The dog crate is often misunderstood. Some pet parents connect crates to punishment. But, in fact, a good crate, when introduced properly with training, can be a helpful tool in aiding your pet suffering from separation anxiety. Dogs prefer the comfort of a cave-like space where they can retreat and find reprieve from stressful situations.
Separation anxiety is common among canines, with an estimated 20 to 40 percent of dogs in North America diagnosed with it at some point in their lives. When pets with separation anxiety are crated without proper training, it can be dangerous. Stressed-out pups may attempt to break out by bending or biting the bars, resulting in self-harm.
Pet parents looking to help their dogs get used to time in the crate have a number of options when choosing a dog crate for separation anxiety. In addition to making the crate a comfortable and inviting place, it’s important to have a durable and secure crate for your dog to relax and enjoy his time alone.
Keep reading to learn about the different types of crates, and things to look for, when shopping for the best dog crate for separation anxiety.
What Is Dog Separation Anxiety?
Dogs love spending time with us and some of them become quite attached to their human family members. When left home alone, some get dogs anxious and experience separation anxiety.
They express distress by way of vocalization (howling, excessing barking), panting, pacing, self-harm, soiling indoors, and destruction of objects and furniture.
Why Dogs With Separation Anxiety Need Crates
When you first bring a dog home, a crate acts like a safe and comfortable place for your pet to relax and unwind, especially if he has been rescued from a shelter where he’s exposed to noise and constant stimulation.
“Dogs are denning animals by nature and denning gives them the security they would be looking for in their natural environment,” says Mike Gould, CEO and Founder of Hounds Town USA, a dog daycare, spa, and boarding facility with locations around the country. Gould, who has 40 years of experience training dogs, believes that a crate is essential in helping dogs cope with anxiety.
“If you don’t have a crate, you may notice your dog, when spooked or anxious, will tend to look for a space in the corner of the room, under the table, or even in the bathtub,” he says. “Having a predetermined place for them to escape when they are experiencing anxiety taps into their natural instincts of denning for comfort.”
Pet parents may hesitate to introduce the crate right away out of fear of it being considered a punishment but, Gould says it’s not different than how humans retreat to their bedrooms for comfort and solace. “Closing the door and crawling under the covers offers us the same comfort and sense of safety that a crate offers your dog,” he explains.
“If your dog whines and cries while in their crate, it’s more than likely a reaction to your disappearing than actually being in the crate itself,” he adds.
Crate Training Dogs With Separation Anxiety
Simply because a crate is set up for your new pet doesn’t mean he will happily venture inside without your assistance—especially if your dog suffers from separation anxiety. If he’s not properly introduced to the crate, he could harm himself, chew at bars and wires, or destroy it all together (if he’s strong enough) in an attempt to escape.
Use these following tips to help crate train your dog with separation anxiety:
Create Positive Associations with the Crate
Lauren Jay, trainer and owner of Paw & Order: Canine Intent, emphasizes the importance of training your dog to love his crate. A crate must not be used only in times of need (like when you are away).
Instead, it should be a safe haven that your four-legged friend enjoys. Jay recommends creating an inviting atmosphere for your furry friend by “feeding meals and frozen stuffed Kongs in the crate.”
Use the Crate While You’re Home
Jay suggests getting your dog used to the crate “while you’re home, so that the crate doesn’t only mean that you are leaving.” Once the dog is used to going into the crate randomly and intermittently throughout the day for varying periods of time, and is happy doing so, you can begin getting your dog used to being put in the crate when you leave.
Keep Initial Departures Short
If you know your dog suffers from separation anxiety, leaving him in a crate for extended periods of time without getting him used to your absence isn’t recommended. Instead, start by leaving for just a few minutes and gradually working up to longer periods of time away.
The trick is to come back to your dog before he starts to display panic and anxiety. Try leaving your dog in the crate and disappear out of the room for a few minutes. Then return, let your dog out of the crate, offer up treats and play for a few minutes to show your dog that good things happen when you return.
Continue working on this, slowly extending the time of your absences. If your dog still shows signs of anxiety even after this type of training, you may want to enlist the help of a behaviorist or dog trainer.
Leave Your Dog With Some Mental Stimulation
When starting to use a crate in your absence, Jay recommends leaving a frozen stuffed treat toy, giving the pooch something to do that is both mentally stimulating and tiring. She explains that this helps promote relaxation and offers dogs something to do other than stressing about when you will return.
“If the crate training is done right, you will have a dog that wants you to lock them in their crate, so that they can get their yummy crate toy,” says Jay.
Anti-Anxiety Dog Crates: What to Look For
A crate specifically designed for dog separation anxiety isn’t flimsy or see-through. The most generic crate sold for common use is constructed from a wire mesh that can be easily bent or chewed through when a dog is stressed. These wire or mesh crates also don’t provide dogs with a sense of security.
“A regular wire crate can be compared to sleeping in your bedroom with the windows open and the lights on,” says Gould. “A good quality plastic crate of the right size creates a strong sense of security while providing enough air movement.”
Crates specifically designed for separation anxiety come in different styles, and it’s important to consider the right fit before shopping. “In selecting a crate, take serious consideration of your dog’s size, crate size, and anxiety level of your dog,” suggests Penny Shelly, a team member at Muttropolis, a boutique pet retailer with a flagship store in Solana Beach, California.
For a highly anxious and determined dog, Shelly recommends a crate made of steel, that’s strong enough to withstand even determined chewers. Crates made with heavy fabric are portable and ideal for traveling, but are often insufficient for dogs with separation.
Shelly also suggests getting a crate cover to provide a dark, cave-like space. Keep in mind that the crate covers would be rendered useless if your dog is capable of pulling the edges through the crate walls.
Additionally, bigger is not always better. Shelly states that the crate “should be just large enough for standing up and circling around.” More importantly, the crate should have a soft padding to facilitate comfort.
Types of Crates for Dogs With Separation Anxiety
Pet parents have a few options of crates designed for separation anxiety. According to Shelly, crates range from ones that play music to those crafted from fine quality wood. But finding the right crate for your dog with separation anxiety is only part of helping your anxious pup.
“The most important aspect of using any crate to help an anxious pet is the training that goes along with it,” says Shelly. “It is highly worth the time and patience a pet parent must put in to enable their pup to benefit the most from his personal safe haven.”
Below are a few common types of dog crates for separation anxiety:
Cave-Like Crates: These crates, with more darkness and seclusion, provide a sanctuary for your dog to enjoy his alone time. They come in all types of materials, from wood to durable fabric. These crates may provide comfort for dogs with low levels of anxiety, but may not be durable enough for dogs who suffer from severe separation anxiety and resort to chewing or escape behavior.
Steel Crates: A heavy-duty crate for dog separation anxiety, with reinforced steel tubes, is vital for dogs who turn to chewing or attempting to escape when under stress. These crates typically do not have any components that can be chewed.
Kennel Crates: These crates are solid, with window vents and a steel door, and come in a few materials. The plastic crate is good for a small dog with separation anxiety. Kennel crates, like these from GUNNER, also come in heavy duty materials that can resist even the strongest and most adept escape artists. With a covered enclosure, extra-strong doors, and window vents, this type of crate also doubles as a pet carrier.
Does Your Dog Need a Special Crate?
Helping a dog with separation anxiety takes time and patience while he receives the necessary training and/or medication to treat the issue. In the meantime, provide your dog with the right crate to help him along the road to recovery.
If your canine has already chewed through a wire crate, or exhibited self-harming behaviors when you aren’t home, it’s time to invest in a durable, safe crate specifically created for separation anxiety.
According to Shelly, below are signs to look for when considering a special crate for your pooch:
- Destructive chewing
- Excessive pacing due to nervous energy
- Panicking before you leave
- Constantly vocalizing
- Going to the bathroom indoors
With the right crate, supplemented with training and even a calming bed, your tail-wagger will be well on his way to becoming a calmer and happier companion.