Puppies and Separation Anxiety: 5 Things to Know

Sad puppy lying down looking left, possibly with separation anxiety.
It’s important to help puppies learn to be comfortable on their own.

1. Yes, puppies can have separation anxiety.

Contrary to what we’ve all heard, some puppies do get separation anxiety. All puppies should be gently taught that it’s okay to be alone. Most puppies aren’t naturally comfortable with alone time. But some puppies aren’t just disappointed or a bit frustrated — they’re anxious, panicked or stressed. To them, it’s traumatic to be alone. Separation anxiety training can help these puppies learn to be comfortable with alone time. And they’ll live a much happier life overall!

2. Teach puppies that it’s safe to be alone.

Julie Naismith of Subthreshold Training says that alone training for puppies should be right up there with other priorities such as house training. It actually makes sense that puppies struggle being alone. They are social animals, recently taken away from everything and everyone they’ve ever known. Rather than assume they’ll be fine, let’s go in assuming they won’t be okay. Help them learn to be comfortable when alone in a gradual fashion, starting with just popping out of view or out the front door and popping right back in. Gradually increase the amount of time your puppy is alone, as long as your pup is not at all stressed at each step. Leave frequently and for safe, comfortable periods. Non-anxious puppies will speed through the training. Remember, puppies are babies, they are social animals, and they were just taken from everything and everyone they’ve ever known — they won’t just naturally be okay when alone. Puppies with separation anxiety will take longer and require a more gradual approach.

If you’re struggling with leaving your puppy alone, visit my separation anxiety training page to see how I can help!

3. Don’t let them cry it out.

We’ve all heard — and most likely followed — the advice that if a puppy is vocalizing, let them cry and cry. The problem is, we really risk making an anxious puppy worse while forcing them through an unnecessary traumatic experience. I’d much rather take a little extra time to introduce alone time in a more gradual manner than risk making an anxious puppy worse. Let’s teach them how to swim, rather than throw them in the deep end and hope for the best.

4. Set up a camera to be sure.

Is your puppy truly comfortable when alone? Don’t assume a puppy is fine because you don’t see destruction or hear your puppy whining when you return home. Set up some type of camera so you can watch your puppy when you step out the door. It can be as simple as setting up Zoom, Skype or FaceTime between your phone and a laptop, a family member’s phone or an old phone positioned on your puppy.

5. Take care with crating.

Puppies need our help in learning that crates are safe and good. This is best done in a gradual, gentle, step-by-step manner using food and fun to create positive associations. (As with alone training, let’s not throw a puppy into the deep end and hope for the best!) Even with incremental crate training, puppies who are anxious with alone time often don’t do well in a crate. The good news is that gradual alone training, potty training and chew training can all be done without a crate for these pups.