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Reasons why puppies cry and how to help them


Crates are helpful in providing a safe space for your dog. It’s important that it is a safe space and not a confinement or time out area. A crate needs to be somewhere the dog enjoys hanging out in – pop a blanket in there, and their toys and leave the door open to make it something that’s positive. It’s important to do it in stages. It’s not advised to leave a puppy in a crate for the first time and head out for out for 2.5 hours otherwise the puppy may be scared while it’s in the crate and we won’t know as we’re out. This may result in avoidance of the crate later on. We should introduce the crate while we’re there to watch.

One way of crate training is leaving the door open for your dog to explore when they go in the crate say yes and give them a treat. Repeat this often. Gradually make movements to touch the door as if you were shutting it but don’t do that straight away and build up to it. Do everything in small stages. Here’s a good video.

Separation related challenges – what are they?

Dr Karen Overall defines separation anxiety as: “A condition in which animals exhibit symptoms of anxiety or excessive distress when they’re left alone”. Symptoms can include soiling, destructive behaviour including excessive chewing, panting and howling. (Whole Dog Journal – How to help a dog with separation anxiety).

Some people sadly believe that dogs soil in the house when their owner leaves out of protest as they ‘know they’re going out’ this couldn’t be further from the truth. This kind of thinking can obviously have a negative effect on a person’s relationship with their pet and may effect how they manage these symptoms – they may just leave them ‘to cry it out’, in an attempt to teach them a lesson, or in the hope that it will stop. This kind of flooding doesn’t resolve the problem and can make it worse or non-resolvable as the puppy can’t self-regulate their stress.

Melana De Martini describes how separation anxiety can manifest in dogs via heart rate, wetting the area, tearing up the door, panting drooling and barking. Chewing is a physical behaviour that elicits a psychological relief. A cycle of stress stimulated by chemical production, can be created if a dog is left for longer than they can cope with. (https://malenademartini.com/about/dog-separation-anxiety/) 

Why are puppies susceptible to separation related challenges?

Puppies are susceptible to separation anxiety as it’s an adaptive trait. Dogs are social mammals and grow up in packs. In those first few formative weeks they rely on their mothers for survival and it’s such an uprooting for them to be taken and put in another person’s home away from their mother, their litter mates and all the different sights and smells they are now experiencing. Bowlby describes how puppies would cry in the wild so their mother could locate them. The difference between separation related disorders is a dog showing distress if they’re left alone by anyone whilst specific separated anxiety is showing distress at one specific care giver leaving them.

How can I prevent separation challenges?

In the Book Life skills for puppies, as a preventative measure Zulch and Mills describe the importance of not making a big fuss and noise when you leave your puppy this way they may not pair the event of you leaving with a big deal. You could also mix up behaviour to desensitise your puppy to the behaviour of you leaving – so picking up keys and putting your coat on but not following through the physical act of leaving. The use of a cue word such as “won’t be long” may be helpful too, but it’s obviously important that this cue isn’t poisoned, and used only for short periods that the dog has been used to. For example don’t  say it when you pop to the shops for 20 minutes a number of times then using it and leaving for 4 hours! In her article ‘Do Dogs know how long we’ve been gone’, Patricia McConnell describes the use of dog pheromones, anxiety wraps and calming music to help dog’s. Other things you can do are:

  • Not leaving the dogs overnight alone and for copious amounts of time
  • Setting up a camera to see what they do when you leave and how long the crying behaviour goes on for.
  • Ensuring you teach puppy how to settle. It’s hard not to, but very important that puppies aren’t given copious amounts of attention –we have busy lives and puppies need to learn how to settle and keep themselves entertained with our help of course!
  • Leaving puppy with something to do when you leave – puzzle feeders, snuffle mat’s and licky mat’s are good tools
  • Leaving on music and voices
  • Don’t let them have unrestricted access to you 24/7
  • Leaving a plug in such as pet remedy – this may help them to relax.

Other animals

John Bowlby in the book ‘Making and breaking of affectional bonds’ describes how in an experiment monkeys exhibited clinging behaviour with an attachment figure in an experiment by Millie and Spencer Booth in 1971. He claims that there must be some other danger that’s perceived can’t simply be the removal of a mother figure’. People, like dogs show fear in situations that aren’t actually that dangerous. In neurosis, the danger isn’t intrinsically dangerous but could be potentially dangerous such as the dark, strange noises, and this increases risk By responding with fear – by barking, crying and howling for attention then caution is probably given and thus reduces the risk. The behaviour therefore has a value – if the puppy cry – then you come back! The causation and biology of the given behaviour is important and what conditions elicit behaviour and what contribution to a species survival this behaviour may take needs to be considered when working with separation anxiety. It’s a good idea to always chat to your vet about any separation challenges.

Please don’t leave

In humans being alone increases risk and we have behavioural systems that seek to avoid it. To have a confident secure child then Bowlby notes that they must accessibility to a trusted parental figure that is secure and there where he can explore the environment and return to. ‘Bowlby observed that children with no or poor attachments were less well developed in certain brain areas and Rasa and Slabbert found exactly the same penalties with the litters of German Shepherd Puppies that they removed from dam and siblings earlier than were considered normal – they weren’t as advanced in learning a training skill.Close up of pug

Crying at night

Bowlby claims that a biological function of attachment is protection from predators which makes sense as young puppy! (page 156). Indeed, for a ‘young animal a predator may move and strike at night ,do so when they’re alone’ which would make sense to why a puppy’s anxiety may be induced at night when the light is off. Puppies are genetically biased to respond to these fear inducing properties and may run away, or defecate to empty themselves so they can run faster (Making friends with anxiety), and they may cry to get a response.

Lynn Barber, from The Dogs Trust explains that because we have encouraged dogs to live with us and be part of our family for many thousands of years also show the same types of attachments towards us.

If you’re worried about separation anxiety then do speak to your vet and get ahead of challenges before they increase.Pet care advice - Lady in a hat reasding a book with a dog sitting next to her

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