We love to refer to our dogs as “furbabies,” especially when they’re young,  but we too often forget that they’re more like toddlers than we realize. Emotionally, puppies often experience the same traumas young children do, and for much the same reasons: they’re simply too young to realize what’s going on.

Usually, this manifests itself in separation anxiety. A puppy that is being left alone only knows he’s being left alone, like a human baby, he has no larger context to place your actions in. Their human owners often attempt to ease the anxiety by drawing out the goodbye, but they usually end up exacerbating the problem by highlighting the separation. Once they finally leave, their pet will attempts to work through all that anxiety with the only options he has — by chewing on things, or barking, whining, even soiling the carpet. Then when their owner returns, he’s punished for being a “bad dog,” essentially making him feel worse. And a vicious cycle begins.

So if feeding your puppy’s need for attention is a bad idea just before you leave, and punishing him for his anxieties only makes them develop further, what’s the solution? Well, as with a human toddler, playing with your puppy a little before you leave for work is a good idea. It gives him a sense of well-being and tires him out a little. Providing your pet with toys to keep him distracted is another known remedy. As with humans, dogs eventually respond to structure — if you leave and return often, and at the same times, he’ll come to understand that your absence is only temporary. You can actually designate a safe and happy place for your pup to consider its home base, one comfortable and accessible and meeting all its needs, then practice leaving your little furbaby alone for longer and longer periods of time — 15 minutes at first,  then when he’s used to that, half an hour,  then so on and so on. Also, don’t be afraid to lavish praise on your puppy when you do return, both as reinforcement for “good dog” behavior and as a way of reminding your pet that the separation is both natural and temporary. We all behave better when we feel we have something to look forward to!