The joy of a dog’s companionship is marked by their exceptional loyalty and sense of duty to their owner. Dogs live in the moment and help us do the same. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted research on the benefits of dogs in the lives of children. Overall, children who have a dog at home were less likely to test positive for anxiety on standardized screening tests than children who do not have a pet dog. Additionally, numerous studies have been done indicating adults also experience a reduction in stress and health issues when they have a pet dog.
Sounds perfect, yes? Get a dog, and everyone is the family is happy and healthy!
Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, your perfect pet has trouble adapting to your routine while you are away.
Top Dog Crate Brands for Separation Anxiety
Does My Dog Suffer from Separation Anxiety? What Are the Symptoms?
Separation anxiety can manifest itself in many ways. Here are some of the most common behaviors you might observe:
- Seemingly unwarranted whining, panting and barking when you start the process of leaving the house;
- Excessive barking or howling while you are gone from the house (e.g. your neighbors repeatedly complain about your dog’s noise level while you are out);
- Pacing and circling in anticipation of being left alone;
- Accidents – Using your carpet as the restroom;
- Destruction – Chewing furniture, chews, toys, etc. while you are away; and/or
- Self-mutilation – Licking or chewing paws until they are raw.
You can also set up a home monitoring camera (Like this one The Furbo Dog Camera) and watch your dog’s activity while you are out. This is a great way to gauge how your dog is doing without you.
What are the Root Causes?
Keep in mind, dogs are pack animals. When they are removed from their dog packs, and become socialized to their human pack, that is, your house and family, you are their pack. It is common knowledge there is safety in numbers and safety within the pack. When you leave, your pet may not feel safe without you, their pack leader.
If your dog views their job and sole purpose as being around you, what are they supposed to do when you are gone? In a perfect world, we would all be able to take our dogs with us to work, right?
Some dogs are just more intense, have higher energy levels and need a lot more occupation. Such dogs are typically found in the Working and Herding Breeds. These are dogs that need a purpose. Sitting at home and waiting for you to arrive is not enough of a purpose for such dogs.
Are Some Breeds More Susceptible?
Yes. While experts differ greatly on the rankings of which breed is the top breed known for separation anxiety, there are certain universal opinions as to which breeds are known to have the worst separation anxiety. As stated above, it cannot be underestimated the loyalty and sense of duty a dog has. And, in a Working breed or Herding breed, this sense of duty is extremely keen. Dogs, such as German Shepherds, Australian Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers and Border Collies are known to have issues with separation anxiety. On the flip side, this is why these breeds are such great partners in working situations, such as with the police or on farms.
Companion breed dogs are also known to be anxious. These are breeds that are often called lap dogs. They were bred to be with their human. Breeds such as the Toy Poodle, Havanese, Bichon Frise, and Cavalier King Charles.
Just as all humans are wired differently, so are all dogs. And, just as we need certain creature comforts to feel safe and secure, so do our dogs.
Can Separation Anxiety be Cured?
Experts disagree. Some celebrity dog trainers will state they can cure separation anxiety. Such training is incredibly expensive, and may be difficult to reinforce at home. Others, however, know that certain dogs are simply more prone to separation anxiety than others. Separation anxiety can happen with any dog.
With the right tools, however, separation anxiety can be overcome, or at the least well-managed. There are ways to mitigate the anxiety and destructive behaviors that come with it.
What are the Solutions?
Many vets will suggest medications in the worst cases. For some dogs, medications, such as Prozac are the only way to calm them down. This really is an extreme. I would recommend trying other methods prior to resorting to medicating your dog.
First and foremost, you need to exercise your dog prior to leaving for the day. Either walk or run your dog before you leave for the day, or invest in a treadmill. The idea here is to make sure your dog’s brain and body have been exercised and are in a more relaxed state. After all, you want them to take a big nap and be comfortable while you are out. Exercise prior to being left at home also helps your dog relieve themselves. Some dogs are simply anxious they are going to have an accident while you are out. And, if they are conscientious dogs, the thought of having an accident and disappointing you is a major stressor.
Secondly, focus on crate training. Train your dog to relax in their crate while you are away. You want to keep your dog safe.
Crate training really is the best way to keep your dog safe, because it protects your dogs from being able to get into hazards around your house. Crates, when introduced properly, also tend to help reduce a dog’s anxiety levels.
I love crate training for any dog, because it essentially provides your pet their own space, their own room, a special den just for them. Dogs naturally feel safest when they are in an enclosed space where their backs are protected. Something dark, but with partial visibility and access to fresh air is a perfect set up for most dogs.
Crating During the Day Time Vs. Crating at Night?
Using a crate for day time or night time is a great way to create a habit and routine for your dog. These serve different purposes, though. Night time crating might be done if you do not want your dog to wander the house at night, or hop into your bed. Whereas day time crating has the purpose of easing anxiety, keeping your dog safe from harm and creating a calm environment.
You want your dog to get comfortable with the crate and think of the crate as their place for rest and relaxation. Two rules to remember are:
- Consistency; and
- No more than four hours at a time while you are gone.
What are the Benefits of Crating?
Crating your dog creates a safe environment for your dog. In addition, it can help train your dog, as dogs do not like to go potty where they sleep. Crates, when used properly can promote relaxation and calm, reducing separation anxiety.
What is the Best Way to Encourage an Anxious Dog to Go Inside a Crate?
It cannot be stated enough, that you need to be consistent and you need to train your dog. Training takes time. You cannot get a crate and on day one put your dog in there and leave for four hours and expect your dog will be okay. You need to approach this as developing a habit.
Here are some crate training techniques:
- Serve Food in Crate
Keep the crate door open, and place their food and water in the crate.
Calmly call your dog to their crate, if they haven’t already noticed it is chow time.
As your dog enters their crate, make sure to praise them.
Between the praise and the food, you are providing positive reinforcement in regards to the crate. The crate is the place where food is served!
This technique works extremely well with food motivated dogs.
Build up to closing the crate door and increasing the amount of time the door is closed.
- Trail of Treats
Think of Hansel and Gretel who followed a trail in the woods.
Place a trail of treats in a path to the crate and into the crate.
As your dog eats the treats and hops into the crate, reward your dog with one more treat and praise your dog with, “Good Kennel,” or “Good Crate.”
This serves to reinforce that you are happy with them for getting into the crate, and helps them understand there are rewards (treats) for being in the crate.
Make sure to practice this several times. Work up to closing the crate door, and even using the command, “Stay.”
Later, move to leaving the room for a few minutes while your dog is in the crate, just so your dog gets used to the routine.
- Puzzles or Play time
Use the crate as a way to introduce a fun, new toy.
This technique works really well for inquisitive dogs, who have active minds and love to be engaged.
If motivated by finding toys that squeak, this one is a great option (Some Shih Tzu’s are known to enjoy lugging around the large size model!):
- Outward Hound Hide a Squirrel Fun Hide and Seek Interactive Puzzle Plush Dog Toy
If motivated by hidden food, this is a great choice:
- KISSIN Dog Snuffle Mat Thicken Polar Fleece Dog Food Mat Encourages Anxious Dogs Natural Foraging Skills Dog Puzzle Toys
If dog is known to aggressively lick or chew as a past-time, two good options are hiding or spreading food in either of these toys:
- StarMark Treat Dispensing Pickle Pocket for Dogs
- Hyper Pet Lickimat Slow Feeder Dog Mat & Boredom Buster
Start by showing the toy to your dog.
Toss toy into the crate and watch dog follow toy and play with it in crate.
Make sure to follow with lots of praise.
Slowly increase the amount of time in the crate with the door closed.
Make sure to supervise toy time, at first, to ensure your dog isn’t going to actually ingest the toy. The toys suggested here, are fairly indestructible (especially, the StarMark Treat Dispensing Pickle Pocket). For dogs with extreme separation anxiety, however, there is no way of knowing how destructive they can be when left alone with a toy, so always supervise and use caution.
- Nap Time
After a walk or a round of exercise is also a great time to take the dog to the crate.
Put a favorite blanket or bed in the crate and guide the dog to the crate for rest.
You can create a command to go with this action, such as “Kennel,” or “Bedtime,” or “Rest.”
Pick one that is easy for you to remember and be consistent.
Your ultimate goal should be to get your dog into their crate with just a command, or by their own choosing. Dogs that love their crates will literally put themselves to bed in their own crates at night! You should never force a dog into a crate, as that will reinforce their anxiety.
Remember to always praise your dog with a reward command when they execute the task of going into their crate. Be consistent, but simply saying, “Good dog,” or “Good Kennel,” helps reinforce to your dog that they are doing the right thing.
Dogs aim to please, and you will get more positive results with positive reinforcement.
Are Kennels that Simulate Dark Caves Better?
Most experts on crate training recommend dark crates that are den or cave-like. The crate should provide access to fresh air, and vent holes so your dog is able to sniff its surroundings. Overall, however, the crate should make the dog feel protected and enclosed.
If using a wire or open crate, and your dog is not known for chewing, a blanket or towel placed over the create helps create a safe feeling.
What are Different Types of Dog Crates?
The marketplace offers a lot of choices. The best dog crate is one that your dog enjoys using, and is one that suits your needs.
It is important you prioritize the features different crates have, such as:
- Ease of cleaning
- Strength / Durability
Heavy-duty Dog Crate [High anxiety dog crates]
- Typically made of metal, these are good for stronger breeds or dogs that are prone to escape or chewing their way through other materials (plastic, wood, etc.).
- Non-portable, so these are not meant to be used for travel.
- Heavy and hard to move.
- Designed with dog safety in mind for overly anxious dogs.
- Often the last resort for owners of destructive pets. This shouldn’t be the first resort for basic crate training.
- Highest price point.
Wooden Dog Crate
- Aesthetically pleasing, wood crates can function as an end table and a dog crate. These crates literally look like furniture.
- Not portable, so these are not meant to be used for travel.
- Not recommended for initial crate training.
- Not recommended for dogs that are prone to destructive chewing when anxious.
- Not good for dogs that might urinate in their crate, as the urine smell can permeate the wood.
- Higher price point.
Wicker Dog Crate
- Aesthetically pleasing.
- If small enough, they are portable, but not approved for most airline travel.
- Not recommended for dogs that chew when anxious.
- Not good for larger breeds.
- Not recommended for initial crate training.
Soft Sided Dog Crate
- Great for portability. Nice for camping and non-airline travel.
- Easy to fold down and pack into a car.
- Made of water-resistant canvas or nylon.
- Not good for dogs that chew or scratch or dig when anxious, as they make it easy for escape.
- May be difficult to clean, if the fabric gets soiled.
Plastic Dog Crate
- Great for portability. Many are approved for air travel.
- Not aesthetically pleasing.
- Solid and will withstand dogs with mild chewing issues.
- Difficult to escape from, unless dog is an extreme chewer.
- Easy to clean.
- Available in a wide variety of sizes.
Wire Dog Crate
- Portable, but not designed for air travel.
- Great for car travel.
- Easy to fold down.
- Smarter dogs may be able to open the latch and break free, so an additional padlock may be necessary.
- Extreme chewers and excessively strong dogs may be able to bend the wires and escape.
- May be prone to rust.
What to Look for When Buying a Crate for a Dog Suffering from Separation Anxiety?
It is really best to have an understanding of the behaviors your dog engages in when anxious before picking out a crate.
Accidents: If the issue is having accidents, you may choose a wire crate or plastic crate, both of which are easy to clean. The wire crates often come with interior panels that allow you to customize the size of the crate. This is especially important if you aren’t sure of what size crate to buy. Keep in mind, the larger the crate, the more room to potty. The crate should only provide enough room for your dog to turn around.
A plastic crate with the balance of visibility and darkness can provide the perfect setting for creating calm. Or, a wire crate with a crate cover may achieve the same level of calm and comfort.
Destruction / Desire to Escape: If your dog is prone to chewing, scratching, digging and trying to escape, a heavy-duty crate is going to provide the highest level of safety. If your dog has tried other types of crates, and has chewed through them, bent the wires, or figured out how to unlock the gate, your best bet is a heavy-duty type of crate.
Do I Really Need a Heavy-Duty Kennel?
You shouldn’t automatically start crate training with a heavy-duty kennel. Heavy-duty kennels are really chosen as a last resort, when you have a dog that has proven they have a problem with regular crates.
If your dog can escape out of their current crate, it is time for a heavy-duty kennel. If your dog is barking and moving their current kennel across the room, it is time for a heavy-duty kennel. If your dog is chewing through plastic, or bending bars, it is time for a heavy-duty kennel.
When in doubt, you need to consider the safety of your dog above all else.
If your dog is whining and having accidents, but nothing too destructive, you do not need to start with a heavy-duty kennel. I would start with a well-made, durable kennel, however.