Dog Social Distancing and Utilizing a Crate to Help with Separation Anxiety

As I sit here and ponder
where I am going to go with this article, my mind wanders. I’ve
already sat down a couple of times to write it.

I’d literally just sat down on Monday, computer open, and then
the governor of Maryland called a press conference and essentially
announced more lock down. So, you’ll understand why I flew out of
the house to get more food and supplies.

It is now a law in our state, punishable by up to a year in jail
and/or up to a five thousand dollar fine, to go out for any
non-essential reason (other than medical, getting food, or
emergencies).

I don’t even know how to conceive of, or talk about, all that
is going on in the world, but I find it is affecting everything,
even our relationships with our canine companions.

Interestingly, I have always seen myself as well spoken and have
always had the ability to describe, through the written word, how
to understand certain concepts, especially when it comes to dog
training.

But I have, admittedly, been a little overwhelmed this week, and
have struggled with all the ways to make this modern day article
more pertinent to you as you sit at home looking for information to
help get through this crisis.

Gratitude…

First off, to those I know, who know me, and those who have been
following Chet and I for the past 10 years, THANK YOU!

We take your loyalty very seriously and it is important to us to
provide you with accurate and relevant information.

With things being the way they are in the world, I want to make
sure that you and your pets are safe. Safety is far and above the
most important thing we have to deal with each day.

To those of you on the front lines, driving trucks, growing
food, working in warehouses and to those in both human and
veterinary medicine; THANK YOU!

Having a pandemic afoot and being socially locked down has
certainly never been seen by the world on this scale. We are still
waiting on more affirmative information as I sit here.

My immune system has never been the strongest, and I worry about
the implications this holds for me, my friends, and, of course, my
pets.

So, since I have your attention for at least a short time,
let’s talk about how all of this is going to affect those of us
on lock down.

I am worried about some pets dogs especially, concerned that we
are creating
separation anxiety
for them to struggle with when life goes
back to ‘semi normal’.

Having been in the dog training industry for the past twenty
five years, I will admit that true and severe separation anxiety in
dogs is not nearly as rampant as many people think.

Severe separation anxiety is marked by a dog that:

**  often urinates and
defecates

 

**  howls or barks almost constantly

**  will literally become self-injurious while attempting to
break out of a weak crate, or even break through windows

In my career alone, I have had 2 dogs that have jumped out or
through windows. Thankfully they did not die or eviscerate
themselves.

My first experience was when I was just 18 with the first dog (a
Rottweiler) I had ever owned. He jumped out of the front window,
fell probably 20 feet down and was loose for an hour or two until
we returned.

Twenty five years ago in Wyoming it was impossible to find a dog
crate. We purchased dog food from feed stores! I ordered my very
first dog crate from a JCPenney catalog. I couldn’t afford new
windows every time we left the house and I certainly didn’t want
my dog to hurt himself.

Shoving a 100 pound, anxious, Rottweiler into a giant metal dog
crate was my first foray into crate training. I honestly think it
saved his life. And, although he struggled to get out in the
beginning, the crate was strong enough that he wasn’t able to
hurt himself.

That is really an important key to this article.

Don’t Panic

 

I recently got back from a trip to visit clients who swore that
their dog was having severe separation anxiety. He’s young, and
he is not really getting enough exercise, and they monitor video of
the dogs constantly.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that in no way was it severe!
He sings a little bit when he is crated, and he lightly puts his
mouth on the crate, but by no means was he in danger of hurting
himself.

 

He would bark but he was
also laying down in his crate. That may be slight anxiety but
really is no need for concern.

In the beginning, I suppose most dogs are not huge fans of the
crate, but don’t panic if he is barking a bit or trying to assess
if he can make an old school break out.

If you panic every time you leave him, he is going to panic
(remember how intuitive dogs are; they pick up on our anxieties!)
This dog is quite literally never left alone. Either the husband or
wife has been home with him for a year.

Not only is this creating his problem, their shear terror and
overreacting has made the dog worse.

I remember being scared to sleep in my “big girl bed†and
room when I was a kid.

But in order for me to be a functional adult, I had to do some
things I didn’t want to do, and I had to learn to be confident
and independent as I aged.

Just as we can’t coddle our children forever, we can’t
coddle our dogs; it is not healthy.

If you are truly, truly worried that your dog has severe
separation anxiety, talk to your veterinarian or find a boarded
veterinary behaviorist in your area.

I kind of hate to admit this, outwardly anyway, but we are
talking about some personal subjects here.

In the last year, I have suffered from some anxiety. Ironically,
when I am awake I am a fairly rational person and I pride myself on
that.

But I was waking up in the middle of the night with a heart rate
over 200, covered in sweat, and feeling like I was going to
die.

If you’ve ever had the displeasure of feeling like that (and I
hope you don’t) you will realize that drug therapy, along with
behavior modification, is essential.

I made some changes in my life and hadn’t really had that
problem until, ironically, last night.

But, with times the way they are right now, I feel that it was
acceptable to spill over a little from the unknown.

If your dog would do better on some meds while you work on crate
training, do him the service of getting him some.

Trust me, you would want the help, he will thank you, and your
training will be more successful.

Needing something that helps balance serotonin, or other
necessary chemicals, is nothing to be ashamed of!

 

Just don’t cover a problem with drugs and expect them to do
wonders without behavior modification.

Some drooling, panting, shaking, barking or whining can be
fairly normal for this process.

Avoid Weak & Dangerous Crates

 

The flimsy metal crates with plastic bottoms that look cozy to
most people are the WORST. The metal is easily bent and the plastic
bottom can be shredded with little effort. Many dogs have broken
teeth and gotten stuck in the bent sharp metal doors and sides as
they are trying to escape, which can cause deep lacerations. Some
of the videos you find online of dogs escaping these kinds of
crates are funny, but the implications of injury are not worth
it.

The other problem, that as
humans we don’t really understand… is that dogs are den
animals. They like closed, dark places, not a big open cage where
they can still see everything going on in the environment. This
stimulation often makes them even more reactive. Most dog owners
park those big crates next to a large window and the dog can’t
escape if he is having anxiety with his crate training.

Plastic crates are usually chewed less and more escape-proof.
There are also less sharp edges with dark plastic crates. Yes, I
have seen dogs pop the front doors, but all-in-all they are safer.
I even have a picture of my very own dog (Belgian Malinois) who
chewed straight through a crate when he was just a puppy and heard
me training his sister.

So being the dog owner that I am, I stuffed him in the crate to
snap a picture and then I immediately purchased another crate that
I had to have shipped (apparently I have had some naughty dogs in
my career). There are heavy duty, thick metal crates that are used
in the world of police dog training that are self locking and very
nearly impossible to chew through. Also, their edges are not sharp
(like the metal crates in the first example), and most have doors
and openings that keep things dark but are also less likely to be
chewed or have a tooth broken.

They can be pricey, but one or two crates that are impossible to
ruin or escape from is cheaper in the long run and safer for your
dog. I use and recommend Impact Dog Crates.

And remember: a broken window or a loose, anxious dog is not
nearly as safe as an anxious dog in a heavy duty crate.

 

Why is Crate Training Better and Why Will it Help Your Dog
Feel Better?

 

I understand that I am conversing with humans 😉
and it is hard to convince people that crate training actually
helps with separation anxiety.

As a human you aren’t likely to hurl yourself through a
window. You aren’t likely to chew electrical cords, the carpet,
or chew through a door when you have anxiety. You have different
coping mechanisms.

And, truthfully if you have anxiety to that degree; you are
likely to look into some drug therapy.

Your dog doesn’t have those options.

So, by leaving him out loose in the home, it often causes more
anxiety and reactivity as he runs from window to window, or door to
door, in a panic.

I was trying to explain this to a client at the beginning of the
month. Both their dogs were chasing around the house (you could
watch with their in-home camera) and acting panicked. Putting them
in a smaller and darker place where they couldn’t see every
action in the neighborhood was actually better for their mental
health. It helped them to relax and not worry about every sight and
sound (feeding the anxiety).

I used to have billionaire clients in Colorado. They had a
Golden Retriever and a Labrador Retriever and I used to pet sit for
them. It was an amazing experience, but living in a huge house like
that 20 years ago was kind of intimidating for me. I remember
bringing a knife to bed with me in the early days! Every noise had
me paranoid. There were too many doors and windows and levels. If
someone broke in would I even hear it?

Currently I live in a small house (less than 1,000 square feet)
and I have never really been afraid here. I basically have one door
and a couple windows. If someone comes into my house, I am going to
hear it. My dogs are going to hear it. A smaller space is easier to
contain.

If I had 3 million dollars cash in a mansion and I knew someone
was coming to take it; it would be much more intimidating. It would
be a lot safer to keep here in a small space.

Smaller spaces often are
less intimidating and more easily defended.

Not all dogs are guard dogs. Some dogs have general anxiety, but
being in a large space isn’t always better. Dogs with anxiety
(not even severe separation anxiety) feel better in a small dark
place, with familiar sounds like the radio or television left on so
that they don’t hear all the goings on. You are taking options
and worry away from them.

Even the dogs that I have successfully treated with thunderstorm
or other phobias have often been treated more successfully by
utilizing a crate or a safe spot. My current Malinois is not a fan
of thunderstorms but by giving him his own safe place, he is able
to deal with his anxiety.

Create Your Dog’s Safe Haven

 

First off, it is critical to know your dog, and what is and what
is not safe.

Some dogs will eat dog beds and blankets.

A former puppy client of mine underwent surgery last week to
have parts of a blanket removed from his intestines.

If in doubt, your dog doesn’t need a bed or blanket. Chances
are he likes laying on the cold floor anyway.

The bane of my existence, my current Malinois, will never be
able to be unattended with a bed or a blanket. I have ordered

ballistic style dog beds
that were guaranteed chew proof that
he can still shred. Thankfully he has never swallowed anything, but
he has killed quite a few of my friends’ sweatshirts at dock
diving events! I know this about him, and I keep those items away
from his crate.

But that doesn’t mean he can’t have some other things.

Play crate games with your dog or your puppy! Puppies,
especially, need crate games to understand that the crate is a safe
place where happy things occur.

If you only stuff him inside when you leave, he will learn to
hate the crate because it equals your leaving.

If my dogs willingly go
into their crates, they get a treat or a reward.

Feed your dog in his crate so that he learns it is not always a
space where he will be closed in for long periods of time. Be sure
and close the door occasionally, but not all of the time. It can
and should be his choice to go inside during the day when you are
with him.

A dog crate doesn’t have to be sterile or not fun – quite
the opposite! Zippy’s crate has elk antlers and other
indestructible types of chews for him to enjoy.

Occasionally, I will slather a bone, a Kong toy, or an antler
with peanut butter or Kong paste when he goes in his crate. But he
only gets that special item when he is inside with the door closed
behind him. Think of it as a break, with a great treat that he only
gets when he is inside.

I may only leave him in there for 5 or 10 minutes, but the
reward for going in is high enough for him to just enjoy the act of
going in his crate.

After I let my dogs outside, I always bring them in and have
them go into their crates for an early morning treat. I do the same
at night.

Have you ever heard of the dog that the owners can’t catch in
the morning to put in the crate because the dog recognizes his
owner is going to work?

If your dog is used to going in the crate every morning and
every evening no matter what, this alleviates this problem.

The other important piece to remember is to continue to crate
your dog throughout his life, not just when he is a puppy.

As humans we get lazy. We crate our puppies so they won’t eat
our stuff, or so that early in the relationship we can take a
shower or make food while the pup is learning to show better
behavior, and have less destructive behavior more of the
time.

As his behavior gets better, we stop putting him in his crate.
OR, we only crate him for long periods, like going to work or
overnight.

This teaches the puppy or the older dog that time in his crate
is going to be extended. We need to remind them that crate time can
be long or short, but can also be fun.

If he gets a treat and some peanut butter he is much less likely
to become an anxious dog during the time he is left in his crate.
It just becomes another place where he..

Source: FS – TheDogTrainingSecret
Dog Social Distancing and Utilizing a Crate to Help with
Separation Anxiety