What’s the best way to crate train a dog with separation anxiety?
A dog crate provides a haven for your furry friend — a place where they can seek comfort and safety from any number of stressors. Crate training can be a useful tool for many dog owners: some may want to have their dog in a crate when they’re sleeping or leave the home, while others may simply want to give the dog space all their own.
Crate training is also helpful for dogs with separation anxiety. As the crate can provide calm and protection, dogs that do not like being left alone may be trained to welcome the crate during moments of distress. Crate training takes time and patience, and relieving separation anxiety requires an owner’s full attention and dedication.
What is separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety is the fear of being left alone. Dogs that have been previously abandoned, have moved to a new space or have undergone a sudden shift in lifestyle may develop separation anxiety. In particular, dogs that develop a strong bond with their owners may become anxious when alone, especially if the owner has been home frequently only to have a new schedule in which they are often away.
Separation anxiety may develop at any age among any breed. It can also be exacerbated by a lack of mental and physical stimulation, leading to a bored dog that may start to lash out.
How to identify separation anxiety
Separation anxiety is easy to identify and can manifest in a variety of ways. Most commonly, your dog will bark excessively while you’re gone. They may also develop destructive behavior such as chewing furniture, rummaging for food or ripping up anything left out. They may also mark or relieve themselves when left alone.
Some behavior may be noticeable before you leave. Dogs can quickly associate certain sounds and actions, like the handling of keys or putting on a coat, as signs they are about to be left alone. As a result, they may begin to pace, pant, drool, shake or even try to sneak out the door with you.
Whether or not to crate train is a decision a dog owner should make before they adopt a pet. With proper training, dogs see their crate as their own safe space: in it, they can sleep, play with toys and even enjoy treats. It is a low-stimulation environment and one that no one else uses.
When afraid or anxious, a trained dog may retreat to its crate. If it becomes a place of refuge, dogs will be more comfortable when left alone, not only giving them security and confidence, but offering you peace of mind while away. Many owners prefer to crate train a rescue dog since past trauma may be unknown and it’s like they are in need of stability.
How to crate train
Crate training can take weeks or months and requires strict discipline and patience by the owner. The first step is to choose the right crate. Your dog should be able to comfortably stand up and turn around within the crate. Wire crates are most popular as they are durable and easy to set up and take down. Some options have two doors for easier access, while others feature a bottom platform that can pull out to allow for easy cleaning.
Initially, the crate should be a place your dog can safely explore without owners nearby. Fill it with a comfortable bed or blankets, especially ones that have a familiar smell to them. You may put in calming toys or clothes that have your scent on it to make the dog feel safe.
Spending time in the crate should be relaxing. If your dog does not initially explore the crate, they may be enticed by a favorite toy or tasty treat. Let them enter and exit as they wish and keep your distance if they seem hesitant. Early on, their time in the crate needs to be rewarding and stimulating. A challenging puzzle or a treat-dispensing toy is useful to get them to make positive associations.
As they grow more comfortable, you can experiment with closing the door but keeping it unlocked, allowing your dog to push it open and leave as they wish. Over time, begin to lock the door, keeping them in for a few minutes. Slowly increase the time they are kept in there as they grow more and more comfortable, building up to longer periods away.
There are some precautions to take when creating your dog. They should never wear a collar or apparel within the crate as it may get caught. They should be allowed some water if you’ll be away for more than an hour: some water bowls can affix to the side so they don’t step in it or knock it over.
Avoid leaving your dog in a crate for more than six to eight hours, especially younger dogs that are being trained and may not have full bladder control.
Dogs with severe separation anxiety may not take to being in a crate and instead seek to break free, which can be highly dangerous. If your dog is anxious and prone to chewing while stressed, do not leave any toys within that they could potentially destroy and ingest.
Crate training is only one means by which to curb and alleviate separation anxiety. Before leaving, your dog should enjoy both physical and mental exertion. Tiring them out with a walk and playtime, even something as simple as fetch, will help them settle and relax. Some dogs also benefit from having the sides and top of the crate covered to create a cozier, more protective space with less stimulation.
Some dogs may enjoy calming treats and supplements. Popular ingredients include hemp and chamomile to soothe the dog and help them sleep. Some dog owners may want to keep an eye on their dog while they’re away to better see how they are coping with being alone; a dog camera may be a worthy investment. For serious anxiety, your vet may prescribe medication to administer in conjunction with dedicated training.
What you need to buy when crate training for separation anxiety
Frisco Fold and Carry Collapsible Wire Dog Crate
Available in a variety of sizes to suit your dog, this durably designed wire crate features two doors and a plastic pan at the bottom that conveniently slides out. It is easy to set up and breaks down quickly for travel and storage.
Where to buy: Sold by Chewy
Merrick Power Bites Salmon Treats
Delicious, high-value dog treats should be used exclusively for training, such as these nutritious chews featuring salmon and potatoes. Use these exclusively for crate training so your dog makes positive associations.
Where to buy: Sold by Chewy
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Anthony Marcusa writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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