Do you have a dog that suffers from separation anxiety? You may be wondering if the crate is causing this emotional discomfort. Could it be time to ditch the crate?
Separation anxiety in dogs can cause destructive behavior and negative mental health effects.
Signs include pacing, excessive barking or whining, salivating or panting and even accidents in some cases. Many of these behaviors can indicate an aversion or fear towards a particular place, such as a pet crate.
So, does keeping your pup in a dog crate cause separation anxiety? The answer is not so simple – there isn’t enough scientific evidence to prove that crating causes stress in all cases.
Nevertheless, knowing how to properly use a crate to your pup’s advantage (and whether one at all is appropriate for your pup) should be an integral part of your overall plan to help prevent and treat conditions like separation anxiety.
Here are some important tips on safely crating your pet and recognizing signs of fear or anxiety in the process.
What Is Separation Anxiety?
Dogs are one of the most loyal and loving animals. They love forming strong bonds. But this can work both ways, as some dogs become extremely anxious when left alone, leading to what’s called separation anxiety in dogs.
It’s more than simple loneliness; they feel completely panicked by the absence of their owners. When faced with being separated from us, dogs express distress in different ways.
Some display vocalization such as howling, excessive barking or crying; panting; pacing; self-harm such as over-licking paws, or incessant grooming to the point of removing fur or skin.
How Can Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety Be Helped?
Separation anxiety in our furry friends can be helped with a combination of training, behavior modification, and environmental enrichment.
Training: Training your dog to understand basic commands such as “sit” and “stay” can help them feel more secure when left alone. Teaching them to associate positive experiences with being away from you can also help reduce their anxiety.
Behavior Modification: Desensitizing your pup to being alone is an important part of helping them cope with separation anxiety.
Start by leaving the house for short periods of time and gradually increase the duration until they are comfortable being alone for longer periods.
Environmental Enrichment: Providing your pup with stimulating activities while you are away can help keep them occupied and distracted from their anxious thoughts.
This could include providing interactive toys that dispense treats or food puzzles that require problem-solving skills to access the reward inside.
Additionally, providing a safe space such as a crate or bed can give your pup a sense of security when left alone.
Sadly, separation anxiety cannot be “cured” overnight, but there are steps pet parents can take to help reduce the severity of dogs’ separation anxiety.
Training is essential for long-term results, and regular desensitization exercises paired with positive reinforcement will teach them that being home alone is not a bad thing.
In severe cases, medication (such as antianxiety medication given under veterinary supervision) may be needed in combination with behavioral therapy, but only after other treatment methods have been tried first.
Supportive therapies such as calming supplements and toys can also help ease stress levels so that our furry friends have an easier time adapting to being left on their own while we’re away from home.
Should A Dog With Severe Separation Anxiety Have Dog Crates?
When it comes to caring for a dog with separation anxiety, one of the best pieces of advice is to invest in a crate.
While it can bring up feelings of guilt and worry in pet parents, crates are actually a safe haven for dogs — especially when they’re first brought home.
Dogs are denning animals by nature, and denning gives them the security they would be looking for in their natural environment.
Signs You Need To Look Out For
For many dogs, being in a well-constructed crate can provide a respite from stress.
For those coping with severe separation anxiety, a regular generic dog crate won’t do; it’s important to find one that’s specifically designed to help them through their harder times.
A regular simple wire crate probably isn’t right for the task because it’s see-through or flimsy or both. The most common crate for general home use is made of wire mesh.
Stressed dogs can often easily bend or chew through this mesh when anxious.
These wire crates also won’t necessarily provide pups who feel unsafe with a better sense of safety or security.
When shopping around for one of these specialty crates, it’s especially important to know their pup’s chewing habits.
If they’re determined enough, even highly anxious pups can escape from standard plastic crates that were intended for general use only.
How To Use Dog Crates When Your Dog Has Anxiety
When it comes to helping your pup feel comfy in their “doggy bedroom,” it’s vital to train your furry friend to see a crate as comfort.
Of course, that doesn’t mean only sticking him in there when you’re gone. The crate should not be used as a punishment, but as a comfort.
Creating positive associations with the crate should start from day one. Feeding meals within the crate will get your pup excited about going inside.
The time spent in the crate should be short, to begin with — just for meals initially — and then gradually be lengthened over time to help create comfortable associations and allow your pup to relax inside.
It’s important for dogs to associate the crate with something positive rather than just the sound of leaving keys, or you are grabbing your coat that let them know you’re about to depart (see also ‘Should You Leave Toys In A Dog Crate?‘).
One way to do this is during playtime with your pup: reward her when she engages in behaviors that are safe with items such as rawhide chews that are too big for her to swallow.
That way, she associates the crate comes with good things happening inside it and not just instant departure.
When it comes to dealing with a dog who is anxious when you leave the house, you need to think long-term and introduce gradual changes.
Avoid too many ‘cold departures’ where he doesn’t have time to prepare or get used to the idea that you’re not staying. You can slowly introduce that you will be leaving him alone and make sure it’s a positive experience.
In conclusion, dog crates can cause separation anxiety if not used properly (see also ‘3 Key Tips For Crate Training Dogs With Separation Anxiety‘). It is important to create positive associations with the crate and gradually increase the time spent in it.
Additionally, it is important to make sure that leaving your pet alone in the crate does not become a negative experience by avoiding too many ‘cold departures’ and coming back before your pet starts to display panic and anxiety.