Crate Training Separation Anxiety
Crate training separation anxiety is no joke, if your dog is escaping his kennel, or has ever destroyed it while you were away, then you may have a serious problem on your hands. Most of what people think is separation anxiety, however, is actually puppy boredom. It often starts like this: you get ready to leave by putting your clothes and shoes on while your dog gets excited, next you grab your keys, kiss your furry friend, crate him up, and head out the door.
He hears you pull away and his frustration rises. He may scratch and chew at the crate door, floor, and walls or bark in disappointment when he realizes he is not getting his way. What would happen if he’s not in his crate? What if your pup had full range of the house, or had range over a single room, like the kitchen? He may seek out some “fun” and do things he knows he can’t when you are home.
Imagine a child left home alone for the first time…don’t you figure he is investigating things he can’t when his parents are home? Going through drawers and cupboards that are off limits, eating some candy, and doing things that aren’t normally allowed? I know I did when my parents left me alone as a kid!
Dogs are very similar to children! They often race to the garbage to try and determine WHY you threw out such scrumptious treasures! Next they shuffle to the cupboards in search of FOOD and other things that smell great. And, often, they too go into rooms and other places that are normally off limits.
Your puppy is showing signs of separation anxiety. This means that she is uncomfortable being left home alone. Because dogs are social animals, it is not natural for them to be away from their social group – or you – for long periods of time. However, most dogs can be left alone with no problems. Unfortunately your pup is not one of them and you will have to do some work in order to help her over her fear of being alone.
Why Does This Happen?
What we don’t realize as “rational humans” is that what we see as incredibly naughty and destructive behavior is an amazingly FUN adventure for your puppy! Can you imagine how stimulating and exciting it is to go through the trash? Tossing items to and fro and eating disregarded goodies that are oh so pleasurable and satisfying!
Even shredding inedible items can be entertaining, listening to a sofa shred and pulling out the fluff is like destroying a really BIG dog toy! The carpet or the drapes could be an excellent source for a game of tug-of-war! The table is rather sturdy, and the legs give just enough to make it a satisfying chew toy. As you can expect, a dog can find just about anything to occupy its time when it has separation anxiety.
It is important for you to understand that your puppy is probably being bad when she is alone because she is anxious. It is not due to spite or revenge. Because of this, punishing her for chewing the couch or soiling the rug will only make her more anxious. Recognize that she can’t help the things she is doing and decide that you love her enough to put the time into helping her.
What Do You Do?
First and foremost, I recommend crate training for all dogs! A crate will keep your puppy, your garbage, your cupboards, your sofa and your carpet safe! And, if your pup feels mild anxiety as he watches you leave, a crate can also calm his nerves. When you crate him, you take away his ability to worry about everything and everyone else and hopefully you give him the ability to be Zen and relax!
Crate training is an option; however, some dogs that are anxious when alone are more anxious dogs in a crate. If you decide to crate train your puppy make sure you put time into conditioning her to absolutely LOVE being in the crate before you leave her in there for the day.
Picking the Right Crate
Find an appropriate crate for YOUR dog! For dogs with some separation issues and mild anxiety I recommend plastic or aluminum crates which are almost impossible to break out of! I prefer these because they are darker inside like a den. As humans, we tend to think that dogs would do better with wire crates because they can see everything, but that in and of itself can be a problem! Being visually stimulated can create anxiety.
Let’s be clear here: an escape-proof dog crate can be a good way to keep your dog safe and keep your dog from destroying your house while you’re away. But if your dog has separation anxiety, he needs more than an indestructible crate. He needs your help.
Rather than looking for the world’s most indestructible dog crate, it might be time to look at why your dog is constantly destroying his crate. It’s possible (even likely) that your dog is feeling very stressed, and that’s why he’s destroying his crates. You first have to rule-in/out whether your dog is experiencing separation anxiety.
Conditioning Your Dog to LOVE His Crate
Next, it’s time to acclimate your adult dog to his crate using positive reinforcement. The best way to do this is to make your dog’s crate the place where all his favorite things happen! Start feeding your dog his meals from inside his crate, along with his water and all his treats.
Anti-Anxiety TIP: Don’t close the crate door during this phase of crate training.
Instead, do it this way:
If you have been feeding your dog leftovers off your plate after meals, put that plate into his crate. Put a nice comfy bed or blanket inside so it’s the most comfortable place for him to sleep. Basically, anything you can think of that is good should happen inside the crate.
This is about positively reinforcing your dog that good things happen in his crate, so he won’t put up as much of a fight when we get to the stage where we ask him to be in his crate for hours at a time. We want your dog to think of his crate as the ultimate “Happy Place”; where he goes when he wants to feel safe, is sleepy, or wants to relax.
Anti-Anxiety TIP: Give your adult dog what we call ‘Foraging Toys’ inside his crate. These Foraging toys turn up the value of treats, because, by hiding food inside, they take a dog a long time to consume. They’re like SUPER treats that keep on giving – sometimes for hours! One of the best is foraging toys is the KONG toys.
I like to get several Kong toys at a time and make my own treats with some fun meal recipes I have included below. Now these aren’t recipes you or I would like but dogs love them. Take something sticky, like peanut butter, and mix in a bunch of other tasty things, then stick them in the freezer.
Then when you’re feeding them to your dog, he thinks it’s the best treats and you’re the Pet Parent of the Year! Spend the little extra time it takes to make these treats, and it’ll turn the crate training process up a notch. The fact that it’s both sticky and frozen adds to the length of time it takes the dog to get the goodies out of the middle… which has the side-effect of increasing the time of enjoyment for your dog while he eats these in his crate! It’s a little trick for helping condition him to stay in his crate longer and longer.
Check out these great recipes to use with your Kong toys:
Now That Your Dog Loves His Crate, Get Him to Stay in There Longer
Once your dog is feeling great about his crate it is time to get him comfortable with staying there for longer and longer periods of time without having separation anxiety. We will turn his crate into his “Happy Place” using a schedule.
A schedule like this can work well to get you started:
- Once your dog is comfortable going into his crate to eat, close the crate door while he eats. Then, as soon as he’s done, open the crate door and let him out.
- Next, throw a Kong toy in your dog’s crate and close the door. These can take longer to consume, so grab a magazine or just dedicate some time to checking out Facebook and sit within eyesight of your dog while he eats his Kong in his crate (at least 5 minutes). Then open the door and let him out.
- When your dog is okay eating his Kong for five minutes, with you in sight, for a day or two in a row, give him his Kong and leave for a minute or two. See if your dog can eat his Kong for 5 minutes with you out of sight (again, being sure to open the door and let him out after 5 minutes). Don’t try to push him to be in there too long, too fast, that can lead to isolation distress or separation anxiety. Once your dog is okay with a Kong for 5 minutes at a time without being able to see you, you’ve done a great thing! You’ve taught your dog to understand that he’s not being abandoned, and that you always come back to let him out. Once your dog is comfortable in his crate, we need to train him how to handle hours at a time.
- To teach your dog to be in his crate when you have to leave him at home for hours, start by randomizing how long you leave him in his crate. For example, leave him for 5 min, 10 min, 3 min, 12 min, 15 min, 1 min, 16 min, etc. Do you see what I’m doing? I’m slowly increasing the periods of time that I ask the dog to go into his crate two times in a row, but on the third time, I let him out really quickly. This strategy for increasing the length of time your dog waits to be let out, which we call “Random Rewarding”, keeps the dog guessing as to when he’ll be let out. And, it is much better than simply increasing the time your dog has to be in the crate each day. Do this until you can leave your dog in his crate up to an hour at a time.
When you see your dog sleeping through the night in his crate, you know he is totally comfortable with his crate. Sleeping takes up nearly half of an older dog’s daily activities, so it’s a perfect thing to condition your dog to do in his crate.
Crate Training Whining
Here’s a game for how we start to fix crate whining:
He may whine in his crate and that can be normal; stay home with him while he is crated to make sure he is not going to injure himself. You can also set up a video camera to see what he does when left alone and monitor him.
Make the environment as normal as possible by leaving the TV or music on to help distract him from other noises. How many people live in a quiet house with very little stimulation or noise? But when we leave, we turn everything off and his environment becomes sterile and sometimes scary for him. Crank up the tunes and leave it on loud so he can’t hear the mail man, etc and get nervous!
If your dog is urinating, defecating, screaming, scratching, or biting at his crate he may have some serious separation anxiety issues and you may need to speak to your veterinarian about helping to relax him when left alone. Although there are aluminum crates that are virtually impossible to break out of, we don’t want him to injure himself trying!
What is Separation Anxiety?
Are you concerned that your dog might have something wrong with him? When you get ready to leave, does he exhibit abnormal behavior? If you’ve answered yes, He may be suffering from separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is basically a panic attack that your dog has whenever you leave him alone. Dogs with separation anxiety can cause a lot of damage to their crates. But without the proper training, this can actually cause more self-injury to your dog while he’s confined because he tries even harder to escape.
Instead of scratched up door jams and shredded toilet paper, he may have broken teeth, or worse. Proper crate training can help keep your dog from hurting himself by preventing panic attacks from even happening. When you think your pup is suffering from more than just poor house manners, the goal should be to resolve what is causing your dog’s anxiety by teaching him to cope, and maybe even contentment with being left alone.
One of the things we’ve created here at TheDogTrainingSecret.com is a calming formula that you might want to consider giving your dog while you are in the crate training process. It’s a natural formula that is loaded with calming herbs that take the edge off your dog (especially dogs with separation anxiety) without leaving him drowsy and sedated.
We created this formula originally for dogs with separation anxiety or fears of loud noises like fireworks but have discovered that it can really help give your dog a calmer disposition, making him feel better in his crate, faster. If you haven’t considered an herbal supplement to help your dog through his training check out our CALMZ here: https://calmz.thedogtrainingsecret.com/. It’s a tasty treat that can make crate training much easier!
Before deciding your dog has Separation Anxiety, you need to evaluate your situation, and make sure that he doesn’t have Medical issues. Medical issues can be confused with behavior problems – they are usually related. If your dog has suddenly started peeing all over the house when you leave, it might be a UTI or it might be because this is a coping mechanism related to separation anxiety.
Have you received citations from your local law enforcement, your HOA or are your neighbors complaining that your dog is a never ending barker? This could be due to separation anxiety, or it can be that your dog thinks every noise and falling leaf is something to bark about and just needs to better training.
Common Symptoms of Separation Anxiety
The following is a list of symptoms that may indicate that your dog has separation anxiety:
Barking. Do your neighbors complain about your dog’s constant barking? A dog who has separation anxiety might bark or howl when left alone or when he’s separated from his guardian. This kind of barking or howling is an annoyance and it doesn’t seem to be triggered by anything except being left alone.
Panting and drooling. Excessive panting and/or drooling is a psychological sign that your dog is extremely stressed out and anxious.
Pacing or shaking. Have you ever seen a lion pacing back and forth back and forth in his small enclosure at the zoo? Some dogs will walk or trot along a specific path in a fixed pattern when left alone or separated from their guardians much like those crazed lions in the zoo. Some pacing dogs move around in circular patterns, while others walk back and forth in straight lines. If a dog’s pacing behavior is caused by separation anxiety, it usually doesn’t occur when his guardian is present.
Destruction of crates, bedding, or other household items. I once had a Lab puppy that clawed and chewed her way through the thick plastic base of her crate, through my carpet and pad, all the way down to the slab floor in my brand new house. Are you constantly replacing bedding or buying new crates?
Self-destructive behaviors. These might include biting, chewing, or clawing at themselves.
Excessive licking. Licking can be a sign that your dog is stressed. You may even notice that your dog’s paws are chapped or raw and his fur is matted — this is a sign of excessive licking.
Soiling the house. Pooping and/or peeing when your dog is fully housetrained can be a sign of anxiety. Some dogs will urinate or defecate when they’re left alone or are separated from their owners. If a dog urinates or defecates in the presence of his owner, his “accident” probably isn’t caused by separation anxiety.
What Causes Separation Anxiety?
We don’t know. How one dog handles certain experiences vs. another is the same as how one human deals with an unpleasant experience or event vs. another human. We all handle and feel things differently.
However, what has been learned through research is that sadly, more dogs who have been dropped off at a shelter have separation anxiety issues compared to dogs that were raised from puppyhood by the same family, it is believed that the trauma of losing an important person or group of people in that dog’s life can lead to his separation anxiety. Here is a list of situations that have been linked to developing separation anxiety in dogs.
- Being left with a shelter or new family
- Schedule change
- Someone moves out or moves in
Here Are 6 Tips to Avoid Dog Separation Anxiety:
- Let Him Sleep Alone
- Let Him Spend Time Outside
- Leave Him Home
- Let Him Have Friends
- Take Him to Training
- Let Him Walk
Let him be a dog and learn how to function without you; it is crucial to his well-being.
If Your Dog is Hurting Himself…
If your dog is hurting himself it is time to get help from your vet and read this to understand more. Your vet can prescribe medication that can make your dog more comfortable when you leave and while you work on behavior modification. Imagine having PTSD from war and having visions and panic attacks, insomnia; you would probably want medication to help as you worked with a doctor, psychiatrist, or other homeopathic doctor while you worked on your own behavior changes and modifications; right?
A dog that truly suffers from separation anxiety will benefit from medication AND behavior modification just like people. And, both are critical. Only medication will create the “addict” and will not address the behavior or the problem. Avoiding medication, sometimes, like the above example is sometimes horrifying and traumatizing and also will not work. Medication and behavior modification take time but go hand in hand.
And, until you can conquer the problem, I would look into finding a good doggy daycare that will keep your dog from hurting himself, screaming, barking all day or chewing and allow you time to work on problems in a fashion that is conducive to overcoming the problem and not making it worse.
For more on that click here https://thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/doggy-daycares-save-lives/
Separation anxiety can be very stressful, and can sometimes feel hopeless. But it doesn’t have to feel that way! Just remember, teaching your dog to love being in its crate, may be exactly what you need. The truth is that we love our dogs, and we want to baby them when they are anxious, and spend every waking moment snuggling them because it lessens our own anxiety, but it isn’t good for them!
Your dog needs to learn to function on his own, to be confident and independent. You wouldn’t want to create a totally dependent child, understand that it is just as unhealthy to create a needy and dependent dog! You can love him and snuggle him, just make sure there are healthy boundaries in place.
Car Trips with Dogs that Experience Separation Anxiety
Many dogs that may damage, or even destroy the home when left alone will still be able to stay in a car or van without becoming anxious dogs or destructive. This may be because your dog has learned to relax and enjoy the car rides without receiving constant physical attention and contact. When you do leave, the departure may be quite short.
You may then occasionally leave the dog in the car during longer absences. This provides a degree of proof that your dog can learn to relax if he is used to being ignored, has a location where he feels settled, and gets used to departures gradually. This is similar to the way in which your dog should be trained to relax in your home and accept gradually longer departures.
It’s a fantastic sign if your dog is able to handle car trips or being left in the car for periods of time. It’s a sign of potential growth and trainability; your dog can be trained out of having separation anxiety.
What NOT to Do:
Do not scold or punish your dog. Anxious behaviors are not the result of disobedience or spite. They are distress responses! Your dog displays anxious behaviors when left alone because he’s upset and trying to cope with a great deal of stress. If you punish him, he may become even more upset and the problem could get much worse.
You also must be very careful to keep from overcompensating for your dog’s anxiety. It could be easy to immediately try to soothe the stress and help with your dog’s needs. However, you may be making matters worse if you are your dog’s personal sycophant or henchman.
Remember who the owner is in this relationship. While nobody likes to listen to a whining dog, or to come home to find their belongings destroyed, it also can be harmful to your dog’s impulsive needs to pet it every time it nudges you, or to give in to every whim.
It’s just like with parenting. Every time your child whines, you don’t give it candy. Every time your dog whines, you don’t give it a treat. Asserting dominance and giving loving help on your terms can help to adjust your dog to being less needy, and potentially adjusting to situations where it will be home alone without you to wait on it.
There are also plenty of other basic pitfalls to avoid with a dog that experiences separation anxiety. Don’t give your dog the run of the house when you’re not present. It’s generally wiser to keep your dog in a kennel while you aren’t at home. However, there are exceptions if the circumstances to call for it.
Don’t keep your dog sedentary. A healthy dog is a happy dog, and if your dog is a couch potato, it could be at a much greater risk for experiencing separation anxiety. A major key is to make sure that it is getting the necessary amount of exercise and eating healthily. Feeding your dog too many treats could play a factor in both obesity and hormone imbalances, which could contribute to separation anxiety in dogs and other irrational behaviors.
Take your puppy outside for exercise regularly, as exercise has been proven to help reduce stress. Play games to keep it mentally stimulated and healthy. Take it for regular walks and make sure to keep training fun! If training is boring, it can leave more room for stress in your dog’s life. Remember not to leave your dog for long periods of time while it is dealing with separation anxiety symptoms.
The Bottom Line:
Your dog is your best friend; it’s an extension of the family. Your puppy may be experiencing separation anxiety, or other self-destructive behaviors, but your relationship doesn’t have to be harmed as a result of this.
Remember that each case is different and your canine has specific needs. If you’d like help determining a plan for your pup’s condition, contact a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist. Make your dog your first priority, and seek the help he or she may need in order to handle this challenging roadblock.