Separation Anxiety, Confinement Anxiety, or Incomplete Crate Training?
with Melissa Dallier of ACanineAffinity, Training Advocate

As a certified separation anxiety trainer there is nothing I like more than telling a dog guardian that their dog DOESN’T have separation anxiety. This is most common when a dog (or puppy) is displaying concerning behaviors when confined to a crate. Let’s break it down a bit:

First, before I start getting lots of comments about being anti crate, let me say that I am all for crate training. Crates are wonderful management tools and I think all dogs should learn to feel good about being confined for short periods in the event of an emergency. However I am against forcing a dog into a crate, getting stronger crates when dogs break out, using any sort of punishment to crate train or ever using a crate as punishment in general and for dogs with any sort of alone time issues I recommend 99.7% of the time that a crate be eliminated from the equation.

Ultimately, there is no rule that says to should crate train if you don't want to or if your dog really hates it. Dogs are not den animals and crating doesn't come naturally.

On to the topic at hand…..

Confinement Anxiety comes when a dog is confined to a small space like a crate or sometimes an x-pen. This can cause panic just like those in separation anxiety. The dog may attempt to break out of the crate, dig and bite at the bars, urinate or defecate when otherwise house trained, drool and pant excessively and more. So basically the same telltale signs of separation anxiety. The big difference is when not in a confined space the dog is much more comfortable.

Many dogs with separation anxiety will also have confinement anxiety but not necessarily vice versa.

Incomplete Crate Training is exactly what is sounds like. Have you put in the time to create positive associations to the crate? Maybe when your dog was a puppy you just put them in the crate when they fell asleep and they slept through the night and you thought you got off easy, now they are 6 months old and not quite so thrilled to be in the crate. Maybe you adopted a dog and were told by the rescue that they were crate trained but after a week or so at home they are not happy there anymore. These scenarios, if not handled well, can lead to confinement anxiety if the dog is crated repeatedly and feeling a little anxious.

So how to do we suss out what is happening?

Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Is your dog comfortable in the crate/confinement when you are present?
  • If yes, and the issue arises only when alone there may be elements of separation anxiety and confinement anxiety.
  • Is your dog comfortable home alone in or out of the crate?
  • If your dog show signs of hesitancy to enter the crate around the context of you leaving, there may be elements of separation anxiety and confinement anxiety however if your dog is hesitant to go into the crate at anytime, whether your in your footie pj’s or work clothes, confinement anxiety or incomplete crate training may be an issue.
  • Does your dog choose to go into their crate without prompt or lure (food)?
  • This one isn’t necessarily going to give you any definitive answers but paying attention to if your dog ever chooses to go into their crate on their own can give you some information about how they feel about that space. Some dogs who enjoy their crates will choose to take naps, snacks or toys inside for safety.
  • Will your dog stay in their crate with the door open?
  • hen working on crate training (it doesn’t come naturally) will your dog bolt our the moment the reinforcement stops? If so you may need to work slower or address confinement anxiety or go back to the beginning and re-teach crate training with some slower more positive steps.
  • How long after the crate is closed does your dog begin to show signs of worry?
  • Dogs with strict confinement anxiety will almost always show signs of worry immediately after being confined. This doesn’t mean they will explode but may begin to pant or drool. yawn or circle or pace. This may lead to larger displays if they are confined for longer durations and these initial stress signals are ignored.
  • Will your dog eat offered snacks / bones / enrichment toys when in the closed crate when you are present? What about when you are away?
  • Some dogs will eat no matter how stressed they are. I know, I have one. But an indicator of stress in dogs is anorexia. So if you offer yummy snacks and your dog ignores them while in their crate but eats them the second they are let out this is good information. If your dog will eat happily in a crate while you are present but stop when you leave the room or house, separation issues may be a bigger concern.
  • Have you observed your dog while they are alone on camera in and out of confinement?
  • the best way to determine what may be going on is to run your own assessment. As the concerning behaviors may not be happening when you are present. To run a functional assessment go through a “normal” leaving routine but ensure you have a camera on your dog and you can watch live and record if possible. Leave the room or house and watch what happens. As soon as you feel your dog is getting too worried, return. This may not be at the first bark, but maybe as stress related behaviors increase, we are trying to determine a starting point. We don't want to make it a habit to leave and let our dogs stress, and returning will not reinforce the behaviors they might be displaying (barking, whining, chewing) as emotions have taken over and learning is likely not taking place. This is a good reference point for the difference between in and out of the crate and for helping your dog in general.

Once you’ve determined the root issue it will be easier to make a plan to move forward. Sussing this out early can help with a training plan for any of the above issues.

If it turns our your dog is having a hard time being alone no matter where they are, consider reaching out for help.