Puppy cuddling with toys to cope with separation anxiety

Key takeaway

Puppy separation anxiety is characterized by extremely distressed behavior when a puppy is separated from his or her owner. This condition can typically be treated using behavioral modification strategies and, in some cases, medication.

Puppies can be a handful. As you raise a puppy, you’ll likely face a number of challenges that test your patience, your compassion, and possibly even your carpet. From teaching your puppy good behavior to cleaning up after their messes, raising a puppy can be both a difficult and rewarding experience. Yet, some behavioral problems exhibited by puppies may be harder to solve than others.

If you notice that your puppy becomes extremely distressed when you depart or prepare to depart your home, it may be a sign of puppy separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety in puppies refers to dogs who are unable to cope in a healthy way when separated from family members. It’s estimated that approximately 14% of dogs1 experience separation anxiety in some form, but some studies find prevalence of separation anxiety up to 18.7%.1 The good news is that if your puppy experiences separation anxiety, there are ways you can help them overcome it.

14% of dogs experience separation anxiety in some form

In this article, we take a close look at puppy separation anxiety. We review the signs of puppy separation anxiety, cover potential causes, and explain how to help a puppy with separation anxiety. If you’re interested in learning more about how to deal with puppy separation anxiety, then continue reading. Or, if you want to skip to a particular section, use any of the links below.

Note: We'll use "puppy anxiety" as a generic term throughout this post because it's a more common phrase for most pet owners. However, veterinary behaviorists use the phrase “fear, anxiety, and stress” to describe these adjacent behavioral problems in dogs. For more information on fear, anxiety, and stress, refer to our post on dog anxiety.

Signs Your Puppy Has Separation Anxiety

In order to diagnose separation anxiety in a puppy, you must be able to spot the signs of it. Keep in mind that there’s a difference between your dog simply reacting to your departure and a diagnosable case of dog separation anxiety. In cases where puppies experience separation anxiety, they have an unhealthy attachment to their owner and may engage in destructive behaviors.

Graphic with symptoms of puppy separation anxiety

So, how do you tell the difference between your typical energetic puppy and a puppy with separation anxiety? Here are some of the most common symptoms to look out for when it comes to puppy separation anxiety1:

  • Excessive drooling and panting
  • Excessive greeting when you return
  • Frequent pacing and restlessness
  • Attempts to escape
  • Excessive howling or barking
  • Urinating or defecating in the house after being potty trained
  • Destructive behaviors
  • Unusual levels of distress when owner departs

Destructive puppy tearing up pillow

With these symptoms in mind, you can spot puppy separation anxiety and seek treatment. In certain cases, it may be useful to place a recording device in your home to monitor your puppy’s behavior after you depart. This can help you and your vet better understand the separation anxiety symptoms your puppy is displaying and come up with a treatment plan that addresses those particular symptoms. This is particularly helpful as many other things can look like separation anxiety, including storm phobia, noise phobia, inadequate housetraining, boredom, and even medical conditions, such as a urinary tract infection.

Causes

A variety of factors can contribute to a puppy developing separation anxiety. This behavioral condition may develop as a result of a puppy’s past experiences, a sudden change of environment, or a traumatic event. On the other hand, your puppy could be genetically predisposed to certain behavioral disorders or the separation anxiety they’re experiencing may point to other underlying anxieties and phobias.

Graphic with causes of puppy separation anxiety

By understanding what’s causing your puppy’s separation anxiety, you may be able to more effectively treat the condition by addressing the root cause. With that being said, here are some of the most common factors that may contribute to puppy separation anxiety1:

  • Change of owner
  • Change in schedule
  • Change in physical surrounding or environment
  • Traumatic event
  • An owner’s sudden absence, which could include vacation
  • Genetics
  • Prenatal factors
  • Socialization issues

While the cause of puppy separation anxiety may be difficult to determine in many cases, understanding why your puppy is so distressed can help you choose the most effective treatment plan moving forward.

Treatment

If your puppy has separation anxiety, employing an effective treatment strategy for the condition is crucial. Puppy separation anxiety can place undue stress on both yourself and your dog. Additionally, persistent levels of high stress can impact your puppy’s mental and physical health.

While there’s no universal treatment for separation anxiety in puppies, there are several approaches you can take when attempting to solve the problem. Puppy separation anxiety training and behavior modification strategies can go a long way in helping the problem in some cases. In more severe cases, medication may be used to soothe your puppy’s anxious behaviors.1

If you want to know how to help a puppy with separation anxiety, take a look at these common treatment options:

Some common dog anxiety treatment methods include:

  • Environmental management: Adjusting your puppy's surroundings to support their separation anxiety can be a helpful technique. There are numerous strategies to help your dog's anxiety by optimizing their environment. Creating a "sanctuary space" in your home for your dog might provide them with a secure haven to retreat to when they are stressed when you leave for work or errands. You might also consider strategies that keep your puppy from having to stay home alone, such as doggy darcare, a puppy sitter, or a dog walker. Additionally, enriching the environment with food puzzles and challenging their brain with activities such as nosework can keep them focused on things other than their fears and anxieties.
  • Behavior modification: Behavior modification can transform your dog's perception of the environment and alleviate their anxiety at its source, resulting in long-term change. This is the process invovled in teaching the puppy to feel comfortable being alone. Counterconditioning and desensitization are two behavioral modification methods. Please be mindful that some commonly taught or incorrectly taught techniques might exacerbate anxiety, so consult your veterinarian to develop a behavior modification plan that is appropriate for your dog.
  • Pharmacologic therapy: Change can be difficult to initiate when the brain is stressed. Neurochemical imbalances in dogs, just as in humans, can induce and prolong fear, worry, and stress. Supplements, drugs, and pheromone therapy can all assist to restore that balance and indicate to the brain that they are safe. Dog anxiety medication can make your dog feel more at ease, making them more receptive to long-term behavior adjustment.

In addition to puppy separation anxiety training and prescription medication, there are a number of simple ways you can help your puppy overcome his or her separation anxiety. Some basic things you can do to reinforce healthy behavior and discourage hyper attachment include2:

  • Provide your puppy with ample exercise and play opportunities
  • Praise calm and obedient behavior
  • Make departures and returns lowkey
  • Create a warm and comfortable space where your puppy for your puppy to be alone in
  • Act subtle when you leave your home and once you arrive again
  • Ignore excited greeting behavior until the puppy has calmed down and placed all four feet on the floor, but don’t avoid them completely, as this may result in undue stress

Owner playing with her puppy

Helping your puppy overcome separation anxiety can be a difficult task. That’s why it’s a good idea to consult with a vet before making any decisions concerning treatment strategies. Your vet can assess your puppy’s behavior and advise you on the best behavior modification strategies going forward.

Schedule an online consultation using Dutch.com to quickly meet with a qualified vet. A Dutch-affiliated vet will be able to review your pet’s symptoms, provide a diagnosis, and recommend a specialized treatment plan. From there, our vets can provide continued care using proven methods that provide long-lasting relief.

Puppy Separation Anxiety: Frequently Asked Questions

How do you stop separation anxiety in puppies?

When it comes to separation anxiety in puppies, there are a variety of treatments available. Among the most common treatment methods are environmental adjustments, behavioral modification, and medication1 The most effective method will depend on your puppy, and multiple methods may be used in conjunction with one another.

Do puppies grow out of separation anxiety?

No. A puppy’s separation anxiety isn’t something that should be ignored. If you rely on your puppy outgrowing their separation anxiety, you may be opening up the possibility of further mental and physical stress for your puppy. Instead, puppy separation anxiety should be treated, so that your dog can overcome the condition as quickly as possible.

What gives puppies separation anxiety?

There are many possible causes of separation anxiety in puppies. A sudden change in owner, schedule, or surroundings can contribute to puppy separation anxiety. Additionally, other factors such as traumatic events, genetics, and socialization issues can play a role in separation anxiety in puppies.1


How do you stop a puppy from crying when you leave the room?

If your puppy seems to be in extreme distress when you exit a room or depart from your home, this may be a sign of separation anxiety. To soothe their anxiety, make sure to provide them with plenty of exercise and play opportunities, in addition to praising calm and obedient behavior. Create a comfortable environment where they can feel safe while you’re away.

Before trying these tactics, make sure you confirm this diagnosis with your vet. A vet can recommend behavior modification strategies or medications that can help address the root of your puppy’s anxiety.

Final Notes

Separation anxiety can impact the lives of both your puppy and yourself. You not only want your puppy to feel safe and comfortable, but you also want to prevent your belongings from being chewed up and destroyed while you’re out of the house. In the end, the best way to resolve a puppy’s separation anxiety is to embark on a specialized treatment plan.

With Dutch, you can quickly access high-quality care and speak with vets who are committed to improving your puppy’s condition. From separation anxiety to dog diarrhea, the network of vets we work with can effectively diagnose and treat a wide range of conditions. In addition to providing top-notch telemedicine for pets, we’re the only pet telehealth company that facilitates medication delivery right to your doorstep. Schedule an online consultation today to get your puppy the care he or she needs and deserves.

References

  1. Landsberg, Gary M, and Sagi Denenberg. “Behavioral Problems of Dogs.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, May 2014, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/behavior/normal-social-behavior-and-behavioral-problems-of-domestic-animals/behavioral-problems-of-dogs?query=separation+anxiety.
  2. Simpson, Barbara Sherman, et al. "Effects of reconcile (fluoxetine) chewable tablets plus behavior management for canine separation anxiety." Veterinary Therapeutics 8.1 (2007): 18.