How to Crate Train a Dog With Separation Anxiety? Best Tips

Last Updated on July, 2024

Crate Training a Dog With Separation Anxiety. Is it Effective?

A dog struggling with separation anxiety is not only stressful to the dog owner, but it is also stressful for the dog to go through many triggers and rush in emotions because it fears being left alone. 

One of the best solutions to treat dog separation anxiety is crate training. As humans go through counseling, crate training puts dogs through an acclimatization process to help them understand, control their emotions, and respond positively to changes.

Successfully crate training your dog suffering from separation anxiety requires you to be more aware of how best to approach it. In this article, you will find tips, precautions, and steps to exercise crate training effectively.

Quick Summary

The key to crate training a dog with separation anxiety is to go slowly and make the crate a positive and inviting space for the dog. Gradual desensitization, using commands, and keeping the dog busy can also help in this process. Consulting a veterinarian and considering other options like counter conditioning and medication may also be necessary.

Crate training must be done carefully to ensure the correct size crate is used and to ensure that the dog does not associate it with punishment, and it is recommended to seek assistance from a veterinary or a behavioral specialist for the best chance of success.

Desensitization, commands, and positive reinforcement are important when crate training a dog with separation anxiety, and bringing in outside help may be beneficial.

Dog Separation Anxiety

a dog with separation anxiety standing bored

Although there is no conclusive evidence pointing to why dogs develop separation anxiety, the most noticed circumstance is when a dog loses someone important from its life (especially in rescue dogs). (1)

Other situations associated with separation anxiety include a change of guardian, owner, or family and a change in routine or home environment. 

When a dog exhibits extreme stress, destructive behavior, urinates and defecates indoors despite house training, barks, howling, chewing, digging, escaping, pacing, trembling, etc, it is indicative of separation anxiety.

Will Crate Training Help a Dog’s Anxiety?

Dogs are social animals who thrive on social interaction. Be it with humans or other dogs, dogs are less likely to feel lonely if someone is around. 

Since not all households can ensure constant interaction due to busy lives, a dog should slowly be taught to stay alone at home, at least for short periods when no one is home. 

Preparing them for separation can help them better adjust and expect it without going through anxious and depressive feelings, thinking they will be left alone.

Gradually training on short and frequent intervals instead of long separations will help the transition smoothly. Baby steps!

And that’s where crate training comes into play.

In my opinion, all dogs should be crate-trained. Not just to restrict a dog’s movement but also to safeguard a dog mentally and physically. Crate training will prove invaluable as a solution to all the above signs of separation anxiety in dogs. 

The main reason to crate train a dog should be to give it its own safe and comfortable space, just like a room with a comfortable bed for us.

Crate training will restrict a dog’s pacing when anxious to avoid it getting worked up further and help with potty training and other anxious behaviors that can otherwise harm a dog when outside a crate.

Tips, Precautions, and Steps to Follow When Crate Training a Dog With Separation Anxiety

Consult Your Veterinarian

a veterinarian with a dog

Some dog breeds are naturally more prone to separation anxiety. Rescue dogs who have spent a lot of alone time at a shelter and dogs who have been abused or neglected by previous owners are highly likely to fall into separation anxiety.

Sometimes, it could even be a medical condition causing a dog to be more anxious and worked up. 

Consulting a vet and evaluating your dog’s history before diving into crate training will help you understand the root cause and determine the best solution. (2)

Ensuring your dog is healthy and has no underlying problems is a good point to start.

Based on the severity of the case, your vet may even prescribe medication, recommend training programs, or other help from professionals to help you deal with the situation. 

Ensure the Pet Does Not Associate the Crate As a Punishment

a sad labrador puppy inside a crate

Getting back to a house with destroyed pillows, chewed-off slippers, stained carpets, and broken items can be frustrating and challenging.

But be patient and exercise empathy because your dog’s behavior results from missing your presence and fear of you not returning.

Suppose you choose to lash out or punish your dog. In that case, it can worsen the separation anxiety because your dog may not be able to associate the punishment with its unacceptable behavior that was long finished.

Do not use the crate as a punishment after your dog does something wrong; otherwise, the crate will become a place of negativity.

Exercise and Mental Stimulation

a human walking in the garden with a dog

Going on walks, getting your dog physically active with exercises, and soaking up fresh air and sunlight are good for mentally stimulating your dog. (3)

Getting your dog to exercise as much energy through vigorous activities like playing fetch, climbing stairs, or swimming will exhaust your dog and help it release its energy positively instead of leaving it to bark and howl. 

Introduce the Crate

You have to give a gradual introduction to the crate instead of stuffing your dog inside and expecting it to be okay and accept the crate.

You have to take it through a step-by-step process and bring your dog to the point where it is willing to use the crate as a space to retreat. Below are a few topics that explore the introduction of the crate.

Choose a Crate Carefully

Four different types of dog crates

First and foremost, picking the right model, type, and size is key to getting started. A dog with separation anxiety means it will often be strung out.

A hard-sided crate, preferably made of stainless steel, hard plastic, or heavy-duty wire, is the best option to handle a dog with such energy because it may otherwise chew through soft-sided or furniture crates.

Size is crucial, especially in this circumstance, because you don’t want your dog feeling stuffed and suffocated in a small space.

Ideally, the right-size crate will be one where your dog can stand, sit, and turn around comfortably without hitting the roof or the sides of the crate.

Ensure the crate has a proper ventilation design and lock system for your dog’s security. 

Create a Positive and Inviting Crate Environment

A small dog is sitting in a small dog crate in a living room

After you choose the right crate for your dog, you have to pick the best location in the house to place it. The kitchen and living areas have the most noise and movement in any household.

You have to go with a less busy area, preferably a corner, to avoid unnecessary noise and movement that can easily work up your dog and trigger more anxious behavior.

That said, some dogs prefer noise and company. So, owning a crate with casters will be favorable to move it as you see fit.

When your dog is napping, resting, or sleeping at night, you can place the crate in a less busy area for minimal disturbance; otherwise, the crate can be left in the living area where it can spend time with you.

In addition to the location, you must transform the crate into an inviting space for your dog. You have to attract your dog to the crate by setting it with a comfortable pillow, blanket, and a few of its toys.

Leave the Dog in the Crate for Brief Periods

A puppy is locked inside a dog crate

Now, it’s time to lure your dog into the crate.

You can start by opening the crate door and subtly get your dog to explore it. If you create a deal about it and show your dog that the crate is a positive space, it will feel encouraged to try it out.

You can try praises and rewards like treats and cuddles when your dog is looking at the crate. 

After rewarding for looking at the crate, as the next step, you can reward your dog for approaching the crate.

Using the shaping technique, you can break down a particular goal into smaller tasks to support a smooth and natural transition to ensure lasting results. (4)

Keep in mind not to pressure or force it into the crate. It has to naturally want to go in there. Due to their unfortunate past, anxious dogs with prior crate exposure will refuse or take longer to approach the crate.

During such a circumstance, you can try simple tactics like scattering its favorite toys and treats leading into the crate or sitting beside the crate and talking to your dog.

Gradually Increase the Crate Time

a dog inside a comfy crate

After successfully luring your dog into the crate, you must ensure it stays in.

Rather than closing the door right behind it, you can leave it open, sit beside the crate, give more treats, and spend some time with it. Slowly ease in and close the door without making it obvious with loud noises and movements. 

Leave the door closed for a few seconds. Then, open the door and reward your dog with treats. Do the same again, but leave your dog inside for a little longer. Gradually increase the time you keep the door shut. 

Eventually, Leave the Dog Alone in the Crate

While the door is shut, you can potter in and out of the room and carry on with your daily tasks like laundry folding, cleaning up, and other tasks without paying attention to your dog.

Do not leave its sight for long the first time you do it. Just like increasing crate time, gradually increase the time you leave your dog’s sight to avoid provoking a panic attack. 

Making it look natural will help your dog stay comfortable and confident that you will return. You can reward your dog for staying calm when you reappear in its sight.

Keep the Dog Busy

A golden retriever puppy chewing on a colorful toy in a house

Dogs easily get bored. They need entertainment or a task to keep them occupied and busy. If they are left without a task, they will find something to do to keep them busy, like destroying a carpet, chewing on wires, or trying to escape. (5)

Puzzles, chewables, or KONG toys filled with treats or frozen peanut butter can keep your dog busy for quite some time while providing mental and physical stimulation. To avoid boredom, you switch toys and keep it exciting.

Use Commands to Convey Your Departure and Arrival

The anxious behavior is mainly because your dog fears you won’t return when you leave.

So, making it understand and expect your departure and arrival can help it control its emotions. You can establish commands such as “I’ll be back soon,” “I’m back,” or “I’m home,” which will help it stay calm and wait for you. (6)

Don’t Hyper the Dog Around Your Departure and Arrivals

When you use these commands, don’t create a big deal around it. You have to make it look as normal as possible so that your dog can learn to expect and accept your departure and arrival as often as possible.

Also, don’t hype your dog with hugs and cuddles when you come back because it will make it look like you weren’t expecting to return at all.

Use Gradual Desensitization

a golden colour healthy dog inside a crate

Gradual desensitization is where you determine your dog’s separation threshold (the time it can be left alone before going crazy) and then work to extend that time. (7)

This method requires time and patience but is known to be an effective cure for dogs with separation anxiety. 

Also, vary your training, and don’t make your departure cues obvious so that your dog does not anticipate the next step.

Use the Crate Even When You Are Not Leaving the House

Other than using the crate to restrict your dog when you are not at home, you can use the crate for nap times and rest times to help your dog familiarize it with a positive experience, so eventually, it will go to the crate even without your instructions.

Patience and Practice

As pet parents, you must practice patience and consistency until your dog learns. Although there is a popular notion that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, patience, and practice is the trick, especially with a senior dog. (8)

As long as you remain patient and make your dog feel secure during this lengthy process, young and older dogs will learn to overcome their fears.

Consider Getting Outside Help

a dogo argentino groomed and taken care by a human

Sometimes, you have no choice but to leave your dog alone. You can pay for a dog sitter/ walker or use doggy daycare to take care of your dog. This way, your dog won’t feel abandoned and will get the much-needed attention it seeks.

Consider Other Ways to Tackle the Dog’s Separation Anxiety

Although crate training is a great solution, you can explore other options like counter conditioning, medications, and anxiety-relieving supplements for a dog with separation anxiety. 

Trying other options in combination with the crate can make the process more effective. And that’s why consulting your vet or a behavioral specialist can make a big difference.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, crate training is good for anxious dogs as it creates a safe and secure environment, which helps to reduce stress and anxiety.

It typically takes a few weeks to a few months to crate train an anxious dog, depending on the dog’s prior training history, age, personality, and the owner’s patience.

Final Thoughts

Unlike a regular dog, crate training a dog with separation anxiety will require additional commitment from your side to make it effective and successful.

If you approach the process with the right mindset and information on executing specific steps, you can help your dog overcome its fears and maybe even eventually enjoy alone time in the crate.

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Stefano Giachetti
Stefano Giachetti is always excited to share his knowledge and love of animals with you through our blog, IPetGuides. And he has always loved animals and has been blessed to have many pets throughout his life. Currently has a Pomeranian Dog Breed.

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