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  • Writer's pictureGabrielle Plascak

The Crate Conundrum: How Crating Can Worsen Your Dog's Separation Anxiety

For many dog owners, the decision to crate their furry friends during absences stems from a desire to keep them (and their homes) safe and secure. However, what may seem like a solution to prevent destructive behavior or accidents can sometimes exacerbate a more profound issue: separation anxiety. While crates have their time and place in training, understanding their potential impact on a dog's mental well-being is crucial. Let's delve into why confining your canine companion might actually make their separation anxiety worse.

Understanding Separation Anxiety: Separation anxiety in dogs is a panic disorder characterized by intense fear or discomfort when separated from their owners, or being without human companion in general. Symptoms can start mildly with pacing, panting and inability to relax but can also range from incessant barking and destructive chewing to self-harm and extreme agitation. It's important to recognize that separation anxiety isn't a form of disobedience; rather, it's a genuine expression of distress and panic.

The Role of Crating: Crates are often promoted as a tool for house training and providing a den-like space for dogs to retreat to. However, in most cases, crates can amplify feelings of isolation and confinement, exacerbating existing separation anxiety or even triggering it in susceptible dogs.

  1. Heightened Stress Levels: Confining a dog to a crate can elevate stress levels, particularly if the dog associates the crate with being left alone. Instead of feeling safe and secure, the crate becomes a source of anxiety, as it symbolizes separation from their beloved owner.

  2. Restricted Movement and Expression: Dogs are social animals that thrive on interaction and exploration. Crating restricts their ability to move freely, explore their surroundings, and engage in natural behaviors like stretching, playing, or seeking comfort from familiar scents and objects. Oftentimes being put in a crate prevents the dog from being able to perform coping skills that they would with more space.

  3. Prolonged Isolation: Leaving a dog crated for extended periods can lead to feelings of prolonged isolation, exacerbating their sense of abandonment and insecurity. Dogs are highly attuned to their owners' routines and may become distressed when separated for longer than they're accustomed to.

Alternative Approaches: Fortunately, there are alternative approaches to managing separation anxiety that prioritize your dog's mental well-being:

  1. Gradual Desensitization: Gradually acclimate your dog to being alone by leaving them for short periods and gradually increasing the duration over time. If your dog's behavior that is landing them in the crate is due to separation anxiety (barking loudly/destruction/accidents) then resolving the separation anxiety will resolve those behaviors therefore removing the need for crate use. In my program we are very careful about not putting our dogs over threshold therefore you will not be experiencing any of the behaviors that are exhibited once they are over threshold.

  2. Enrichment and Exercise: Provide plenty of mental and physical stimulation through interactive toys, puzzle feeders, and regular exercise. Make sure your dogs bucket is filled!

  1. This suggestion is not for when they are left alone but to make sure that their day to day is filled with these outlets before they need to be left. Don't wait until you are trying to leave to give them food toys and fun stuff. If they are even capable of setting aside the panic it's likely due to distraction and nothing more. This usually just delays the onset of panic rather than provides a solution and you also risk poisoning the enrichment/food items by associating them with alone time.

  2. Safe Spaces: Instead of a crate, create a designated safe space for your dog using a baby gate or a comfortable area with their familiar items. This allows them to move freely while still feeling secure in their environment. Think about how to keep your dog out of trouble areas while giving them the maximum space and providing outlets of enclosure that they can choose to go to if it feels right. Bedrooms/bathrooms/laundry rooms are options that may be better than crates but still add a lot of confusion and confinement. Try puppy proofing the main space of your home and closing doors, gating off halls, and possibly gating off your main door if scratching the door is an issue.

  3. Seek Professional Guidance: If your dog's separation anxiety is severe or persistent, seek guidance from a certified dog trainer or animal behaviorist. They can provide personalized strategies and support to address your dog's specific needs.

Disclaimer: These suggestions are based on the assumption that your dog is an average adult dog, that the destruction and other problematic behaviors are due to separation anxiety and not other behavioral struggles or puppy/adolescent behaviors. Confinement and crates might be unavoidable if you are working with a puppy of young ages, an adolescent or adult who is destructive due to function/fun rather than stress of alone time, and multi animal households where free in the home is not an option for other safety reasons. While it is not ideal and the amount of work to desensitize confinement is significant it can be done!

Conclusion: While crates can serve as valuable training tools when used appropriately, they may not be the best solution for dogs struggling with separation anxiety. By understanding the impact of confinement on your dog's mental well-being and exploring alternative approaches to manage their anxiety, you can help your furry companion feel more secure and content in your absence. Remember, patience, consistency, and empathy are key when addressing separation anxiety, ultimately strengthening the bond between you and your beloved pet.

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