Crate Training & Separation Anxiety





Jack sleeping in his crate with door open

Here I have taken the time to write up some tips and tricks to make the crate a comfortable and safe place for your canine companion. Paired with these tips are helpful tools to prevent separation anxiety, and how to help dogs who have separation anxiety start breaking the cycle. While this does explain crate training, its benefits and so forth, this is not a guide to potty training although it does have a lot of pointers when using a crate for house breaking. Please keep in mind that crate training is the best option to the majority of separation anxiety cases, but may not work for more extreme cases and should be addressed by a dog trainer and/or behaviorist. Especially if the dog in question is exhibiting behavior that causes them to hurt themselves. Please also keep in mind that while Veterinarians can prescribe medicate to help, this is not a quick fix and should almost always be paired with training, with very few exceptions. Without the balance of medication and training the majority of anxiety cases are only being controlled but not actually fixed, and once medication is taken away the problem is extremely likely to return.

❗Crate Training: Size & Bedding❗

Crate training should not be a negative thing, a crate should be a dog’s safe place similar to a den. The size of a crate, at least during the initial stages and especially during house training should be big enough for a dog to stand, turn around and lay down without much excess of room.This simulates a cozy area for them to relax, without giving the dog enough area to go to the bathroom and then move to the other side of the crate to get away from it. A crate that is too large may encourage this behavior, which makes housebreaking and crate training very stressful while giving the dog mixed signals. Most dogs do not want to go potty where they sleep, so making sure they do not have enough room in the crate to have a potty area and a sleeping area is essential to crate training. In the initial stages, especially for house training, do not use bedding in the crate.I know this is something we all want to do, to make sure our pups are comfortable in their rooms, but having anything absorbent in the crate it can help give the dog the ability to potty on the crate and still be able to get away from it. Dogs naturally do not like to potty where they sleep, so we want to make sure that they understand that going potty in the crate=going potty in their sleeping area.

❗Crate: Timing❗

Keep in mind that a crate is used to help aid in house training as well as to keep your dog safe when you cannot directly supervise your dog/puppy. This also helps keep your dog from having accidents when you cannot directly supervise your dog/puppy to keep him from developing bad habits.The average rule of thumb is that a puppy can hold its bladder an hour for every month the puppy is old. So an 8 week old puppy can hold his bladder for 2 hours. It is important not to expect a puppy to be able to “hold it” longer than the formula allows.It is important to not ONLY use the crate when you are leaving the house. Crating while you are home helps build a dogs comfort in the crate as well as helps the dog build confidence in itself when you are around.

❗Crate: Training❗

The fastest way to crate train is to feed your dogs meals in the crate, giving treats whenever your dog goes into the crate, sleeping in the crate at night and to have scheduled “crate times” at least once a day while you are home and awake.The crate is a positive thing, and a safety tool, it is important to remember this.While crates are a positive thing, the first week or two can be very trying when you start training especially for a puppy or a dog with separation anxiety.Taking these steps will make the crate a very positive place where your dog feels secure in it.

Pro tips:

β€’ Feed each meal in the crate with the door shut. Give the dog about 20 minutes to eat.β€’ Only let the dog out of the crate when he is calm.

β€’ Never let the dog out of the crate when he is barking, whining, or excited. Ignore these behaviors. Do not talk to, or try to comfort this will only reinforce the behavior.

β€’ Give a treat anytime he goes into the crate outside of meal time.

β€’ Give new treats, chews and toys in the crate. This can make the crate an extra special place.

β€’ Allow free access to the crate for him, this will become a safe space for him.

β€’ Crate for random amounts of time-or for a designated time- during the day when you are home.

β€’ Crate for sleep.

❗Separation Anxiety: Prevention❗

We all want to be with our dogs as much as possible, but sometimes our love and devotion can cause a dog to develop separation anxiety when we leave. Here are some tips on how to help prevent your dog from developing separation anxiety:

β€’ Crate train, this give your dog a safe, positive, place to relax when you’re away and can make boarding, travel or even vet trips, where he may be crated a much less stressful time for him.

β€’ Utilize the crate, or controlled time away from you, while you are home to make sure your dog builds his own confidence does not rely on you solely to feel secure.

β€’ DO NOT make “good byes” a sad/emotional thing. One of the biggest mistakes we make with our dogs is giving big dramatic goodbyes, especially when leaving them for boarding, daycare, grooming or vets visits. We are acting anxious, upset and like this is a horrible thing which in turn fuels our dogs’ anxiety. They look to us to see if something is okay or not, so when we act like leaving is a horrible thing, they begin to see if as a horrible thing.

β€’ DO make “good byes” short, and calm. Saying goodbye as if it is not a big deal gives our dogs the sense that everything is okay and this is just part of the daily routine.

β€’ Make sure your greetings are calm when you first get home. Either come in and greet them calmly, or ignore them until they are calm and then greet them. You can always get enthusiastic and excited, or play with them after a calm greeting. Keeping home comings or greetings after an absence keeps your dogs in a calmer state of mind and allows them to stay calmer. They are still happy and excited to see you, but are leas likely to get overwhelmed and anxious waiting for your return.

❗Separation Anxiety: Steps Against❗

It is very important to recognize separation anxiety as early on as possible, left unresolved separation anxiety can escalate to destructive, dangerous, potentially life threatening behavior exhibited by the dog. As with most behaviors in dog training it is better to prevent rather than correct, but if you are beginning to see signs of separation anxiety here are a few things you can do to help your dog feel more secure.

β€’ Crate train using the steps above. It is extremely important if your dog is already exhibiting signs of separation anxiety that you play crate games as well as crate for small periods of time (vary the times for best results) while you are home. It is important during these times not to interact with your dog unless to correct behavior such as pawing at the crate, barking, etc.

β€’ Play crate games. There are a ton of varying crate games out there, find one or several that work well for your dog.

β€’ Participate in confidence building such as obedience training, trick training, agility or even the place command.

β€’ Teach and reinforce the place command. The place command can help teach your dog to relax in the same room as you, without being on top of you or right next to you.

β€’ Do not allow your dog to demand attention from you, ie climbing into your lap, leaning against you etc. These are self rewarding behaviors that encourage their need of you to feel safe and comfortable, when they need to feel safe and comfortable when when you are not there. Only allow this behavior when invited, but not on their terms.

β€’ Do not reward attention seeking behavior like pawing at you, barking/whining at you etc for attention. You can use the place command if your dog exhibits these behaviors to reinforce a calm mindset in your dog.

β€’ Follow the greeting and “goodbye” protocols in the “prevention” section. This is extremely important.

β€’ Break up your leaving routine. This may seem a bit odd but check your routine as you leave, do you always put your shoes on, grab your phone/wallet/purse, grab your keys then say goodbye to your dogs before leaving? Mix it up. Do things in a different order, and do your routine without leaving the house, or with only leaving the house to walk out then back in. This breaks up the routine and leaves your dog much less anxious when you do go to leave. Pair this with crate time/crate games for best results.

❗Final Thoughts❗

It is important to take things step by step and work slow, but don’t give up. Crate training can be difficult, and Separation Anxiety is one of the most difficult behaviors to fix once its gotten bad but it is not impossible. If you find yourself feeling stressed, and overwhelmed, please seek the help of your local behaviorist/dog trainer before the behaviors get worse. The earlier you start working on separation anxiety the better, and faster, the results. It is very important, especially if you are a stay at home pet parent, to encourage and enforce healthy alone time for your dogs. Never being away from you is one of the main factors in separation anxiety as the dogs do not always learn to be comfortable by themselves, this is why crating exercises even when you are home is important. It is also very important to note that even if you have other dogs, it is always very important to have your dogs be separated from each other in the same/similar exercises as dogs can develop separation anxiety from each other as well.

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