Ask The Trainer: Crate Training & Separation Anxiety


Question:

I have a newly adopted rescue dog who suffers from extreme separation anxiety.  Last week he was able to unzip a mesh crate, which was quite sturdy, and manipulate the door on my porch in such a way as to unlock it and escape.   This has now happened on two separate occasions and the destruction to the blinds on my door has been severe!  Can you offer any advice or insight as to how to get my dog to be more relaxed at home when I’m not present?

Answer courtesy of our Lead Trainer Chelsey:
The first step would be to invest in a more sturdy, durable crate. Nothing with mesh, zippers or a latch that can be easily opened. A metal crate or a hard plastic Vari Kennel would be best. You can use hardware clips or carabiners to reinforce the corners of and latches on the crate if needed. Place the crate in an area adjacent to your walls – like in a corner – so that the only focus point is forward.  You can also place a blanket over the top of the crate but leave the front of the crate unobstructed.
 Start off by crating during the day while you’re home to build a routine with your dog. When a dog is crated only overnight or when the owner leaves the house, it builds aversion to the crate and can increase the dog’s anxiety because he then associates the crate with the owner leaving. Choose a time midday day, every day (ideally) that works for you.   When you start this routine be prepared for your dog’s anxiety and arousal levels to increase, but eventually, over time, his nervous system will regulate, and he will settle.  Keep him in the crate for one to two hours to start; once he is comfortable with that elapsed time, increase the crate time to two to four hours.  Eventually you should be able to stretch it to four to six hours if needed.
It’s important to note that in order for your dog to become comfortable with this routine you must remain consistent. It will also be helpful to get him familiar with his new environment outside your house. Set up a perimeter for him by walking him on leash to the edge of the property line in all directions. Let him sniff around and investigate so he can learn where his “zone” is. Once he realizes he is in a safe space with you and you are also safe, this should help lessen his separation anxiety as a whole.

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