If you have an older dog with separation anxiety, crate training them is one of the most loving things you can do for them. Many people will tell you to solve the separation anxiety before crate training, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, it will take some time and patience on your end, but once your dog is crate trained, they’ll be much happier and LESS stressed when you leave.
Dogs with separation anxiety actually do like crates. Naturally, dogs are den animals. The crate replicates the den. It’s an area where your dog can escape and not be bothered. Kind of like a teenager’s bedroom! The end goal is to make the crate your dog’s favorite place to be. You want them to view the crate as a safe zone, not a prison.
The only problem is your dog won’t know how much they love the crate until they spend time in there. That’s easier said than done for dogs that have separation anxiety. In today’s article, we are going to show you how to ease your dog into the crate. Just follow the three step method and your dog will learn that the crate is a place of comfort, not stress or anxiety.
Crate Training An Older Dog With Separation Anxiety Requires Patience
Crate training an older dog is tough because dogs are creatures of habit. If they weren’t in a crate as a puppy, they will be hesitant about a crate as an adult dog. As the saying goes, it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks…but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done!
At the same time, crate training a dog with separation anxiety is tough because if things aren’t done correctly, they’ll view the crate as a prison. They’ll feel trapped and their anxiety will kick in.
That’s why if you’re trying to crate train an older dog that also has separation anxiety, it’s going to require a lot of patience on your end…but the good news is it can be done! When you feel like giving up, just remember that in the end, you’re doing your dog a favor. You’re providing them with a “safe spot” they can retreat to when they feel anxious.
It Starts With Choosing The Right Crate
To perform the three step crate training method below, you need a particular type of crate. There are two things to look for:
- The top must detach from the base.
- The crate must be big enough for your dog to stand and comfortably turn around.
Making sure the top detaches from the base is crucial for the training. For a normal dog, this isn’t required, but it helps massively for dogs with separation anxiety.
Let The Crate Training Begin – 3 Steps to Success
We will combine two types of training methods to get your dog comfortable with the crate.
- Desensitization Training
- Positive Reinforcement
The three steps below will desensitize your dog to feeling anxious about the crate while also positively reinforcing the fact that the crate is a good thing.
Remember, be patient. We can’t overstate that when it comes to older dogs with separation anxiety, it’s going to take time. The worst thing you can do is get mad at them. When it seems like there are no improvements, just call it a day and try again tomorrow.
Step 1: Detach The Top
To start this training, you want to get your dog comfortable with the crate but don’t want them to feel trapped. The best way to do this is to detach the top so they get used to the base. The more comfortable they are spending time on the base without the top on, the more comfortable they’ll be when it’s time to put the top back on.
Speaking of comfort, make sure you make the base as comfortable as possible. If your dog’s current dog bed fits inside the base, then place the bed in the base of the crate. See if your dog will go in and lay down on their bed. If they do, that’s a great sign! If not, you’ll have to entire them using step 2.
Step 2: Reward Time
Now it’s time to get your dog to view spending time in the base of the crate as a positive experience. The easiest way to do this is with treats. If your dog is already laying in the crate, feed them some treats while they’re there. If they aren’t lying in the crate, place some treats on the bed to get them into the crate. Once there, feed them a few more treats.
Do this a couple times each day until your dog goes into the base of the crate without a reward. If you see them go into the base without a reward, that’s a great time to reward them! They’ll start to view going into the crate a positive experience.
Step 3: Attaching The Top
Do not perform step three until your dog has started going into the base of the crate on their own. Before attaching the top, your dog must be relaxed and comfortable lying in the base of the crate without the top on.
It’s also important to not attach the top of the crate while the dog is still in it. If you do this, you’ll make them feel trapped. You want them to go in on their own will.
Once your dog is out of the crate, attach the top to the base. Don’t try to force them in, wait to see If they’ll go in by themselves with the top on. If they do, that’s great!
However, it may take some treats to get them back in. Repeat what you’ve been doing in step two, but this time with the top attached. The reason this works so well is because they’re going into a “den” that already has their scent in it. A place where they know they’ve relaxed before.
Once your dog is comfortable going in the crate with the top on, you’re done! Getting a dog that has separation anxiety used to a crate takes a little more time and patience. The important thing is to not rush it. Don’t ever force your dog into the crate against their will. If you do that, they’ll view the crate as punishment, not a safe haven for them to relax.
What About The Door?
The three step method above will do a great job getting your dog comfortable with the crate. Most dogs that are comfortable relaxing and sleeping in the crate with the door open won’t have any issues with the door being closed. However, if your dog doesn’t like the door being closed, you’ll need to ease them into this.
Start by feeding them all their meals in the crate. Close the door as your dog begins eating. Your dog will notice the door is closed, but most dogs will be too distracted by their food to even care. Right before your dog is finished eating, open the door again. You want them to know that every time you close the door, you’ll open it again.
By getting them comfortable with the door closed when they’re distracted, they’ll become comfortable with the door closed when they aren’t distracted. It should only take about a week of doing this each meal for them to be comfortable with a closed door.
After about a week, try leaving the door closed for a few minutes after they finish eating and see how they respond. If they respond positively, see if you can leave the door closed for a few minutes longer each day. Once you see your dog completely relax with the door closed, you’ll know you’ve successfully crate trained your dog that suffers from separation anxiety. You should be proud of yourself!
Maintaining The Behavior
Now that you’ve successfully trained your dog, you need to maintain the behavior. This is important for dogs with separation anxiety because they’ll feed off your emotions more than other dogs.
The biggest mistake you can make is opening the crate right when you get home. The reason this is a mistake is because your dog will probably be excited and anxious when you get home. If you open the crate when they’re anxious, you’re rewarding anxiety. You don’t want to reward anxious behavior. You want to reward calm behavior. Wait until your dog calms down before opening the door. If you reward their anxious behavior, they’ll know they can “manipulate” you each time they want out of the crate. Always reward positive behavior, ignore the negative behavior.
It’s ok to say hi to them and acknowledge that you see them, but wait until they calm down before opening the crate.
Do I Need To Cure The Separation Anxiety Before Crate Training?
No! This is one of the biggest myths when it comes to separation anxiety. At Dogdorable, we believe that all dogs should be crate trained. But crate training is especially important for dogs that have separation anxiety.
Believe it or not, this can actually HELP the separation anxiety, not hurt it. Most dogs that have separation anxiety become fearful when left alone. By training them to get comfortable with the crate, they’ll have a “safe place” to go when they are afraid. A quiet little retreat of their own where they can relax until you get back. Crate training your dog is one of the most loving things you can do for them.
Tricks For Dogs That Need Additional Training
The three step method above should work for most dogs, but some dogs might still be anxious about being in the crate. Here are a few things you can do for those “extra anxious dogs.”
Exercise Before Training
It’s always best if your dog is relaxed before you begin training. A relaxed dog is much less likely to have a freakout. Plus, your dog will want to lie down for a while after exercising. If you place their bed in the base of the crate, they’ll likely go lie down without any treats.
Using Separation Anxiety Toys
Separation anxiety toys are toys that distract your dog from the fact that they’re alone. They keep your dog’s mind occupied on something else when you leave. The Kong Classic toy is our favorite when it comes to separation anxiety.
Kong toys are also great to use when working on shutting the door. Your dog will notice the door is shut, but the toy will keep them distracted long enough to not care. Remember, the longer they spend in the crate with the door closed, the more comfortable they’ll be even when they aren’t being distracted.
Using Medication When Training
If your dog is on anxiety medication, use it when training. If you can get them comfortable in the crate with medication, they’ll eventually get used to being in the crate without medication. This is also a great time to experiment with CBD treats. Dogs that suffer from separation anxiety have had great results with CBD.
As you can see, this is a simple process, but it will take some time. Don’t give up after a few days. Remember, dogs are den animals. Keeping them in a crate is not cruel, you’re lovingly providing them with a place of shelter and security. It will also give you peace of mind knowing you can leave without your house getting destroyed!
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