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Ten simple ways to help prevent separation anxiety in puppies

Updated: Jul 16, 2023

a cocker spaniel puppy sits in the grass
Luca the Cocker Spaniel puppy explores outside

Ok puppy parents, it’s time to talk about some of the long-term benefits of having your puppy spend good quality time alone!

Building confidence and a self-assuredness in your puppy will result in a great quality of life for a young dog that you can take anywhere, or leave at home, as the situation requires. The choice to leave them in the car or tether them - where appropriate, safe, and legal – or simply leave them behind should be one that you make because you can, not because you have no choice.

So, what are some simple things that I can do to get started?

Firstly, don't let your puppy follow you every place that you ever go. Whilst it might seem cute, and so adorable, when it seems like they love you so much but allowing them to follow you every place you ever go creates a co-dependency that can become a little on the unhealthy side. If you need to, you can start off using baby gates, doors, a playpen, whatever you need to, start teaching them that they can't go every place that you ever go. Start teaching some puppy-level boundaries so that they learn that it's okay for you to leave the room and for them not to be able to follow you every place that you ever go and that they learn to feel confident about it.

a puppy plays in a sandpit
Outdoor puppy play

Secondly, teach your puppy to settle in their own space. Provide a crate, a playpen, the laundry, whatever you need to, for them to have their own space so that they can take naps and somewhere independent that they can sleep overnight. Whilst it might be lovely to have them sleeping with you in your bed, and I'm sure that they would absolutely love it, it will become a massive stress point for your puppy if at some point they cannot sleep with you. Imagine a time when you've gone away on holiday, and somebody else is going to look after them, and they can't sleep with that person. Imagine a time when they need to stay in a crate because they've had surgery. Imagine a time when they might be going to stay at a boarding kennel or stay at a vet clinic.

Prepare them for that now.

How do I make sure my puppy is ok when I go out?

Consider providing a secure indoor space that you can use for them to spend time when you're not home, making sure they are secure in the environment and can’t destroy your home. Make sure you go out as you normally would so that they can get used to it. You getting stressed about how much your puppy might be stressing whilst you're out and about won't help them to settle down. So simply go out and try not to worry while you're out.

a puppy lays in the grass
Smokey the Bernese Mountain Dog puppy

Make sure when you're going out that you don't make a fuss - no going over and apologising before you go out, giving kisses and promises of a quick return. Just calmly head out. You'll just be establishing triggers that let them know that you're going out and they might get stressed about that. Vary the triggers that they're likely to see so that they're going to get used to them. Vary what sort of shoes you might be putting on, the way that you might be dressed, what bag you're going to take with you, grabbing your keys, all those sorts of things. Make those things a very matter-of-fact sort of thing, not something to be concerned about.

Additionally, when you get home, don't go straight to them, even though you missed them, and even though they are desperate to see you. Wait till they have seen you come in and they've seen you unpack the shopping or whatever it might be that you need to do. Wait until they've calmed down and then go over to them and treat them calmly as though you haven't been anywhere, you haven't done anything. It's really tempting to go over and make a fuss over them because you've missed them and you're worried that they were stressed the whole time. But it's much easier on them if you don't make a fuss about it.

Next, make sure you provide a safe and comfortable space outside (unless you’re living in an apartment) and have them spend time out there when you are home. We want them to get used to being able to go outside and be confident in simply being able to hang out in the yard, reinforcing the fact that they are a dog and should be encouraged to do dog things. And we don't want them to see the outside as being a stressful place or a punishment space. So, provide things out there that they're going to enjoy doing. And when you are home, pop them out there. Be ready to give some feedback on their behaviour if they’re scratching on the door or vocalizing but otherwise, allow them to spend time out there and just go out and be a dog.

three dogs on a bed
Bean (left) and Molly (right) with their new brother Alaska the Golden Retriever

What if my puppy has a doggie sibling? Can I leave them together?

For those who have more than one dog, make sure your puppy spends time away from any canine siblings that they might have. Whilst we want your puppy to bond with their canine sibling, we want to make sure they're not over-bonded, and can't cope with the fact that a canine sibling might go to the vet and stay overnight, but your puppy back at home is not coping with that. Or their canine sibling is going to go for a walk at a time or place where your puppy can't go. All those sorts of things. So, if you begin now, making sure that your pup is spending time away from that sibling, they'll find it much easier to cope with when the time comes when that needs to be enforced.

Another important point is to make sure the puppy is given time to self-amuse with appropriate toys and games. Whilst it's lovely for you to play with them, and I want you to play with them, make sure that they always have time to play alone, and that they learn how to do that. A lot of adult dogs will only play with toys with their human and as soon as they haven't got their human to play with, they don't know what to do. So, it's important that you provide the appropriate toys and games, and the opportunity for them to be playing, but not necessarily at a time when you're playing with them.

Any general tactics that I need to look at?

a brown puppy on a dog bed
A puppy learning to stay on his mat

I’d also make sure to reinforce good quality general manners so that they learn to be confident in their relationship with you. Not that you're overbearing and dominant, and not that they are allowed to run roughshod over you, but that you develop a good quality relationship with them. So, reinforce things like no biting, jumping, and no unnecessary vocalisation, and make sure you have a means of communicating to them when they are and are not doing so well.

Finally, as soon as you bring your puppy home, begin a good quality training program, such as my program "New Puppy Parents - Raise Them Right!", that is going to take them from being a puppy right through adolescence and into adulthood. So that they receive age-appropriate training at every stage.

Puppy preschool is not an adequate amount of training, and most tactics that you’ll learn through puppy school become irrelevant when your puppy reaches adolescence and are certainly inappropriate for an adult dog.

Building Separation Confidence in your puppy or young dog takes time and effort but is something that you can begin right away by making some small changes, or you can go all in and get everything started straight away! The key is to get started now and persist!

Start trying some of these today, and I’d love to hear how you go!

About A New Leash on Life Dog Training

Because I use a balanced approach to dog training if you choose to train with me, we will be using rewards and positive reinforcement, but we will not be using food. I prefer not to rely on food because I don’t want to take food with me every place I ever go, I don’t want my dogs to learn to ignore me if I have no food or run out, and I don’t want to end up in a situation where I might still be of less importance to my dog, even with food, than the dog he's playing with or bird he’s chasing etc. Additionally, I do use the word no, and I do teach a consequence process for ignoring me or for an unacceptable behavioural choice, but without resorting to fear, intimidation, or pain.

So, for me, I train my dogs the way that I feel aligns with my belief system – rewards for listening and good behaviour but without food reliance – consequences without violence for inappropriate choices.

What do you believe in?


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