One positive of being at home during the pandemic has been the ability to spend a lot of time with a new puppy or a new dog. Now is the right time to help your puppy feel comfortable when it’s time for the family to return to work or school. There are steps you can take now to reduce the chances of dealing with separation anxiety issues later.
Boredom may lead to unwanted behaviors such as whimpering or chewing on personal items while you are away. This is normal and can be addressed with training. However, sometimes the reaction to a separation is more dramatic because of a heightened level of stress. Signs of separation anxiety include:
- Excessive barking or howling
- Trembling and/or excessive panting or drooling
- Destruction of property
- Injury or attempted escape
The best way to manage minor unwanted behaviors and to avoid dealing with separation anxiety is training. The objective is to help your puppy feel comfortable and confident with being alone by increasing the time and distance between you both.
“Introducing learning and enrichment activities such as food puzzles at an early age will build your puppy’s confidence level as she grows. And even older dogs can learn new tricks! Small changes over time in your dog’s daily routine can address any emerging signs of separation anxiety,” said Jess Philps, professional trainer with Holiday House Pet Resort & Training Center.
Here are few tips for training your puppy or young dog to be comfortable while you’re apart.
Special place – Whether this is a crate or a small room, create an inviting spot where the dog can feel safe and comfortable. This should be a good place for a time out, a nap, or bedtime.
Socialization – This is a slow introduction to the bigger world of other people, pets and experiences. Exposure to different situations using positive reinforcement helps to grow your puppy’s confidence and reduce fears.
Holiday House Pet Resort & Training Center offers a Free Puppy Social Hour weekly. A puppy-only socialization program is a nice introduction to other breeds of the same age, new experiences, and a bit of time away from the pet parents. A professional trainer and dog daycare staff supervise appropriate introductions and proper play.
Activities – Give your puppy the appropriate amount of play and exercise. When it’s time for a nap, settle puppy in the special place and create distance between you both by going across the room or into an adjacent room. A tired puppy will be more receptive to a cozy blanket and some quiet time.
Once a puppy graduates from Puppy Social Hour, participation in a dog daycare program is a great next step. Dog daycare at Holiday House Pet Resort & Training Center provides the right balance of socialization, exercise, rest for a day of fun and games.
Treats and food – Introduce a toy such as a KONG stuffed with a special treat or a food puzzle containing breakfast or lunch before leaving the home for a short period of time. Slowly progress to extending the period of time you are gone. The treat or food puzzle provides a tasty distraction. The toy or puzzle should not be used for play but only during these “training” sessions.
Training – Learning obedience skills and the basic commands gives you and your puppy a form of communication which builds trust and confidence. The Stay command is perfect for creating a comfort level with distance between you both.
When introducing this concept with a puppy, place the puppy in a spot with a toy filled with a few treats or kibble after giving the verbal Stay command. Walk away. If the puppy follows you, start from the beginning by putting the puppy back into the designated spot with the treat toy. Keep the distance between you short and brief, and always provide positive reinforcement if the puppy stayed in place.
For slightly older puppies or adult dogs, place the dog in a designated spot. Give the verbal Stay command then slowly take several steps away. If the dog moves, start the process over again. Be sure to provide positive reinforcement when the dog performs the skill. As this command is practiced, increase the distance and time the dog remains in Stay. Eventually add in distractions such as opening a door or sitting in a chair. Practice, patience and praise are key.
Holiday House Pet Resort & Training Center offers a variety of training programs, including a Puppy Preschool group training class. The small-class size with personal attention from a trainer provides a fun atmosphere for the puppy to learn name recognition, basic obedience and an introduction to leash walking. Advanced obedience classes for adult dogs as well as the popular Stay & Learn and Play & Learn programs are also available. Call 215-345-6960 to speak with a training coordinator to discover the right program for you and your dog.
An early introduction to training through socialization and fun games can help your puppy feel comfortable and confident with spending time alone. The positive experiences and a feeling of security can help avoid dealing with separation anxiety issues later. If you discover your dog is showing the more severe signs of separation anxiety, then consult with your veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical conditions and ask for a referral to a training professional.