Are Dogs Sad When Separated From Parents?


Separation anxiety is a distressing condition that some puppies develop when separated from their parents or care-givers. It can cause significant distress and disruptive behaviors in affected puppies. This article will examine the key questions around puppies and separation anxiety:

  • What are the normal development stages for puppies?
  • What are the signs of separation distress in puppies?
  • What causes this distress?
  • How can it be prevented?
  • How is it treated?
  • What are the potential long-term impacts?
  • What are humane perspectives on early separation?
  • What considerations do owners need to make?

By exploring these key issues, this article aims to provide a comprehensive look into puppy separation anxiety.

Normal Development Stages

Puppies go through predictable developmental stages as they mature from birth to adulthood. According to the Regina Humane Society, there are three main developmental stages:

  1. Neonatal Period: 0-2 weeks – Puppy is completely dependent on mother for feeding and eliminating. Eyes open around 10-14 days. Begins to crawl and stand.
  2. Transitional Period: 2-4 weeks – Puppy begins eating solid food and interacting with litter mates. Begins learning social structure and play skills.
  3. Socialization Period: 3-12 weeks – Rapid learning and brain development. Puppy learns appropriate social behaviors through play and interaction with mother, littermates, and environment.

According to the AKC, the typical age when puppies are separated from their mothers and littermates is between 8-12 weeks old, during the socialization period. This is an important developmental stage for learning skills like bite inhibition, social structure, and self-confidence.

Separation during the neonatal or transitional periods can be difficult for puppies that still require complete maternal care for survival. But separation during the socialization period is less likely to cause long-term issues if handled appropriately, since puppies have developed some independence by then.

Signs of Separation Distress

Dogs exhibit a variety of behaviors when experiencing separation distress from being separated from their parent or human companion. Common signs include:

– Excessive vocalization – Whining, barking, or howling when left alone [1]

– Destructiveness – Chewing, scratching, or destroying objects [2]

– Inappropriate urination or defecation

– Depression – Loss of appetite, lethargy, hiding [3]

– Physical harm – Excessive licking, biting, or scratching themselves

Puppies experiencing separation distress may exhibit multiple behaviors simultaneously as they struggle with the absence of their parent or human companion. These behaviors reflect the emotional turmoil the puppy is experiencing.

Causes of Distress

Separation from parents and littermates can cause distress in puppies for several reasons:

Puppies form strong social bonds early on. Being separated suddenly disrupts these bonds, which can be distressing. Puppies separated before 8-12 weeks may experience more distress as their bonding process is interrupted (VCA Animal Hospitals).

Separation deprives puppies of parental nurturing and guidance during an important developmental period. This can impede socialization and emotional regulation. Puppies may become anxious without their mother’s reassuring presence (ASPCA).

Sudden isolation is frightening for young puppies. Littermates provide comfort, play, and learning experiences. Solitude can be overwhelming. Puppies may panic or act out due to loneliness and uncertainty.

In summary, separating puppies from parents/littermates too early disrupts bonding, nurturing, socialization, and feelings of security. This understandably causes distress for many puppies until they adjust.


Separation anxiety can often be prevented if breeders and new owners gradually introduce puppies to brief periods of separation from their litter mates or new family. According to Blue Cross, prevention starts during the sensitive socialization period between 3-14 weeks old. Puppies should be introduced to a wide variety of sights, sounds, people, animals, and environments during this time. This helps build confidence and resilience when left alone later.

Breeders and owners should also follow a gradual process of leaving puppies alone starting with very brief, structured absences that are paired with rewards on return. As explained by the University of Illinois Veterinary School, puppies as young as 8 weeks can start being left for 1-2 minutes, then slowly increasing to 5, 15, 30 minutes over days and weeks as long as the puppy remains relaxed. Making departures and homecomings low key can prevent anxiety from developing.

Providing stimulating toys and chews for puppies when left alone can also be an important component of prevention, according to K9 Turbo Training. If puppies learn how to self-settle with appropriate enrichment, they will grow accustomed to time alone without becoming distressed. Lastly, ensuring puppies are getting adequate physical and mental exercise is key to reducing any stress or anxiety that could lead to separation issues.


There are several methods for treating existing separation anxiety in dogs. The most common treatment is desensitization training, which involves gradually increasing the duration of time a dog is left alone to become more comfortable with it. This type of counterconditioning changes the dog’s negative associations with being alone to more positive ones through a slow acclimation process. Starting with very short departures of just a few seconds and providing lots of rewards upon return, the duration is slowly increased over many sessions until the dog can remain relaxed for longer periods. This training should be supplemented with mental stimulation through food puzzles, chews, and toys to keep the dog’s mind engaged while alone. Medications such as fluoxetine and clomipramine may also help reduce anxiety in conjunction with behavior modification. Natural calming supplements can provide additional support. Severe cases may benefit from consulting with a veterinary behaviorist. The key is to make separations very gradual and pleasant to change the dog’s emotional response.


Long-Term Impacts

Some research indicates that early separation anxiety in puppies can lead to long-term behavioral problems if left untreated. According to a study published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, puppies separated from their mothers between 5-12 weeks showed more behavioral problems as adult dogs, including fearfulness, sensitivity to noise, and separation anxiety [1]. These effects were most pronounced in puppies separated earlier, at 5-6 weeks.

However, early prevention and treatment of separation distress may prevent long-term anxieties. Desensitization training starting in puppyhood can help dogs gradually learn to be alone. Additionally, socialization and positive experiences help build confidence. With proper care, supervision, and training, most puppies outgrow separation distress by adulthood.

Humane Perspectives

Humane organizations recommend only separating puppies from their mother and littermates once they reach 8-12 weeks old. Puppies separated earlier are more likely to develop behavior problems according to the ASPCA. They state on their website that during this 8-12 week period, puppies learn important communication and social skills from their mother and siblings (

The Humane Society agrees that separating puppies too early can lead to future behavior issues. On their website, they recommend breeders and shelters should not separate puppies before 8 weeks of age. They state keeping litters together for this key development period results in puppies growing up to be more sociable dogs (

According to the American Humane organization, it’s crucial for puppies to remain with their mother until at least 8 weeks old. They say this time allows bonding and helps them feel secure. Early separation can lead to emotional issues, lack of confidence, and anxiety according to their research. They urge any breeders or pet stores separating earlier than 8 weeks to reconsider this practice for the psychological wellbeing of the puppies (

Owner Considerations

Separating puppies from their mothers and littermates can be a traumatic experience, so owners should take steps to minimize the trauma and help puppies through the transition. Some tips for owners include:

  • Keep puppies with their mothers and littermates for at least 8-12 weeks before separating them. Puppies separated too early are more prone to separation anxiety and behavior problems. [1]
  • Introduce separations gradually in the weeks before fully separating puppies. Start with short separations of an hour or two and gradually increase over time.
  • Provide a blanket or toy with the mother’s scent to comfort the puppy during separations. The familiar scent helps ease the transition.
  • Establish a consistent daily routine with scheduled feeding, play, training and bonding times. Consistency helps relieve anxiety.
  • Use treats, toys and praise as positive reinforcement when the puppy is alone. This helps build confidence.
  • Ignore anxious behaviors like whining or barking to avoid reinforcing them. Reward calm behavior.
  • Consult a vet or trainer if separation anxiety persists beyond the initial adjustment period.

By minimizing trauma and providing support, owners can help their new puppy successfully transition to life in a new home.



Overall, puppies can experience temporary sadness and separation anxiety when separated from their parents. [1] The signs of this distress can include barking, urinating, panting, and destructive behavior.[2] However, with proper care, socialization, and training during the puppy’s normal development stages, owners can help prevent and treat separation anxiety.[1] Puppies naturally mature over time and bond with their new families as long as they receive proper love, attention, and schedule management. With compassion, patience, and proper techniques, owners can help their puppies adjust to brief separations in a healthy manner, without long-term distress or behavioral issues. Ultimately, while puppies may initially miss their parents, they can form strong attachments and feel content in their new homes.

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