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

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 will also begin to stress if they feel they have been abandoned too long and this will manifest as vocal whining and destructive behaviour.

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.

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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.

One technique is to place them in their crate and tie some string to the crate. When the dog starts whining, lightly tug on the string. 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.

There are a few things you can do to help distract the dog when you leave. You can scatter a handful of dog biscuits around the kennel/pen, or use a Kong toy with a dog roll that is difficult for them to remove. Alternatively, a big bone with a little meat left on will keep them entertained for hours. Taking them for a big walk before leaving will help them fall asleep and not even realise you’re gone.

After a few hours of separation, dogs will mostly forget about their fear of being alone and be content on their own. As time goes on, they will become more comfortable with being left alone. Finally, leaving the radio on and allowing access to ‘social’ areas such as a lounge or deck will help them relax – although we wouldn’t leave them indoors on their own for long periods of time just in case.

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