Having an anxious dog can make living with your dog a little more difficult. How difficult all depends on the severity of their anxiety and why they are anxious.
However, training your dog to settle in a crate may help them stay safer and calmer when you are away.
In this article, we will discuss the following:
- Do crates help a dog with anxiety?
- How big should a dog crate?
- How long can a dog be in a crate?
We’ll go through each subject in detail an explain the steps needed to teach your anxious dog to love their crate.
Do crates help a dog with anxiety?
In many cases, crates DO help dogs with anxiety. However, they have to be introduced properly, try not to involve any of their anxious triggers when crating.
For example, if your dog is anxious around strangers, put your dog in a crate when you have guests over. This gives your dog the safe space they need.
However, it’s critical that their crate is in a secluded location in this scenario. To crate your dog in the same room as your guests, will only force your dog into an uncomfortable situation.
Instead, crate your dog in a quiet, tucked away bedroom. This will give your furry friend the chance to enjoy a snack in a relaxed and comfortable space.
If your dog suffers with separation anxiety, it can be possible to teach them to be comfortable in a crate when you leave.
However, dogs with severe separation anxiety need more involved behavior modification, rather than just teaching them to enjoy a crate.
How big should a dog crate be?
The crate should be large enough that your dog can easily stand, turn around, and lie down comfortably.
Standing crouched for a long period of time isn’t fun, and is harmful for your dog.
How much room your dog needs to sleep depends on how they prefer to curl up. If your dog is only going to tuck themselves in a ball, they won’t need any extra floor space.
For dogs that enjoy stretching out on their sides, the crate should be large enough to allow for this comfortably. This especially important if you plan to be leaving your dog in a crate for extended periods of time.
All this being said, you don’t want the crate to be too big, though – especially when potty training. This is an opportunity for your dog to use a corner of the cage as a bathroom. The extra room enables your dog sleep well away from the mess. This wouldn’t happen if there’s a danger your dog would have to sit in it.
How long can a dog be in a crate?
So, you’ve now got a good idea of how big a crate should be for your dog. Your next question is probably, how long can a dog stay in a crate? Although it’s not recommended, the average adult dog can be in a crate for up to eight hours. Any longer than that, and you risk your dog developing problems due to boredom and lack of attention.
If your schedule doesn’t allow for a midday break, perhaps a family member or a friend could help. A walk and play with a friendly face will really help your dog get through the rest of the day. If you’re not able to give your dog a break, many dogs can wait 8 hours for a bathroom break. Just make sure they’re an adult and have been potty trained.
Young dogs can’t stay locked up for as long as an adult. The general rule with puppies is that you can crate them for their age in months plus one. For example, a 4 month old puppy could be crated for 5 hours in most cases.
Keep in mind that health problems and your own dog’s individual needs may change these general guidelines.
In many cases, a dog with anxiety needs more frequent bathroom breaks, too.
Most can dogs cope just fine being crated while their owner is at work or away for the day. Just spend quality time with your dog and give them the enrichment and exercise they need out of the crate.
How to Crate Train a Dog with Anxiety
Crate training a dog takes more time and patience than to train a young puppy.
It’s critical that you take things very slowly with your anxious dog, and don’t push them if they are worried.
Spend time making sure your anxious dog is comfortable with their dog crate from the beginning. You could risk tainting your dog’s feelings on the crate and making it a place your dog dislikes.
Signs of anxiety that mean you are going too quickly and making your dog uncomfortable include:
- Hesitancy to go to the crate
- Quick movements out of the crate
- Licking their lips (in the absence of a treat)
- Turning their head or body away from you or the crate
- Slow, stiff movements
If you see any of these signs of anxiety, or others, it’s time to stop. The feelings that your dog is experiencing during training will become associated with whatever you’re training them to do
Training your dog in an anxious state makes it likely they’ll be anxious when performing that behavior in the future.
Step One: Crates = Good Things!
The first step to crate training a dog is to teach them that wonderful things happen inside the crate. You’ll want your dog to be able to enter and exit the crate as they please. There are several ways to achieve this.
A common mistake is to close the door too quickly. This action instantly teaches the dog to feel worried about the crate.
Instead, try one of these 3 methods to teach your dog that the crate means good things happen. Do these methods without pressuring your anxious dog by closing the door to the dog crate.
- Feed your dog in the crate. You can accomplish this by putting their bowl in the crate, or just scattering their food across the plastic bottom.
Dogs often love to scavenge for their food and sniff it out. Scattering their kibble makes it even more of a fun game than a bowl.
Food scatters also help them get comfortable with every inch of the crate. They get to turn around, investigate the back and front of the crate, etc.
- Reward good choices. This game is best to play if you can put your dog crate near your bed or a comfy chair. It also works best with the metal crates, although you can use the smaller openings in a plastic crate, too.
Start by filling a small bowl with pieces of your dog’s kibble, or even some extra-special treats.
Sit next to your dog’s crate, and put on a TV show or grab a book. You’re going to hang out by the crate for a while!
Drop a treat through the top bars of your dog’s crate. Don’t pressure your dog to enter the crate – simply drop the treat and wait. This is why you have a book or movie!
Every time your dog approaches the crate, or enters the crate, drop more treats!
Your dog will soon learn that by choosing to enter the crate, they can make snacks rain from the sky.
The ability to choose to enter the crate is critical for anxious dogs. Think how more comfortable you are in a situation when you can choose to do something that might be scary. Choosing to visit the taxman is less scary than being summoned to see him.
- Offer a delicious snack. Many dogs enjoy toys filled with snacks. Kongs filled with peanut butter or a Toppl filled with wet dog food and then frozen are fantastic treats.
These can be great ways to give your dog a long-term reward while they are in the crate. However, don’t want to shut the crate door at this point.
To prevent your dog from taking their Kong or Toppl and leaving the crate, utilize a tie-down system.
You can loop a short cable around one of these toys, and then hook the cable to the crate. Now your dog can’t remove the toy from the back of the crate.
At this point, leave the door open and let your dog choose to go inside the crate.
Practice one or all of these options until your dog is readily running into their crate. You want your dog to choose to wait in their crate for longer periods, while not showing signs of anxiety.
Step Two: Shutting the Door
Now comes the moment where we start to shut the door to the crate. This can often be the hardest part for many dogs with anxiety.
If your dog is anxious about the door being shut, you need to sit on the floor with your dog. Calmly and patiently ask your dog to go in the crate.
Then, toss in a treat, move the door, and toss in another treat.
Keep doing this step, moving the door around without closing it, until your dog is comfortable again.
Next, you’re going to actually close the door – but don’t latch it yet.
Just close the door for a brief moment. Then toss in a treat, and then let your dog have the opportunity to leave the crate.
One sign that you’re moving too quickly is if your dog keeps running out of the crate when you are practicing this. A comfortable dog that knows treats appear in the crate will want to stay in the crate.
Finally, you’ll start latching the door. If your dog isn’t anxious about the door being closed, you’ll need to get to this step quickly.
Step Three: Build Duration
Now that your dog feels comfortable with the door shut, you’re on your way to have a happily-crated dog!
Our final step is to build the duration – or how long your dog can stay comfortable in their crate.
Set your dog up for success by practicing technique when tired. You can also toss a Kong or Toppl into the crate so they have something to chew on while resting.
Building duration inside the crate takes time and patience. Try crating your dog near you for a few minutes as you watch TV, or while doing chores. Eventually, you’ll be able to crate your dog long enough while you leave the home entirely.
Contrary to popular opinion, it isn’t best to let your dog cry it out. This is especially important if you have an anxious dog.
If your dog panics, take it as a sign that you went too fast. Go back to step one until your dog is comfortable again.
Follow these steps with patience, and you’ll give your dog an amazing gift. A safe area to feel calm, protected, and safe, but also giving you a great way to contain your dog.
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