He came to training for help with severe separation anxiety, along with a few other anxiety related issues.
When I met him, his insecurity was instantly apparent. Clinging to his owner’s leg, he wouldn’t let her out of his sight. In fact, if she were to walk out of the yard or house, he’d whine, whimper and try to chew his way out to get to her.
A bottle of medication was sent with him to mellow his behavior, in the event he didn’t manage the transition to a new environment well.
I was instantly taken back to my first dog, back before I was a dog trainer…
When I knew nothing about dogs except that I loved them.
And my dog too suffered from an extreme case of separation anxiety, having torn a 9 ft hole in the carpet of my college apartment one day when he was left alone.
Like me all those years back, this dog’s exhausted owners tried everything they knew to try.
They attempted to crate him to no avail.
He tried to eat his way out and was so stressed upon their return, he had urinated and defecated all over himself.
They practiced training…
But it never seemed to work.
So they resorted to making sure someone was home with him at all times.
And if they ever did have to leave him alone…
They’d give him a hefty dose of sedatives to completely knock him out.
I’m not going to lie. I was pretty convinced I wasn’t going to get any sleep the first night this dog stayed with me.
Because in my environment, dogs HAVE to be crated or confined for safety. As much as I want to, there is no time to fully acclimate them to the idea of it. We simply do our best.
But his first night…
It was far easier than I was anticipating.
In fact, he slept in the crate with only a small handful of whimpers…no medication required.
And this morning, when I crated him so I could go outside to do my chores…
He walked right in…
And hasn’t made a peep.
In record time, he’s learning to love the crate.
And I attribute his success to one simple concept.
One thing I did…or actually, didn’t do, that helped him create a more positive association with being confined.
And that one thing was…
I didn’t leave.
Check it out…
Our dogs, especially those who have a little bit of an attachment issue, and who don’t really like it when we leave…
They are pretty quick at forming associations.
That means, if there are things we do every day when we leave the house (like crating our dog), those things become predictors that we are about to head out.
And if our dog gets anxiety when we leave, you’d better bet they will get anxiety when those predictors start popping up.
One of the biggest mistakes that dog owners make when crate training their dogs, especially if their dog has separation anxiety, is only crating their dog when they leave the house.
They might spend a little time tossing treats in the crate to get their dog accustomed to going in…
But the first time the dog is in there for any extended length of time…
The owner is nowhere to be found.
And now the dog feels trapped by the crate, and alone. And that anxiety they originally felt when their owner left is now exacerbated by their confinement.
Around here, because our goal is to get dogs super comfortable being crated, we do things a little bit differently.
Here’s what we do:
- We sit down and watch TV the first time the dog is confined – My crates are set up just next to my TV. So I remain in my dog’s direct line of sight and they can see me relaxing. This makes it far easier for them to relax too.
- We leave occasionally – I might get up and walk into the kitchen to refill my tea. I might walk into another room to grab my slippers. I’m not leaving constantly – I mostly spend the time relaxing. But I do leave on occasion briefly, simply to walk into another room. As the dog gets more comfortable, I leave for more extended periods – I’ll walk outside to do a chore or two, or I’ll head into my garage to put the laundry in. Practicing leaving, on occasion, without actually getting in the car and going anywhere can get your dog used to the idea that you walking out of their sight is nothing to worry about.
- Make leaving no big deal – When I leave the room, it’s usually to do something I need to do. So I don’t make a big deal of it. I simply ignore the dog, walk out, and ignore the dog when I walk back in, resuming my Netflix show as I settle back into my spot on the couch. By maintaining a nonchalant attitude about my repeated departures, my dogs follow suit, and leaving the house becomes no big deal.
Today is the second day the dog is here with me. He slept soundly in the crate last night with only a few small whimpers when I first went to bed.
He played with his friends this morning, and now he’s resting in his crate, with me about 10 feet away, writing this post.
I did my chores this morning – fed my goats outside, with him resting quietly in his crate – and in a few moments, I’ll prepare his breakfast, which he will get…inside of his crate as well.
And here’s the truth. While he will get plenty of exercise and attention, he’ll spend more time in the crate than is normal for our every day life these first few days. Despite the fact that he is great in the house when I’m home, and he loves the other dogs like crazy, he’ll still be confined often as leaving him loose is setting him (and myself) up to fail.
Instead, he’ll practice crating during the times when I am home. When I’m not going anywhere. When everyone is lounging around doing nothing. So that he has some good experiences under his belt before I do actually have to leave him alone.
Tossing treats inside of your dog’s crate or kennel, and playing crate games is AWESOME for building positive associations with crating. But part of your success lies in your actions after your dog is confined.
Because if your dog is terrified of you leaving, and you only crate them when you do, no matter how many treats you toss into the crate, or how many games you play, the crate will become a source for increased anxiety, rather than a safe, comforting space for your dog to relax.