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December 23, 2022

HELP: My Puppy Is Panicking When Alone

So you just brought home a bundle of joy, congratulations!

Written By
Karishma Warr, CCA Head of Training & Behavior, MA | CCPDT-KA | FFCP | CSAT
cute puppy posing in the photo studio on a white background

So you just brought home a bundle of joy, congratulations!

A puppy sure is a lot of work, and just like human babies they can be dependent on their care givers for everything. For some puppies this can mean they struggle when left alone, and we get tonnes of questions from panicked guardians worrying their new dog has separation anxiety.

This article outlines what to expect when you first get your puppy, and how to expose them to alone time safely, to minimize separation anxiety from developing down the line.

Never Leave A Puppy Alone Before They Are Ready

I want to start off by saying it is biologically normal for puppies to show anxiety around separation. Many guardians panic when their sweet Fido whimpers and whines when they step out of the room, but this is developmentally normal behavior for a young puppy. Particularly one less than a month into a new home, who was recently removed from their littermates and mother.

It is important to realize BEFORE you bring Fido home that every puppy needs to be eased into separation over a series of months, and few can handle long periods of isolation right off the bat. We stress the importance of slowly easing puppies into alone time because leaving them alone for longer than they can handle will likely sensitize the puppy, and lead to increasing anxiety around separation and isolation. This will actually make it much more likely for them to develop full blown separation anxiety, AND undermine any efforts we may make to desensitize the pup to alone time.

Just like a human baby, many puppies need to be with their humans 24/7 in the first few weeks, and possibly months, in a new home, and this is completely normal. We urge guardians to have management plans in place to ensure they can adequately care for their new family member and keep them feeling safe and supported as they transition into life in their new home.

Creative Managment: It Takes A Village

Part of caring for a pup is ensuring their basic needs are met, and in this case it may mean being creative to ensure they feel safe at all times. Luckily there are many creative management options we can use:

  • Day cares
  • Dog sitters
  • Friendly neighbors
  • Hiring a student to sit with your pup
  • Family members
  • Taking the pup to work
  • Working from home
  • Pup swaps

If we are truly unable to avoid leaving the dog alone, and their anxiety will be regularly triggered, we will likely see little success with our desensitization protocol. If this is the situation you find yourself in, we recommend speaking to your veterinarian ASAP about ways we can help your puppy stay calm and safeguard their nervous system from developing maladaptive habits.

Introduce Alone Time Slowly And Systematically

Once our puppies are feeling safe and secure in the knowledge that they won’t be abandoned by their caregiver and pushed into a panic state, we are ready to start getting them used to time alone. We do this through a process called systematic desensitization, where we slowly expose the dog to the stimulus associated with alone time, without triggering a panic response. For many puppies this starts with just a few seconds of alone time, and over a series of weeks or months builds up to multiple hours alone.

We recommend guardians work within 2-3 x 10 minute desensitization sessions a day to slowly introduce safe separation. Every puppy is different, and there is no one size fits all way to desensitize, but sessions will involve leaving the puppy alone for short periods of time while watching them on a camera to ensure they don’t panic. This training needs to be performed sub-threshold, meaning you never push the puppy to the point of panic as this will likely have the opposite effect and sensitize them further to your absence.

Set them up for success by doing these desensitization sessions when the puppy’s needs have been met and they are sleepy and relaxed. If they are full of beans they will likely react poorly to you leaving, and struggle to self-soothe, so this criteria is key to achieving success. Some puppies do great in a crate, but for others the added stress of confinement can significantly worsen their separation related anxiety. For these pups we usually recommend a large puppy pen, or a secure, puppy-proofed room as a safe space to practice alone time.  

Example Desensitization Session:

  • Walk to door, step outside (close door) wait 2 seconds, come back
  • Walk to door, touch the door handle for 5 seconds, walk away
  • Walk to door, step outside (close door) wait 2 seconds, come back
  • Walk to door, walk away
  • Walk to door, step outside (close door) wait 2 seconds, come back
  • Walk to door, step outside (close door) wait 10 seconds, come back

Practice Patience

The biggest question we get is: how long will it take until they are ok alone?

Unfortunately, we can never know how long it will take any animal to overcome a fear or anxiety. However, it is not uncommon to take a few weeks or months desensitizing a pup to being left alone - just like with a human baby! This is perfectly normal and doesn’t indicate there is anything ‘wrong’ with your puppy. All too frequently, long periods of alone time that trigger anxiety and panic can cause more serious separation anxiety to develop, so it is well worth taking the time to get them comfortable during this critical developmental stage.

One thing that can significantly speed up progress is to collaborate with a professional. Our separation anxiety specialists craft individualized daily desensitization sessions for our clients to systematically introduce alone time and minimize the development of separation anxiety.

Contact us today to set up an Initial Consultation and GET STARTED.

seperation anxiety