Mark Vette – Internationally renowned Animal Behaviourist, Educator, Author and TV personality

Preventing Separation Anxiety


Separation anxiety (or separation distress) comes about when a dog becomes overdependent on your company and becomes distressed when you are not around. It is a very stressful behaviour both for your dog, and for you, as you may start to worry about ever leaving your dog alone or begin changing your plans so that you don’t need to leave your dog at home.

Why pups get separation anxiety

At the age of seven weeks, puppies become more comfortable with being removed from their mother. This is because at this age in the wild, typically the mother will go out to hunt and leave the pups and also allow the pups to start to integrate with the rest of the pack. Despite this, puppies may begin to stress if they feel they have been abandoned too long and this will manifest as vocal whining and destructive behaviour.


How to prevent your pup getting separation anxiety

As soon as you take your pup home it’s important to set up a den area with something like a lined crate, and to also allow the puppy to spend a fair amount of time by themselves early on. If there is another pup or toys to play with this will help remove over-dependancy on you for attention.

Common mistakes that cause separation distress

A common mistake owners make is to spend every minute of every day with the pup and to tend to their every whimper and cry. Puppies need to learn good separation practice early on or they can learn bad habits that will hinder them as older dogs. When dogs become anxious they move into a state of sympathetic arousal. You’ll be able to pick up on visual cues of this state, such as pupil dilation, salivating and restlessness, and dogs won’t learn while in this state. To avoid this happening, we systemically leave the dog alone from a young age.

Tips for helping your pup to calm down and feel relaxed when you leave them

  • Distract your dog by scattering a handful of dog biscuits around the crate, or giving them a Kong toy stuffed with food or a bone with a bit of meat on it to chew while you are gone
  • Leave the TV or radio on, to provide some comforting and familiar noise
  • Take them for a big walk before leaving to help them feel tired and relaxed
  • Put your pup in the crate, and use a clicker to click and reward them for being quiet and relaxed. Practise this regularly to help your pup feel at home and positive about being in the crate
  • Start by leaving your pup for just short periods of time, of 5 – 10 minutes. When you return, ensure your pup is quiet before opening the crate door to let him out.

If your pup whines persistently while in the crate, one technique is to place your pup in their crate and attach a long lead to the crate door. When your pup starts whining, tug on the lead to rattle the crate door. The puppy will get a little fright from the movement and should stop whimpering, and when done consistently can teach them to stop whining all together. The trick is to try and stop the behaviour before the dog falls into a non-learning state – once there, it’s difficult to train the pup to stop what they’re doing.

What we want is for our pup to get in some practise at being left alone and remaining calm, as this will help them realise that they can cope and relax without you around! Using a crate is great as it is a safe, enclosed space for your pup which will generally help them relax more.

Have a dog who already has bad separation distress?

If you have an older dog with serious separation anxiety, my Dog Zen Virtual Dog School can help you solve this issue, using my more sophisticated graduated departure therapy. Once you join, you get access to me and my dog training team to ask questions as you go. Learn more here. 

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