Tips on helping a dog with confinement anxiety.
Most dog professionals believe that crates are a necessity when sharing your life with a dog. Crates can be an excellent management tool. They are useful for potty training a new puppy. They can be a wonderful place for your dog to go to safely and relax when there are too many visitors to the house or when young children are likely to bother him. They are often recommended for transporting dogs safely in a vehicle, and they can be a nice, comfortable place for your dog to take an afternoon nap.
That said, you may be surprised to learn that I don't always recommend using a crate. In fact, as a certified separation anxiety trainer, I spend much of my time working with dogs who suffer from separation anxiety and isolation.
Understanding Confinement Anxiety
These dogs' brains process things a little differently, and confining them to a small space can often increase their anxiety and stress levels. Think of it like being stuck in an elevator full of people or in a traffic jam in an underground tunnel. Even those of us who don't have anxiety issues can become a little nervous or uncomfortable. Add to that a real anxiety disorder and you have a full-blown panic attack.
There can be many reasons why a dog panics in a crate and it's not always due to separation anxiety.
If you have rescued a dog from a shelter, he has probably spent many hours confined to a small wire kennel. It is very possible that he has a negative association with this type of enclosure and does not find an even smaller crate a comfortable place to be. This problem can sometimes be easily solved by using positive reinforcement training and fun games to help your new dog establish a positive association with his crate.
When working with dogs who suffer from anxiety when left alone at home, well-meaning professionals often recommend confining them to a crate or other small space. They may suggest using an exercise pen (also known as an X-pen), a baby gate or confining the dog to a small room. The reasoning behind these suggestions is usually to avoid peeing accidents on the carpet and/or destruction of the house while the human is away. The irony is that many dogs with separation anxiety manage to cause even greater damage or self-harm while in their confinement area or crate. This can manifest itself in the form of torn litter boxes, twisted crate wires, broken teeth or bloody gums and/or nails. Not to mention that their anxiety usually worsens now that they are both "home alone" and "confined to a small space."