Separation Anxiety or Stress Related Behaviours are very common with puppies, you may also look at it as fear of missing out in some cases. This can be; Destructive behaviour, Salivating, Pacing, Crying, Whining, Howling, Barking or going to the toilet in your home.
Being taught to be left alone when you’re home and being left completely alone are very important elements of your puppies growth. You can help your puppy learn to not become anxious but you need to do it in small steps giving positive reinforcement, making being alone a happy experience.
Before you start any of the following stages ensure that you have given your puppy a good walk and played with them so that they are more relaxed and ready to settle. You do not want an excited or hyper dog left home alone, it’s a recipe for disaster and your training will fail. If you have stimulated your dog and they are tired they’re more likely to settle and perhaps have a little sleep.
Leave your puppy plenty of toys and chews. A bored dog will go looking for entertainment, stress and anxiety will cause them to chew and that will be your home, furniture etc.
Dedicate a time that you put pup away with a kong etc on a mat/blanket/bed and settle them there, if you’re crating put them in the crate but leave the door open at this point.
Give them a keyword of your choosing, for example, “In your bed”. Sit down on the sofa or chair but do not engage. After a minute or two, if they have managed to stay calm in their bed, get up and praise them giving them a treat if you want. Now you can release them or encourage them to stay in their bed again, see if you can leave them a short while and again praise and treat. If they don’t settle and they go to get up to be with you give them an uh uh correction and take them back to their place, do not say anything more than your keyword, do not engage.
If Step 2 worked then move on, get up and move around the room still not engaging or looking at your puppy. If they hold the position, after a short while, give them a treat and praise. If they move take them back again, settle them and repeat the keyword. Build this up until they can relax while you’re in the same room. Only expect them to do this for about 2 mins, then 5 mins. If they can hold the relax place for up to and over 5 mins you can then start to build up some space where you are in different rooms and they can’t see you.
Tell your puppy something like “back in a bit” and go into the next room. If they get up to follow you take them back again and settle them, stay in the room for a short while and then repeat your keyword “back in a bit” and go into the other room again (you may have to repeat this over and over the first time you attempt this). While you’re in the other room make sure your pup can hear you but don’t act excited in the other room just opening and shutting a cupboard etc, wait 2 mins and come back. Praise your puppy and sit down on the sofa for 2 more minutes before releasing your puppy. Build up again from 2 mins to 5 minutes.
On a separate day go into the other room and be silent. Hold for 5 mins and return.
Each time you return praise and say a keyword like Free, Ok, or simply good boy/girl.
Increase the challenge.
Try the same but going up stairs you may need to go up a step, hold, and come back down rather than going all the way up, ensure you’re not being followed. Take a step at a time and if pup follows you take them back to their bed and next time you try go up one less step before returning. Increase this stage, literally, step by step so that pup isn’t worried you’re not coming down, or have a fear of missing out wondering what you’re doing upstairs.
Increase the distance by closing the door behind you, going into other rooms upstairs and closing those doors. Increase the time that you are away from pup. Perhaps come back but don’t engage and then walk into another room, trying to be as casual as possible.
Once you can leave your pup alone in the house for 20 minutes you will probably have no problem leaving the house but that should also be built up slowly
Leaving the house should be done in a way that your puppy isn’t afraid of you going out of the door, they know you’re coming back.
So you should do this in very short bursts over and over until they are so board of you coming and going that they pay no attention. For example, settle your dog and give a keyword like “back in a bit”. Go out the front door, walk around the house and, where possible, come in through the back door. Your pup won’t have time to panic and it will disorientate them a little. When you come in don’t make a fuss just come in, matter of factly say good boy/girl and sit down again but don’t engage with your pup. After a few moments put them back in their bed with a treat and say “back in a bit” this time go out the front door and come straight back in the back door. Repeat this a few times and then leave it for the day.
The next day do the same process but take a pause outside of about two minutes. If your pup starts to cry or whine try and leave coming back in until the moment they have gone quiet. If you have not choice but to come in (neighbours or they sound like they’re getting distressed) then come in and ignore them go to the kitchen and put the kettle on, or something, so that they get no attention from you for being upset. If your pup stays quiet after two minutes come back in and praise them but not over fuss, just a simple good boy/girl is enough.
Repeat a few times and then start to increase the time you are standing outside. If you can wait outside for over 10 minutes and anywhere up to 20 minutes you are probably ok to move away from the house.
I recommend puppy cameras so you can ensure that your puppy isn’t getting distressed or destructive.
Once you have left your puppy for an hour there should be no reason why you can not leave them for for longer. I recommend that you do not leave them over 2 hours alone in the first months. Where possible come home or have someone check in (a friend, family member or professional dog sitter/walker). If you’re going to be out all day look for a licensed doggie daycare.
Be mindful with your routine going forward. Try to slow down your leaving so that its not a sudden shock of grabbing your keys and running out the door. You may have noticed a trigger that alerts your puppy and starts the anxiety, like taking your keys out, picking up your bag or putting your coat and shoes on. If so do the above and sit down or walk around the house a little before just leaving. Settle your dog as you have practiced above. Don’t make a big fuss about leaving but prepare your dog, once they are settled you can calmly leave using your keyword or keyphrase. Don’t make a song and dance when you get home either, at least not until you have erased the anxiety, your dog won’t understand and will see this as you have been anxious away from them too and increase their worry about you being apart. The best way to help your puppy is to come home calmly and wait to engage with them once they have calmed and sit for you.
As general practice you want to teach your puppy that being calm and patient is a good thing and will be rewarded. You have to be strict with yourself and only give attention when your puppy is settled and relaxed, unless you are initiating play. If your puppy chooses to be calm on their own, for example, going to their bed or crate and lying down you should reward them with a calm praise.
This is not an over night fix, you will need time to get this right but it is soooo worth it.
Good Luck Training!!