Crating a Dog with Separation Anxiety

Medical review by K9 Healthcare Council of America (K9HCA). Intended for educational purposes only. Always seek medical advice from your veterinarian.

Crating a Dog with Separation Anxiety: A Comprehensive Guide

Separation anxiety is a common issue that dogs may experience when left alone, and it can become especially challenging when they are crated. A dog’s crate can be a place of comfort and security–but for a dog with separation anxiety, it can also be a source of stress and distress.

However, with the right approach and understanding, you can help your furry friend feel more comfortable and secure in their crate.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore seven essential tips for crate training a dog with separation anxiety, addressing causes, symptoms, behavioral modification techniques, stress reduction methods like CBD, and selecting the perfect crate for your canine companion.

Crating dog with separation anxiety
Before you begin crate training your dog, make sure they’re not wearing a collar or tag. These items can easily end up catching on the crate’s walls and injure your pup. You should also ensure the crate is the appropriate size – it should be spacious enough that they can move around easily but still enclosed enough that it doesn’t feel too open and exposed.

Why Dogs Develop Separation Anxiety

Understanding the underlying causes of separation anxiety is crucial before diving into the strategies to alleviate it. Several factors can contribute to this condition:

  • Past Traumatic Experiences – Dogs may develop separation anxiety if they’ve had traumatic experiences when left alone, such as being abandoned or spending extended periods in a shelter.
  • Lack of Socialization – Inadequate socialization during a dog’s formative weeks can result in anxiety when faced with isolation.
  • Changes in Routine – Any sudden changes in the dog’s routine, such as a new family member or moving to a new house, can trigger separation anxiety.
  • Overly Attached Bond – Dogs that form extremely strong bonds with their owners are more susceptible to separation anxiety when they’re separated.
Dog separation anxiety symptoms
Separation anxiety can be the result of several things, from genetics and trauma to a lack of proper socialization. Some breeds are more prone to separation anxiety than others, such as cavalier spaniels, border collies, and Labrador retrievers.

Recognizing Symptoms of Crate Anxiety Distress

Before addressing separation anxiety, it’s essential to identify the symptoms of distress in your dog:

Vocalization – Dogs with separation anxiety often vocalize excessively when left alone in a crate. Excessive barking, whining, or howling when left alone is a common sign of distress in crated dogs. Pay attention to the intensity and duration of these vocalizations

Destructive Behavior – Anxiety can lead to destructive behavior in crated dogs. They may attempt to chew or scratch their way out of the crate, damaging their teeth and paws in the process. Chewing furniture, scratching doors, or damaging their crate are indications of pent-up anxiety.

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.

Destructive behaviors can be a sign your dog is bored or being left inside their crate for too long.

House Soiling – Some dogs may urinate or defecate in their crate due to anxiety. This can create a messy and unpleasant situation for both the dog and the owner. The inability to control their bladder or bowels due to stress can lead to accidents indoors.

Excessive Drooling or Panting – Excessive drooling and panting are physical signs of distress in dogs. If you notice your dog salivating excessively or panting heavily while crated, it may be a sign of anxiety.

Escape Attempts – Desperate efforts to escape the crate, which may result in injuries, can signal extreme distress.

Pacing and Restlessness – Restlessness, pacing, and excessive panting are physical signs of anxiety.

crating a dog with separation anxiety
Many of the symptoms of crate separation anxiety are destructive. Others include increased “vocalization” such as howling, barking and whining.

7 Essential Tips for Crating a Dog with Separation Anxiety

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.

Tips for Crate Training a Dog with Separation Anxiety

Now that you understand the causes and symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs, let’s explore seven valuable tips for helping your canine companion feel more comfortable in their crate.

Tip 1: Gradual Crate Introduction

Crate training a dog with separation anxiety can take several months, so it’s important you remain patient, calm, and collected throughout the process. Slow & steady wins the race!

Introduce the crate gradually to your dog, allowing them to explore it freely without pressure. Be persistent but don’t push them too far, as otherwise, you could increase their fear of the crate (and being left alone!).

Make the crate a positive and safe space by placing treats and toys inside. Mealtime in the crate should be a gradual transition to feeding your dog their regular meals in the crate. This associates the crate with positive experiences and reinforces the idea that it’s a safe place.

Tip 2: Have Planned Crate Training Sessions

Short and Positive. Keep crate training sessions short and positive. Start with brief intervals and gradually increase the time your dog spends in the crate, always rewarding them for calm behavior.

Tip 3: Use Positive Association & Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is the use of rewards like treats, verbal praise, toys, and play for desired behaviors. It is one of the most powerful tools for shaping and managing your dog’s behavior.

Anxious dog in crate. Crating a dog with separation anxiety.
Create a secure and tranquil crating experience by incorporating a crate pad or a soft blanket. It’s even better if these items are lathered with your scent. You can even throw in an old t-shirt of yours to generate a space that feels familiar and safe.

There are a couple of ways to positively reinforce crate use. Whenever your dog enters the crate willingly or remains calm inside, reward them with treats or toys. This creates a positive association with the crate. Use your reward of choice (treats are usually the most high-value and effective) when your dog is near or inside their crate.

Place the crate in an area of the house that is busy and where your household members spend a lot of time, like the living room or the dining room. Consistently use a happy tone of voice and maintain uplifting energy when you’re near the crate. You can also try feeding your canine companion inside their crate as a way to positively reinforce.

Again, you are conditioning your dog that the crate is a wonderfully positive place to be.

Tip 4: Desensitize Exit Departures

Desensitization of the crate is a behavior modification strategy that will help with your dog’s anxiety when you leave the house. Again, your mission is to associate positivity with the crate. Desensitization teaches your dog that crating is temporary and that you’re always going to come back.

Keep in mind that this is a gradual process and can take a few months to lock-in. Start the process of desensitization when you are home. Crate your pup and then step outside your door for a moment. Let your dog sit in this uncomfortable state. If your dog stays quiet, come back in and reward them with a treat.

After your pup is able to last a few seconds, turn that into a few minutes, then a few hours, so on and so forth, leaving for longer periods of time each time. This helps your dog get used to your departures without anxiety.

In addition, utilizing the crate while you are home is a good way to prevent your dog from following guardians from one room to the next. Allowing them to do this perpetuates their cycle of separation anxiety. Put them in their crate and spend time in another room. Again, let them deal with the separation and do not reward attention-seeking behaviors.

Crating a dog with separation anxiety, desensitization technique.
Through desensitization, you can train your dog to not stress over signs of departure – such as putting on a coat or picking up your keys. Desensitization involves exposing your pet to stimuli they find stressful in a non-confrontational way over a period of time. Eventually, your dog becomes accustomed to the trigger and doesn’t react to it.

Most importantly for dogs with separation anxiety, when leaving and returning home, avoid making a fuss! This minimizes the emotional highs and lows associated with departures and arrivals.

I know how hard it is to say goodbye to your pup even for a short time; but your dog is IN-TRAINING to help their over-active stress response. You’ll also want to keep departures and arrivals as low-key as possible.

Tip 5: Behavioral Modification Techniques

Dogs are incredibly smart and adaptive. So, use counterconditioning techniques to change your dog’s emotional response to being alone. Pair their crate time with a positive stimulus like a treat or puzzle toy.

Desensitization to stimuli gradually exposes your dog to triggers of anxiety (such as the sound of picking up keys or putting on your coat), but without leaving. This helps reduce direct association and therefore trigger behaviors like anxiety associated with these actions.

Tip 6: Natural Stress Reduction Resources

CBD (cannabidiol) is a natural compound derived from hemp that has been used to alleviate anxiety in dogs. It can be administered in various forms, such as oils, treats, or capsules. Always choose a reputable CBD product specifically formulated for dogs and follow the recommended dosage guidelines.

CBD Dosage for dogs
CBD dosage for dogs is measured in mgs per kg body weight. Start low, go slow & monitor your dog’s progress.

When using CBD or any stress reduction method, closely monitor your dog’s response. Not all dogs will react the same way, and it’s essential to ensure that the treatment is effective and safe for your pet. Also, consider pairing your calming aid with a multivitamin that provides your dog with omegas and probiotics to really set your dog on the right path. Remember, a physically healthy pup is a mentally healthy pup!

Before considering any stress reduction methods, it’s essential to consult your veterinarian. They can assess your dog’s specific needs and provide guidance on whether natural supplements like CBD or other holistic dietary changes may be appropriate to support your dog’s behavior.

Tip 7: Have a Complete Routine to Reduce Overall Stress & Anxiety

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.

Special Note: Your Energy!

Have you ever considered that your pup might be mimicking your stressful energy?

Your dog is very in tune with you and what you’re putting out into the world. If your house is chaotic, filled with screaming children, vocal pet parents, blasting music, so on and so forth, your dog is most likely going to feel that high-stress energy and act out accordingly.

Try to create a sanctuary space for your pup with cozy blankets, toys and tension free surroundings to keep them calm while you’re away. And remember, keep departures brief without dragged-out attention to leave your dog in a calm, protected state of mind.

Choosing the Right Crate for Your Dog

To be effective in comforting your pet, the crate itself has to be an inviting, cozy place for your pooch where they feel safe and comfortable. This means choosing an appropriate size and type of crate to house your dog during your absence. Here are important factors to consider:

  • Size & Comfort – The crate needs to have enough space for your dog to move around–your dog should be able to stand and turn a full circle and lie down without impediment in their crate.
  • Proper Placement – Place the crate in a quiet, low-traffic area of your home where your dog can still observe the household. This prevents isolation and helps them feel secure. Ensure its well-ventilated and lined with a comfortable bedding.
  • Crate Type – Consider the type of crate that suits your dog best. Options include wire crates, plastic travel crates, and soft-sided crates. Choose one that aligns with your dog’s needs and preferences. 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.
  • Crate Toppers – Crate covers provide privacy and added darkness and security for some dogs to help keep them calm.
  • Crate Training Duration – Keep in mind that crate training is not a one-size-fits-all process. The duration required for successful training varies from dog to dog. Be patient and adapt your approach as needed.
Crating a dog with separation anxiety
When crating a dog with separation anxiety, it’s important to select a crate size most appropriate for your dog’s current size as well as when they grow. Your pup should be able to comfortably stand, turn around and lie down inside the structure.

Final Thoughts on Crating a Dog with Separation Anxiety

Crate training a dog with separation anxiety may require time and patience, but it is possible with the right techniques and understanding of your dog’s needs.

By addressing the underlying causes of your dog’s stress and recognizing these distress symptoms, you are more prepared to implement the seven tips outlined in this guide and be able to effectively help your furry friend feel more secure and relaxed in their crate.

Remember, never make the crate experience a punishment and that consistency & positive reinforcement are key to a successful crate training experience.

Ultimately your care and compassion in creating a safe and comfortable home-space for your pup will lead to a happier and more content canine companion.

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