside, praise and reward. Once that is accepted, the next step is start the car engine, drive down the driveway, then drive back to the house, get back inside the house, praise and reward. Gradually increase the time and distance so that eventually your puppy can tolerate you driving away for 30 minutes. If you don’t drive, you can walk around your house, and gradually around the block.
Puppy Separation Anxiety Training – Key Points
Proceed through the above steps slowly and at a pace that is acceptable to your puppy. Do the training every day. Start off with short sessions (5-10 minutes).
Always remember to praise and reward your puppy for good behavior. Remain calm yourself. If you get frustrated and overly excited, so will your puppy.
You may wonder how soon you can see result.
It depends on the severity of the puppy separation anxiety, If her anxiety is mild, you may be able to proceed through all the steps in a week or two.
However, for more serious cases, it may take several weeks or even months before you can hit the 30-minute-away-from-the-house mark.
If your puppy is extremely difficult to train and does not make significant progress, consult with your vet about using medication for separation anxiety in conjunction with the training, or consider trying natural remedies that can help relax your puppy.
Other Steps for Puppy Separation Anxiety Training
There are other steps you can take to help your puppy with her panic attacks. These are things that can help prevent the problem as well as help modify the already existing anxiety-related behavior:
- In the morning, before you go to work, exercise your puppy so that she can use up some of her energy and feel tired. A tired puppy is less likely to be anxious and overly destructive. Finish the exercise 30 minutes before you leave.
- Make your departures and returns as calm and low-key as possible – No hugs, no kisses! Ignore your puppy 15 to 30 minutes before your departure. Turn your back and walk away if your puppy gets too excited upon your return. Wait till she has settled down before giving her a calm greeting.
- Mix up your departure routine in the morning to make your morning ritual as unpredictable as possible, so that your puppy’s anxiety level does not build up.
- Leave your puppy a toy stuffed with yummy treats (e.g. a Kong toy stuffed with treats or smeared with peanut butter). This can take her mind off your imminent departure.