Separation anxiety is one of the most difficult behaviors to work through in dogs and can stem from a number of deep rooted issues, but how do you solve it?
The issue here is that your dog has deemed YOU as his safe place, therefore, when you leave, it causes him to whirlwind into a state of fear, worry and anxiety. And since you’re gone, it seems like there’s no practical way for you to correct this behavior!
However, separation CAN be worked through with crate training, which, when done correctly, teaches a dog to love his crate as a place where he can feel secure when his hoomans are gone.
The trouble here is, if a dog has separation anxiety when you’re gone, he’s likely to have anxiety the minute you leave him in crate as well!
When most people get to this point, they throw up their arms in defeat and say “The crate didn’t work!”
People mistakenly think that you can throw a dog into a crate and it will magically work but the reality is that an anxious dog needs to be properly desensitized of the crate in order to help them associate it with positivity!
My favorite way to help a dog get over their anxiety is the “crate and wait” method. When paired together in crate training, the commands “crate” and “wait” are incredibly effective for helping a dog work through crate anxiety
Teaching a dog to go to a crate takes his mind off of being anxious about going in the crate by instead just following your command.
Once in the crate, teaching a dog to wait before coming out teaches the dog self-control, makes their mind off of being in a crate & lessens the excitement of getting out, which is a HUGE step for desensitizing a dog of the crate.
Those who follow me on my other social channels know that my dog Oso had SEVERE crate anxiety & control issues when I rescued him at 6 months old and it took weeks of diligently working on this command daily to get him to the point where he was finally comfortable in the crate.
Something that really helped me with Oso throughout the process was supplementing this training with CBD oil to help relax him during the training process! I’ve now used CBD oil for dogs to successfully work through dozens of anxiety cases and is something that I highly recommend trying out as a supplement to this training.
As a recap from the video, here’s how I recommend teaching “crate & wait”:
1️⃣ Have treats, a toy or another high-value reward ready that you will use to reward your dog.
2️⃣ Start a few feet away from your dog’s crate with your dog focused on you.
3️⃣ Tell your dog “go to your crate”. In the beginning, you may have to lure your dog into the crate by placing the reward in the back of the crate to motivate him to go in there.
4️⃣ Once your dog is in the crate, make him sit, tell him “yes” and then give him his reward.
5️⃣ Tell your dog to “wait” to shift your dog’s mind off of being in the crate.
6️⃣ Once relaxed, tell your dog “okay!”, open the crate door and make him sit in front of you.
7️⃣ Gradually increase the time between the “crate” + “wait” commands, repeating this exercise over and over on a daily basis until your dog is able to be in the crate without anxiety!
The more that you practice this & pair it with proper crate training habits, the more your dog will enjoy his crate as his safe place!
Once your dog is comfortable in the crate when you’re present, the next step in working through your dog’s separation anxiety when leaving is to practice extending the amount of time you can be gone without being exhibiting stress signals so he doesn't always associate the crate with being left alone and begin the anxiety cycle again.
Here’s a recap of how I did this:
1️⃣ To do this, start with your dog in the crate and record your dog so that you can see his behavior on your phone when you leave the room.
2️⃣ Leave the room for a very short amount of time where he will not get stressed (5-10 seconds to start)
3️⃣ Return to your dog, tell him “Yes!” and give him a treat for staying calm in the crate.
4️⃣ Repeat this exercise and double the length of time each time
5️⃣ During this practice, you have to find the point where your dog is starting to get uncomfortable but hasn’t gotten to the point where he is exhibiting stress signals such as howling, barking or digging to get out of the crate. You need to stay at this length of time until your dog is comfortable with you being gone for that period of time without exhibiting any stress signals.
Now, I know that was a ton of information to process and implement so make sure you re-watch this video and refer back to it often when you need reminders throughout the process
If you truly take this method to heart and put in LOTS of consistent practice, you will get to the point where your dog can be alone for hours without exhibiting any stress signals!!