Developing Separation Anxiety: Will the Learn to Earn Program Cause Separation Anxiety in my Puppy?

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By Dr. Sophia Yin

QUESTION:

I have had my new puppy for a couple of days now, and I have had her at my side nearly all the time, whether tethered directly to me or to a piece of furniture near me, so I can keep an eye on her as Dr. Yin suggested in Perfect Puppy in 7 Days. However, this seems to have resulted in my puppy becoming EXTREMELY attached to me, because we are always together. Unless she takes a nap and I put her in her crate, or it’s nighttime and she is in the crate, we’re not separated at all.

My question is, does having her tethered near me all the time cause separation anxiety? If I’m out of her sight for just a few seconds, she begins to whine, whether it's because she's in her crate and I have to leave, or if she's tethered to something and I have to run to the kitchen for a snack. Granted, she is only 8 weeks old and I’ve had her for three days, but it still worries me that just a few seconds away causes her to fret. What can I do to combat this and make her feel more comfortable alone? She does love her crate.  It’s comfortable and a den for her; she just doesn’t seem to like it when she's alone.

Also, I’ve tried training her using her food as rewards, but she doesn’t seem to be motivated to work for food at all. She definitely prefers to be praised, but then how do I get her to do the behavior I want without a food lure? And also, if I’m constantly petting and praising her to reward her for good behavior throughout the day, doesn’t that contribute to separation anxiety as well? Thanks!

Jonathon from Florida

ANSWER:

While taking a puppy through the Learn to Earn Program where she spends at least 1 hour a day during high activity times tethered to you as well the rest of the day in a puppy-safe play area or crate or tethered nearby does not cause over attachment. However, having a puppy with you all the time and rewarding her when she’s whining by taking to her or interacting with her in any way can. So it’s a good thing that you’re seeking help now so that you can ensure that the anxious behavior does not escalate!

Puppies need to spend time separated from their family

First, it’s important that puppies spend an adequate amount of time separated from you and in  a crate or a puppy proof, potty proof or potty-safe area (section 4.1.1. in Perfect Puppy in 7 Days). By separated, that means they need to spend time in rooms away from you and at home when you leave the house. When they are really young you can often just provide them with a food-filled Kong® or another toy and then just wait the whining out if it’s not that bad. Then make it a point to only return to greet them only when they are calm and quiet. A Dog Appeasing Pheromone (D.A.P) collar and Through a Dog’s Ear Music can help too.

Puppies need to learn that calm behavior gets you to come back

If the puppy has more intense whining where it becomes louder, more frequent and lasts more than, for instance 15 to 30 minutes, or if the whining doesn’t improve markedly over a handful of days, then you need to immediately go to the part of the Learn to Earn Program where you work on having the puppy learn that sitting or lying down calmly is what gets you to come back (Perfect Puppy in 7 Days, Section 5.3.5). As soon as she understands that quiet sitting for a second or two gets you to come back and sits readily as soon as she wants your attention, increase the amount of time she must sit to get you to come back. When she can sit for longer periods, such as 30 seconds, then increase your distance until you can do the same thing from outside the room. At this age, if your timing is clear, in just a few days she should be able to get to the point where she will sit for prolonged periods to get you to return.

Use petting and praise to reward increasingly calm behavior. Be careful to avoid accidentally rewarding the whiney behavior.

Now, what about using petting as a reward instead of food? I’m assuming you mean she’s not motivated for food when she’s busy whining to get you to pay attention, because if she weren’t motivated for food in general, she wouldn’t be alive! When using food, make sure you are not luring her with the food because luring can lead to a puppy who seems picky. The goal is to reward the good behaviors when they occur rather than showing her the food or waving it around to get her to perform the behaviors. So, check your food delivery posture and technique (Perfect Puppy in 7 Days, Section 5.2.1) just to make sure it’s clear to your puppy. In the cases where we do start off with luring with food, we stop using food as a lure within a session or two.

Next, what about using petting and praise? It’s fine to use petting and praise. In fact, it’s fantastic that your puppy will work for these things. We really want to make sure we find ways to use everything our puppies love to our advantage in order reward calm behavior. The trick is in the way you pet or praise. When your puppy sits (or lays down), especially when she sits quietly to get you to come back to her, pet her for just a couple of seconds. If she starts to get up, remove your attention by being quiet, removing your hands quickly, and even standing up straight (Perfect Puppy in 7 Days, Section 5.3.1). This is extremely important because puppies tend to start wiggling as soon a you pet them–if you keeping petting, you end up rewarding them for wiggly, whiney, impulsive behavior. So it’s important to train them to remain seated by petting for a short time, stopping for a few seconds, and then petting them again before they get up or wait for them to sit quietly again before you start petting.  As soon as they get the idea, you can expect longer intervals of calm sitting between petting until they just remain calm.

Stick to the plan for rewarding independent behavior

If you stick to this plan–where you reward your puppy for increasingly longer periods of calm behavior in order to earn your attention–you’ll quickly have a calm, content pup.

Also refer to the following blog article for additional steps in training your puppy to be calm and patient in order to get you to come back: Separation Anxiety Solution.

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One response to “Developing Separation Anxiety: Will the Learn to Earn Program Cause Separation Anxiety in my Puppy?

  1. My son has a rescue puppy that has got really bad separation anxiety. We had an older dog (10 year old dachshund) who passed away one week and then my son went back to school the following week. The pappion/dachshund has been getting progressively worse when I leave the home. We unfortunately did not kennel train her from the beginning, as we got her to be a companion for the older dog. When left alone she has gotten to the point of chewing on the molding by the front door. She prefers to be next to me and she comes to me when my son calls her. He removes her from my room to take her to bed with him at night, and at times I think he may be ‘loving’ her too much to the point of smothering if possible. Could this be increasing some of her anxiety? I have been trying your techniques, but feel like I am taking one step forward and two steps back. I now feel anxiety when I leave the home. She has gotten out of her cage 2 times.

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