Things to Look for in a Dog Crate for Separation Anxiety
The search for the best crate for dogs with separation anxiety can be confusing. You want the best for your dog to help ease their anxiety and keep them safe. Don’t worry, we’ll go over what you should keep in mind to help you make the best choice:
Correct Size for Your Dog
It’s crucial to choose the right size of crate for your dog. It’s common to want to get your dog a bigger crate to give them more space, however, a smaller crate keeps your dog safe and helps them to feel more secure. Their ancestors would have found small dens to rest in, so it’s their innate behavior to feel calmer in smaller spaces.
The crate you choose should be big enough for your dog to stand up fully, stretch out comfortably, and turn around in, but never big enough for them to walk around.
Sturdy and Secure
How secure you need the crate to be will depend on how your dog displays their separation anxiety. Some dogs will be destructive, in which case you need a wire crate that is heavy-duty and very secure to keep them safe. Other dogs may not be destructive, so a soft-sided or plastic crate may be more suitable for them.
Crates that create that ‘den-like’ or ‘cave-like’ feeling we mentioned earlier will be more calming for your dog. Plastic or soft-sided crates tend to be darker and more enclosed, often feeling more calming to a distressed dog. If your dog is destructive and you need a wire crate, putting a blanket or crate cover over their crate can help to create that darkness and sense of calm.
It’s vital your dog’s crate provides enough ventilation. Wire crates have plenty of airflow. Plastic crates tend to have wire windows or ventilation holes to create good airflow. Soft-sided crates often feature mesh windows and doors to create plenty of ventilation.
Easy to Clean
Dogs with separation anxiety are often so nervous that they will have accidents in their crate. Therefore, choosing a crate that is easy to clean will be less trouble for you and more hygienic for your pup. Look for removable bottoms or materials that are easy to wipe clean.
Ease of Transportation
If you want to use your dog’s crate during travel, for example in the car or to take on holiday with you, then finding a portable crate is important. Some may fold down while others may have carry handles.
Comfortable for Your Dog
1 of the most important things to take into consideration is that the crate needs to be as comfortable as possible for your dog. A crate of the right size and with good ventilation is key for comfort. Creating that dark, safe space we mentioned earlier, as well as adding in a bed or blankets, crate-safe toys and chews, and water can also be helpful.
Symptoms of Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Common symptoms of separation anxiety are shown below.
- Destructive behavior: This might include chewing, digging, and destroying things around the home when their owner isn’t present.
- Going to the toilet indoors: Many dogs with separation anxiety will urinate or defecate indoors.
- Vocalizing: Your dog may bark and howl when they’re home alone.
- Pacing: Some dogs pace back and forth around the home, often going over the same route repeatedly.
- Attempting to escape: Your dog might try to escape the home or areas where they’re confined, often by chewing or digging to get out.
- Coprophagia: This means that your dog may eat their poop when they’re anxious.
- Panicking before you leave: Your dog might notice signs of you getting ready to leave the home, and begin to experience these as ‘triggers’. They might start displaying anxiety behaviors in reaction to these triggers before you leave the house.
If your dog displays any of these symptoms it’s always a good idea to get them checked at your vet to rule out any medical problems.
Why Some Dogs Suffer With Separation Anxiety
There are lots of reasons a dog might suffer with separation anxiety. Some breeds are more genetically predisposed to anxiety in general. Some dogs who have been through trauma in their lives are understandably far more nervous, and therefore more likely to worry about being away from their owner.
The other reasons for separation anxiety all revolve around change in a dog’s life. If a dog loses their owner or has been rehomed, this can trigger separation anxiety. Moving home, even with their original owner, can cause anxiety in some dogs.
Changes in their owners’ schedule, for example working longer hours away from home, can cause anxiety. The addition of a new family member, whether human or another furbaby, can sometimes be troublesome.
How a Crate Can Help With Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety can be very distressing for both you and your dog, but don’t worry there are lots of things you can do to help your pup. 1 of the main things you can do is get them a crate and crate train your dog. You might be wondering how a crate can really help, well let’s take a look
As we mentioned earlier, a crate provides a ‘den’ that can help your dog to feel calmer and more comfortable. With crate training, your dog will learn that their crate is a very positive, safe place, and this can bring them comfort when you’re gone.
If your dog displays destructive behaviors as a result of their anxiety, such as chewing, going through the rubbish, and digging, this can be dangerous for them and problematic for you! The last thing you want is them choking or eating something that can harm them. Crate training a dog with separation anxiety can help to reduce these behaviors and keep your dog safer while you’re gone.
If your dog has accidents when you’re gone, crate training can help to reduce the mess this might make around your home and help to keep things more hygienic for your dog. If your dog paces around, a crate can help to prevent this behavior and instead, aid your pup with self-soothing.
Other Ways to Deal With Separation Anxiety
As well as crate training, there are lots of other ways you can help your pup with separation anxiety. 1 of the best ways to get started is with counterconditioning. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals explains that counterconditioning is, “a treatment process that changes an animal’s fearful, anxious or aggressive reaction to a pleasant, relaxed one instead.”
Essentially, you work to teach your dog that they don’t need to fear being alone and instead help them understand that being on their own is safe and can even be fun. You can do this by:
- Being calm when you leave and come back into your home. Don’t interact with your pup unless they are calm, to prevent reinforcing their anxious behavior.
- Changing up your routine for leaving home, such as picking up your keys or your coat in a different order to help desensitize your dog to these cues. Start using these cues at other times of the day too so they don’t hold such meaning to your dog.
- Giving them safe treats and toys to make being home alone more fun.
- Training them gradually to be left alone by starting with shorter periods on their own and increasing the time gradually as they get calmer.
- Make their crate a cozy, safe space.
You can also help your dog by taking them out for a walk before you leave so that they’re tired and more likely to be settled. It’s crucial you don’t punish your dog for their behavior when they’re anxious, as this can make them even more upset. If you are struggling and need help, a dog trainer or your vet may be able to provide more advice.
Crate Safety Advice
Always choose the right size crate for your pup and ensure they have plenty of ventilation. Crate training is vital before you leave your dog alone in a crate. If your dog is destructive, choose a heavy-duty crate to keep them safe.
Do crates really help with separation anxiety?
Yes, when crates are paired with other training methods they can be very helpful in tackling separation anxiety.
Is crating a dog cruel?
No, provided you crate train your dog, using a crate isn’t cruel. In fact, it can be very beneficial for your dog.
Separation anxiety can be very distressing for both you and your dog, but with the right crate and some training you can help your pup to feel safe again.
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, (2021), “Separation Anxiety”.