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Are you teaching your puppy that you’re leaving? (not cool!) or that you’re coming back? (always cool!)

Spring is coming, a time when many puppies go to their new home. I am heartened that people are often thinking about how to help prevent their puppies suffering from separation fears. Many years ago, separation anxiety wasn’t talked about, and I shudder to think how many dogs went through hell with no-one giving a thought about it.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about how we best go about helping puppies feel safe with absences. I’ve noticed people talking about getting their puppies used to being alone. Fair enough. Totally logical.

However, looking at it from the point of view of the puppy, wouldn’t it make more sense to teach them that you’re always coming back? I’m convinced this shift in thinking makes a huge difference to the puppy’s experience.

Most people start by leaving for arbitrary times like five minutes or by shutting their puppy in another room. I’m sure you’ve seen that sort of advice being given. Puppy may suddenly learn that being alone is not a cool thing at all. It’s scary and frustrating.

So let’s start with teaching them you’re coming back. That’s always fun.

     

    Instead of starting by leaving through the door or shutting your puppy in another room, start by teaching them Object Permanence. This means learning that an object – or a person – may disappear for a short time but doesn’t cease to exist.

    This is something we do instinctively with human babies. We don’t usually go out and leave them for five, ten minutes or twenty minutes. Instead, we play Peekaboo.

    We can start by putting a soft toy behind our back and bringing it back into sight (remember how babies smile when they recognise the toy coming back?) After several days and if your puppy is comfortable with this, you can gradually add in moving beyond the door frame and coming back into sight.

    There is no hurry. Having a dog in your life means slowing things down, being mindful and peaceful. You have the whole of your puppy’s life together. Don’t think of it as a task to be achieved but a little bit of quality time together. A pleasant game to be played every so often during the day.

    In time, when your puppy has peed, explored, pooped, played, and been fed, is content and ready to sleep, you can do boring things like tidying up. In this way, your puppy gets used to you gently dipping in and out of sight.

    If you have a baby gate between you and the puppy for some of these rest periods, they can get used to you dipping in and out of sight behind the baby gate.

    Those are already loads of steps to take slowly slowly, long before you start closing doors behind you.

    Always go at your puppy’s pace. You never want to teach your puppy to feel unsafe. You gain nothing by rehearsing nervousness. There is nothing to be gained by testing their limits.

    If you always come back before! your puppy starts to feel anxious, they will happily learn that your short absences belong to normality. They are always safe.

    So don’t think so much in terms of leaving. Instead, think about coming back.

    I wish you a long and happy life with your puppy.