How To Prevent Your Puppy From Developing Separation Anxiety
Separation Anxiety is a very common behavior issue that I work with and in my opinion, it is more difficult to address than aggression. The reason is because it’s relationship based, Meaning, the relationship that has been established between the puppy and the owner is what’s driving the anxiety. Believe it or not, the puppy decides the dynamic during the first meeting. Once Separation Anxiety is a habit, addressing it without the use of aversive methods will have close to no progress in most cases.
Which is why I’m writing these simple tips to “Prevent Your Puppy From Developing Separation Anxiety.”
1. Separate Yourself
Many first time puppy owners will take their vacation time when they adopt to help ease the puppy into the new home and work on potty training. This is a great idea except that most people spend every single minute they can spare with the pup, which can be detrimental. It takes 2 weeks for a dog to find their place in a home and get a feel for what the structure is so constant contact with the owner is not good if we are not also taking steps to teach them to be independent. To the puppy, the owner always being present becomes the norm and when the day comes where the owner has to leave for work for 8 hours and it puts the puppy under stress as they were so used to having them around 24/7 for the first few weeks.
To help prevent an unhealthy attachment from developing I suggest owners utilize a crate to separate themselves from the puppy for various lengths through out the day while they are home and when they are away. Place the kennel in a room where you will not be visible and the puppy will not be audible should they bark. Covering the kennel with a blanket or towel will help muffle the barking. I’m not a big fan of covering the front of the kennel completely as I want there to be some airflow, but this is where a lot of sound resonates out of. You can work the drape as you see fit to cancel out the noise, but just ensure the enclosure doesn’t get too hot. Especially for long or thick coated breeds.
You want to make this period away from you routine and you also want to start this day one. Putting the puppy in the cage a couple of times each day for roughly the same lengths each time will start to get them used to being away from you. Expect barking to occur, but remember, once you’ve placed the puppy in the kennel you do not want to let them out! This is very important!
The barking should begin to subside quicker with each passing day with the first day being the longest. If you let your dog out because you cannot tolerate the barking, you are only setting yourself up with more work the next time you place them in the kennel. This is why placing him or her in a room where their sound will be minimal is ideal. The barking is to communicate to you that the puppy wants to be let out, but as they learn their barking does not garner them any attention, it begins to subside.
Do not place the puppy in the kennel as a time out or if they’re running around over stimulated as you are setting yourself up for a very long period of barking. Time out is not a concept that dogs understand as they are not capable of reflecting. Placing the puppy into the crate for these reasons will not make it a negative, it is simply ineffective.
2. Crate Training
Proper crate training will help your puppy see it as a positive experience leading them to look forward to it.
Instead of feeding them in the kitchen or wherever you intend to, feed them in their kennel. Take your bowl and lead them inside the crate using the food as a lure. Once they are completely in, place the bowl in the kennel and close the gate. Walk away and give the puppy 5 minutes to eat their meal. It doesn’t matter should they not eat because they were barking, whining, or because they were stressed they were in the kennel, I remove the bowl once the time limit is up and they do not eat until the next feeding time.
Do not try to come back and help them eat and most definitely do not open the crate to let them out to eat! We want to establish firm boundaries day one and any leniency once you try to establish structure will just create a lot more work for yourself and stress for the puppy in the long run.
Your puppy will not starve itself, it goes against instinct. At some point your puppy will learn that they only have so much time to eat their food and they will do so. If your puppy is a slow eater and goes beyond the 5 minutes, that’s ok as long as they do not show disinterest or begin to exhibit anxious behavior. Also, do not adjust their later meals to include the missed meals. You want to keep the servings the same so if you puppy gets three 1/3 cups of food a day, then each meal is going to be 1/3, even if they didn’t eat the first two. We want understand that only so much food comes down each time for a limited time so that they begin to love the crate.
Aside from feeding, I also like to edible chew bones or Kongs with peanut butter and lock them in the crate with the puppy outside of it. At some point, they’ll catch the sent and begin to paw and whine to be inside. I’ll let them do this for 5 – 10 minutes to build frustration and then let them in, closing the gate behind them. I only allow them in there for 15 minutes and then I’ll release them from the kennel and remove the bone or Kong from the kennel as well so that they go back in looking for it. So if they were whining instead of enjoying the bone I want them to think that it only appears for a limited time in the crate and that it disappears once they are out of it so that next time they actually engage with it.
Lastly, only give the rewards of designated chew bones, Kongs, and other long lasting treats, while the dog is in the crate when you’re gone. This way they start to see you leaving as a positive because that is the only time they get these specific treats is when you are away. I do not recommend leaving toys or other objects the puppy can destroy and ingest that is not intended to be eaten as you do not want to come back to them after they’ve eaten the squeaker out of a toy. I’m also not a fan of Nylabones or other synthetic bones and rawhides as they can break up in long strips that can get caught in your dog’s throat.
3. Correct Your Puppy
A great tool that I’ve begun to use more and more with my puppy clients is what’s called a Pet Corrector. It’s a can of compressed air that makes a loud hissing noise. Depending on the personality of the puppy the noise can have great to little response from the dog. In the cases where the sound has no effect, I’ll spray towards the rear of the dog (be careful not to get it in their eyes or mouth), making contact, which startles them more times then not. At this point, the puppy now has a connection to the sound, which then empowers it so that when they do hear the hiss, it means something.
Once the puppy recognizes the correction I begin to correct them for everything. Chewing, barking, jumping, climbing on furniture, stealing things that are not theirs, etc. Each time I catch them in the act of these things I simply give them a blast without warning. I do not want to say “No” or “Stop” as then they become cued behaviors and we want the puppy to learn to stop doing those things altogether. This helps to bring your puppy’s stimulation level down as with each rule we implement, the calmer they become. They will begin to learn there are consequences and they can’t just run around and do anything they want, which can lead to barking, demanding that they be let out.
If your puppy is super sensitive to the Pet Corrector then you can also use it to address barking when you are home. As soon as the puppy begins to bark, you walk into the room, open the gate if necessary and give them a blast of the corrector (careful with eyes and mouth), shut the gate, and leave. If they bark or whine again, walk back in and repeat. You are at no point to let the puppy out, it is simply to teach them to stop barking. This will not make the crate a negative space as the correction is happening in response to their barking.
If your puppy continues to bark even after the corrections then it is ineffective for addressing that behavior. Revert back to leaving them in the kennel until they learn that barking will not get them any kind of attention and they have to learn to be independent.
Until next time.