A common problem among German shepherds is separation anxiety. This means that a dog becomes panicked whenever his owner leaves him at home. This occurs with both puppies and adults. A puppy may react more strongly, having already endured the separation from his mother and littermates.
With separation anxiety, the situation often seems much more serious than it really is. Remember, the shepherd is one of the most intelligent canine breeds. If your puppy cries out from his crate as you open the door to leave the house, your turning back to give him one last pet will reward his behavior. This teaches him that his cries will win him more attention from you.
You can help the worried puppy deal with your departure by giving him a particularly delicious chew toy or bone. Many dogs find chewing to be a comforting behavior. If your puppy has an interesting and tasty treat in his crate when you leave, he won't dwell on the fact that you're gone.
Desensitization training works for separation anxiety, too. The key to using this training method is to figure out your routine prior to leaving the house. Putting on your jacket, picking up a set of keys, tying your shoes, turning off the lights, and opening the door could all be clues that your puppy associates with your leaving him alone.
If you suspect that your puppy continues howling, crying, and barking the entire time you are gone, set up a tape recorder to record his behavior. You'll likely find that as soon as you leave the house, the puppy quiets down and goes to sleep. The dramatic crying and whining is just his effort to keep you there.
To desensitize him to these sounds and actions, perform these behaviors frequently throughout the day without leaving. Then intermittently leave the house but come right back inside. If your puppy is behaving better, leave the house for a longer period of time, continuing to provide all the clues that indicate you are leaving. Soon, these clues will no longer signify that you are leaving, and your shepherd will have less opportunity to work himself up. Additionally, you are teaching your puppy that you always come back.
Though most canine separation anxiety is relatively mild and treatable, some dogs do exhibit alarming behavior when left alone. If you notice that your shepherd is causing destruction to his crate, your home, or himself, seek professional help immediately.