Does my pandemic puppy have separation anxiety?

Does my pandemic puppy have separation anxiety?

As countries all over the world announce “business as usual” with restrictions lifting and the workforce being required to go back to the office, separation anxiety specialists everywhere are seeing a surge in enquiries from owners worried that their pandemic puppy will struggle home alone once normal life resumes.

Why are we worried about pandemic puppies?

Very early on in 2020, as the demand for dogs surged and people re-imagined their daily lives, I started seeing the articles popping up across the internet.

The thing about sourcing dog training information via google, is that a lot of the info out there is out of date, and perhaps an even greater portion is written second or third hand, by people who do not have a deep understanding of the challenges of raising and training a dog to be happy home alone. It is very rare indeed to find things written by separation anxiety specialists!

The articles on separation anxiety almost unanimously predicted that ALL pandemic puppies would have separation anxiety. They piggy-backed on the awful blame culture around this behaviour problem – perpetuating the idea that owners give their dogs separation anxiety by being too soft on them, by spending too much time with them, loving them too much or treating them too well. Spoiler alert! This is simply not true!

My heart sank reading well meaning but mis-informed advice to leave your pup or rescue dog asap to “prevent” separation anxiety. “Let them cry it out” some proclaimed (and still do) – “they need to learn” said others. Although there were a couple of shining beacons of light, with writers predicting that people being home more might help dogs develop confidence and learn at a more suitable pace, thus avoiding separation anxiety developing at all. Could it be possible that pandemic puppies might actually do better when eventually left home alone?


Causing separation anxiety

This is where it honestly gets a bit complicated, but stick with me. It is true that dogs need to learn to be alone. That isn’t something that happens naturally overnight, it is something that needs time and good experiences, that is to say quality LEARNING experiences, to develop. In free roaming domestic dogs, it can be as long as 6 months before a young dog becomes truly independent. For a lot of pandemic puppies this relaxed learning pace was possible, as their people weren’t going anywhere at all!

Those of us who like to stay up to date with research and the latest science in relation to dog training, have been aware for a while now that securely attached, confident dogs are much less likely to have separation issues. A lot of this knowledge comes from human literature, actually, but is very applicable to dogs for reasons that are a bit complicated and don’t fit neatly in a blog!

Dogs that are anxious, regularly triggered, or who have been subjected to traumatic separation episodes on the other hand find it really tough to feel safe and relaxed. Forcing independence on the second group of dogs can be particularly counter-productive, but regardless of the pup’s background, the most important factor in ensuring separation success is to build alone time at a pace suitable for the individual dog. Working from home, lock down and various other restrictions may just have saved a lot of dogs from forced alone time too soon in their behavioural development. However they all need to learn to be alone eventually!

Separation training and learning to be alone

“We’ve never left him alone” is the anguished cry I hear so often these days. People beating themselves up thinking they’ve messed up and missed the boat. Feeling their dog will never be able to learn. Straight up, I am always more optimistic when a dog has never been left, than when a dog has had traumatic separations – the first group have NO experience of being left. Hopefully their life has been all rainbows and sunshine. So whilst it might take a bit longer to get going, we don’t have to work to counter unpleasant experiences. The latter group can still be helped, and every dog is different, but your dog’s history absolutely shouldn’t put you off starting separation training. All dogs can be helped. Old dog’s learn new tricks all the time (I know, one of mine is currently approaching 16!).

You probably won’t be surprised to know that I think “training” is the operative word here. We need to set up appropriate learning opportunities for our dogs, to help prepare them for the challenges of being a house pet (and yes, that is quite a challenging job – there are lots of rules and dos and don’ts, lots of compromise on both sides!). Whether you have a shy pup or a super confident pup, their experience of being alone needs to be built up gradually, giving them the chance to learn that being alone is nothing to worry about. Preventing negative experiences (ie avoiding leaving them longer than they can cope with) is equally, if not more, beneficial as it stops them forming further negative associations with being separated from you.

Get started with your separation training

If you are reading this article, there’s a good chance you are worried that there is no hope for your pandemic puppy, but I am here to tell you that all is not lost. Not all pandemic puppies are destined to suffer with separation anxiety, and for those that do, support, management and training can bring about the change needed for that dog to learn that being alone is nothing to worry about.

If you have some time to dedicate, and are open to working with a guide get in touch! The sooner we get started, the sooner you and your dog can start to feel better!