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Q: How can I help my puppy with her separation anxiety?
I’ve had Luna for a week now – she came to me at four and a half months from her breeder, where she slept with her litter mates, and was for all intents and purposes a confident little dog.
Since having her in London I’ve found she suffers terribly with separation anxiety. I’ve been trying to crate train her and cannot leave her alone, whether I’m in or out of the room, without her crying. If I try and leave her in her crate she gets hysterical. I’ve tried feeding her in her crate, working near the crate so she’ll rest in there, throwing treats in the crate, but she’s not very food motivated.
I need to find a way to be able to leave her alone without her suffering. I’m worried I’m doing the wrong thing by leaving her in there sometimes as nothing seems to acclimatise her to it. Last night, I moved the crate into my bedroom and after ten minutes of howling, she calmed down for the whole night. I don’t want her sleeping in my room for the foreseeable future. When should I try her downstairs again?
Any advice gratefully received as I’m at my wits end and scared she’ll never improve, or that I’m doing it all wrong and making it worse for her.
Martina, from London
A: Rosie Bescoby from Pet Sense
I would recommend seeking professional help for your puppy ASAP as she has only been with you for a week and at this age, every day counts in terms of what your puppy is learning. It is likely that Luna has never learned that it is ok to be left alone – she has had canine company for the last four months, has been taken away from her mum and litter-mates and taken to an unfamiliar environment. You are her new attachment figure and she needs to be taught very gradually that it is ok to be left alone.
You are her new attachment figure and she needs to be taught very gradually that it is ok to be left alone.
To start with, Luna should be given the opportunity to sleep near to you at night until she is settling immediately at bed time and sleeping soundly all night. You can then start to slowly move her bed further away from your bed and nearer to the bedroom door, over a period of weeks, whilst we work on her behaviour during the day.
Crates can provide a safe, den area for dogs but these areas are only safe by definition if the dog can leave them at any time they want or need. Shutting them into a crate should not be standard, and can create barrier frustration and claustrophobia issues. For now, I wouldn’t worry about crate training, this is something you can work on later. A pen area around a bed or open crate can work better, or baby gates on doorways, so that she has a larger area with more choice available to her.
Forming an association between her bed and relaxation when you are present is the first stage before you can expect her to be able to relax in her bed when you are absent. The bed or crate can be super comfortable, and when Luna is very sleepy she can be placed in her bed in the pen or on the other side of the gate, with you on the other side of the barrier.
She may need a stuffed Kong to lick at or a special chew to help her to settle. To start with, simply work on her being able to settle with you right next to the barrier and gradually build up your distance from the barrier and activity levels, working towards popping out of the room and returning.
In the meantime, reach out for help from your network or community so that Luna doesn’t have to be left in distress at any time whilst you build up her tolerance for separation, as this will simply exacerbate her behaviour when left alone.
Rosie Bescoby, BSc (Hons), PG Dip CABC
Member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers No. 1006
Full member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors
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