Crate training your dog has a myriad of benefits, but it takes time and effort. Especially if you have an adult dog who is experiencing separation anxiety, introducing the crate and ensuring it is an effective tool for your pet can be a significant undertaking.
Crating a dog with separation anxiety has the potential to help your animal feel safer and more relaxed, but it can also have the opposite effect. Use these tips to ensure your pet has a positive experience with their crate and you can feel better about leaving them alone.
Can Crating Help a Dog with Separation Anxiety?
Many pet owners wonder if crate training might help their dog feel more comfortable while they’re away and manage their stress symptoms more effectively. Crating a dog with separation anxiety won’t cure their issue, but it can be used in conjunction with other strategies to help your dog. Plus, it has general benefits, including:
- Limiting your dog’s ability to take part in some stress behaviors like pacing
- Reducing the risk of your dog panicking, escaping the house, and getting lost
- Less household destruction and bathroom accidents from separation anxiety
Some Stress Behaviors Actually Compound Your Dog’s Stress
Some of the ways a dog might communicate his separation anxiety can sometimes make their stress worse. Actions like pacing and whining are compulsive, and they can get your dog more worked up as he participates in them. While the crate won’t help with stress vocalizing, it can limit your dog’s range of motion and prevent them from pacing or constantly readjusting. Sometimes, being in a smaller, confined space not only makes your dog feel safer and more protected, but also forces them to be more still, which can ultimately calm them down.
A Dog with Separation Anxiety May Try to Escape
Dogs experiencing separation anxiety are often in a panicked state when you are away and not thinking clearly about their actions. This can sometimes result in them breaking free – either escaping out an accidentally opened door or chewing and digging through the backyard fence – and running away in an effort to find you. Crating a dog with separation anxiety can reduce the chances that they will escape and become lost.
Crating Can Prevent Household Damage
Many of the symptoms of separation anxiety are somewhat destructive. Dogs who are afraid of being alone may chew on furniture, upholstery, and clothing. They also often have bathroom accidents indoors (even if they are fully housebroken). If they’re in a crate, there is less for them to damage.
Dogs are also very unlikely to go to the bathroom in a small enclosed space where they sleep (this is what makes crate training such an effective method for potty-training puppies). A dog who tends to be destructive in an effort to communicate their separation anxiety may be inclined to chew on or destroy the inside of their crate. This can also be a sign your dog is bored, or being left inside their crate for too long. If you notice this behavior, you might need to slow down crate training, consider a new type of crate, or even throw in the towel with crating your dog with separation anxiety.
5 Tips for Crating a Dog with Separation Anxiety
How successful and effective the crate will be for a dog with separation anxiety depends on how carefully and intentionally you approach the use of this tool. If you’re trying to make the crate a safe space for your stressed-out dog, be sure to:
- Ensure your dog’s routine is complete
- Use the right crate
- Create positive associations with the crate (including your presence)
- Use commands and stay calm
- Leave them with something to do
A Complete Routine Might Reduce Separation Anxiety
Are you sure that crating your dog with separation anxiety is the best approach to their issues? Sometimes dogs with separation anxiety actually just need a change in their daily schedule. Dogs need consistent and focused time with their owners each day for play and affection. They are inherently social creatures and being alone doesn’t come naturally to them. They also have significant exercise needs. Before crating your dog with separation anxiety, you might try to increase the length of their daily walk or incorporate some additional one-on-one playtime and see if their separation anxiety subsides.
Even if you choose to go forward with crating, it’s advisable to give your dog several minutes of vigorous exercise before putting them in the crate. Even the most stressed-out dog has limitations, so be sure they are tapped out of energy before you put them in the crate.
Choosing the Right Crate for Your Dog
The crate itself has to be an inviting, cozy place for your pooch where they feel safe and comfortable to be effective in comforting them. This means they need to have enough space to move around: your dog should be able to stand and turn a full circle without impediment in their crate.
When crating a dog with separation anxiety, it’s often helpful to soften the interior of the crate by using some of your worn, unwashed clothing. Your scent can be comforting and reassuring to your pet and also makes it a more comfortable place to lie down and rest.
The material will also be specific if you’re crating a dog with separation anxiety. Wire or mesh crates are popular because they are lightweight and functional for many dogs, but a dog with separation anxiety will likely chew through such a crate. Furthermore, they can see and hear everything going on around them, which can create additional stress triggers. The crate you purchase does need proper ventilation, but that can be achieved with a steel crate and a window that will make your dog feel more secure. Crate covers also provide added darkness and security for some dogs.
Introduce the Crate and Draw Paw-sitive Associations
When you first introduce the crate to your dog, you need to ensure that the object itself brings joy to your dog. Encourage them to enter and sniff around by using plenty of treats. Now is not the time to count calories (though you should be aware of how many treats you give your dog on a daily basis). Don’t shut your dog into the crate when you first introduce it. Let them become comfortable with the space before you close them into it.
After they seem comfortable with the crate itself, you can shut the door and move about the house within view of your dog. The important factor when crating a dog with separation anxiety is to prove to your dog that being crated doesn’t mean you are leaving.
You should linger on this crate training step when you are working with a dog who suffers from separation anxiety. If they associate the crate with your departure, it will only worsen their concern and give the crate a negative association.
Commands Can Be Helpful – But Don’t Be Dramatic
Having commands and verbal notifications for your dog can be helpful in general, and that applies also to crate training a dog with separation anxiety. Having a word or phrase that indicates when you are leaving the house and returning can be helpful to keep your dog aware about what’s happening. If your dog comes to understand that hearing the words “I’m leaving” will ultimately result in the words “I’m home,” it might assuage some of their separation anxiety – which often stems from their fear that you won’t ever return.
The commands should always be spoken after your dog is already in the crate. The key with commands such as these is that you don’t create too much drama around when you use them. If you make a big deal out of leaving – giving your dog tons of affection and speaking in a high, tense voice – they will pick up on your intensity and it will likely increase their anxiety about your departure. You leaving the house should be treated as an everyday occurrence, so don’t make a big deal out of it.
Give Them Some Stimulation in the Crate
Another way to make the crate a more functional and sustainable place for your dog with separation anxiety is by giving them something to do inside of the crate. Keep a special toy reserved for crate time. It should be something high-value that they don’t get to play with outside of the crate. Kongs make great mentally stimulating toys when filled with peanut butter or another treat. There are also a variety of other puzzle toys or fun, interactive dog toys you can leave in the crate with your pooch to keep them occupied and help them forget their stress.
Crate Training a Dog with Separation Anxiety Might Not Work
Remember: even if you follow all of our tips, the crate might cause more harm than good and upset your dog rather than soothe them. If you’re going to try crating a dog with separation anxiety, it needs to be an intentional, slow, and careful process. This strategy should help soothe your dog – not simply contain them. Follow our tips and take your time so that your dog comes to love their crate and find it relaxing!