If your puppy scratches at the door, cries or barks excessively, goes to the bathroom in the house, or chews things every time your family goes out, he may be suffering from separation issues.
Why some puppies develop separation issues and some don’t is not fully understood. Whatever the cause, it’s important to realise it is not a form of bad behaviour. Punishing your puppy will not eliminate separation issues. Gradually adjusting your puppy to being alone is the best approach.
Preventing separation anxiety
It’s good for your puppy to be comfortable when home alone. You can help him learn this by taking a little time and following these simple steps. Start as soon as your puppy comes home, if possible.
- Puppies like routine. Develop a schedule for your puppy and make sure your family sticks to it.
- Always give your puppy an opportunity to go to toilet before crating him.
- Crate train your puppy. When done properly, the use of a crate is a great way to help your puppy remain calm – and out of trouble!
- Crate him for short periods while you are present. For example, when you are watching television, put your puppy in his crate and put the crate next to the sofa. Gradually increase the time crated.
- Reward quiet behaviour with calm praise.
- Start leaving your puppy alone in his crate. Start with just a few minutes at a time. Gradually increase the time spent alone.
- Limit the attention he gets shortly before leaving, so it isn’t such a shock when your family does leave.
- When you let your puppy out of his crate, remain calm and keep the greetings to a minimum. You don’t want to make him excited.
- Most puppies don’t need to be crated throughout their lives, but don't rush freedom. Typically, puppies aren’t ready to be given unsupervised freedom in your home until they are approximately a year-and-a-half or older.
Try to make sure someone in your family is home as much as possible. Consider hiring a puppy-walker or neighbour to give your puppy a midday break while everyone is at work or school. Keeping your schedule similar on weekends can help make things easier for your puppy.
DOs and DON’Ts
Do make leaving and arriving uneventful. By making a drama of your exit – with lots of hugs and goodbyes, or asking if he’ll miss you – you are likely to increase your puppy’s anxiety. You should consider giving him a treat or an appropriate toy so that he associates the crate with something positive.
Don’t get over-excited when you return. Just let your puppy out of his crate promptly and take him outside because he may need to relieve himself. As he gets older and has better control of his bladder, wait until he is calm and quiet. Then casually greet him and praise him for being calm and quiet.
Signs of serious separation issues
Most puppies whine or cry a little when left alone. True separation issues are defined as destructive or disruptive behaviour by a puppy, including tearing up the room, constant barking and whining, or inappropriate toilet behaviour when left by himself. If you can’t resolve the issues on your own, consult your vet, a qualified puppy trainer or a behaviourist.