By Dr. Caitlin O’Donoghue
Bringing a puppy home is a big change for both you and your new puppy! As your puppy settles into a new environment, it’s normal for them to show some signs of anxiety. Meeting new people and other pets, discovering new smells, and getting used to a whole new routine can be a bit overwhelming. While puppies quickly learn that companionship with their favorite humans is very rewarding, this can make it even harder when you’ve got to spend time apart.
According to PetMD, anxiety is prevalent in breeds including but not limited to German and Australian shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Vizslas, Border Collies, and Shorthair Pointers, as well as smaller breeds like Cocker Spaniels, Bichon Frises, King Charles Spaniels, Greyhounds, Havanese, and many toy breeds. Smaller breeds also tend to show anxious behavior pretty early on.
Anxiety can range from being very mild to very severe. Signs can vary, but the most common ones include:
Disinterest in food (as opposed to usual interest)
Pawing at the door
Inability to settle down when alone
Self-harm or risk of, due to destruction or escapism
Oh no—I think my puppy has anxiety.
The first step is to determine the type of anxiety your puppy is experiencing. Anxiety in puppies can often show itself as separation anxiety, isolation distress, or general anxiety. It can be tricky to pinpoint the source as there can be subtle differences in a puppy’s behavior. Never hesitate to contact your veterinarian or a reputable training center if you have questions about new behaviors and if they qualify as signs of anxiety.
What can I do to help? 1. Reward the calm. Whenever possible, notice when your puppy is being good at home and reward those behaviors. Oftentimes, we notice the naughty behaviors and forget the good behaviors we want to see more of. Rewarding calm behavior at home can include giving your puppy treats for laying down on the floor or its bed to rest, picking up a toy to play with, or even sitting down calmly.
2. Mix up the routine. When we start to get ready to leave the house, we all have a routine. Puppies can pick up on what happens just before we leave and begin to get anxious as a result. Something simple but effective to avoid anxiety is to mix up our routine. Put on your socks and shoes, pick up your keys and go sit on the couch. Get up and walk over to the door without your shoes and open it, then close it and finish getting ready outside.
3. Don’t make a big deal out of greetings and goodbyes. Often times we feel bad leaving our puppy at home if we have to step out, and we’re excited to return home after being away. We place a lot of attention during these times often without even realizing it. To help prevent or reduce anxiety, don’t make a big deal out of stepping out or coming back home. It’s hard but important not to scoop up and cuddle our adorable family members. Instead, wait until your puppy is completely calm before showering them with kisses.
Anxiety in puppies or any pet rarely resolves itself on its own, and early preventative training is a good place to start if possible. As they get older, a muzzle should never be used to prevent a dog from barking as it poses very serious health risks. If your puppy is experiencing anxiety to the point of destruction or risks hurting itself, please seek out a qualified puppy trainer or veterinary behaviorist.
It’s important to note that anxiety in your pup is not your fault. With patience and the right training, you can create an environment that feels safe for your puppy and save them from distress in the future!