crate training an older dog with separation anxiety guide

Crate training a dog with separation anxiety

Crate training an older dog with separation anxiety is surely a challenging task, regular older dogs are quite harder to train so you can only imagine the difficulties you have to go through to crate train one that has separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety is one of the hardest behavior disorders to deal with especially for new pet parents.

Don’t panic yet! every dog can be crate trained if you have the patience to do so, and boy you are going to need a whole lot of patience.

When we say every dog can be crate trained it does not mean that every dog has to be crate trained. Crate training isn’t for every dog, it depends on a lot of factors one of which the age of the dog.

Some dog trainers preach against crate training older dogs at all which is understandable, but crate training sure has it’s benefits even for an older dog, especially one that has separation anxiety.

Is crate training an older dog with separation anxiety worth it?

It is really up to every pet parent to define whether or not it is worth it to crate train his dog, however, I personally recommend crate training older dogs especially ones that have separation anxiety.

Some dog trainers don’t see the benefit of crate training an older dog that has already established a daily routine and habits he is used to, especially that it is harder to crate train older dogs.

I would disagree to some level as crate training helps establish order and a safe controllable environment for any dog. But if you don’t want to invest in training a senior dog it would be totally understandable.

However, in the case of dogs that suffer from separation anxiety I strongly recommend crate training as it is a matter of safety and it helps calm the dog and to some level with proper medication and time cure his anxiety.

How to tell if your dog has separation anxiety

Separation anxiety is one of the hardest behavior disorders to detect, not all dogs that get frustrated when left alone suffer from separation anxiety.

I know most of you are here to know how to crate train an older dog with separation anxiety but out of all the articles on the web you chose the one that says guide, so bear with me a little.

Many pet parents assume their dogs have separation anxiety once they notice frustration and aggressive behavior when the dog is left alone, which is not always the case.

What is separation anxiety and how to tell if my dog has it

According to the AKC

Whether in a puppy or an adult dog, separation anxiety is when your dog exhibits extreme stress from the time you leave him alone until you return. The symptoms can vary, but he will act as if he’s terrified to be in the house on his own. Patricia McConnell, Ph.D., a zoologist and Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, is known as an SA expert. In her booklet I’ll Be Home Soon, she says that although we can’t know for sure what’s in a dog’s mind, we can think of SA as the equivalent of a panic attack.

What’s important is that dogs that are not well behaved could be mistaken for separation anxiety disorder.

This could lead to the wrong treatment and other behavior issues, so you want to make sure it’s separation anxiety first.

Common symptoms of separation anxiety

these are the symptoms to look for to make sure your dog has indeed separation anxiety :

  • Urinating and Defecating: When left alone dogs that suffer from separation anxiety will urinate or defecate all around the house or next to the exit points. If this only happens when you are not around then it’s a sign however, if it happens all the time even with you in the house then your dog only needs to be potty trained.
  • Chewing and digging: Dogs with separation anxiety tend to be chewy and dig a lot, they chew on anything they can put their mouth on, also digging in multiple areas is a sign of distress to be watching for.
  • Barking and Howling: A dog with separation anxiety barks for no reason and does it a lot especially when the guardian isn’t home they also howl a lot to express their distress, it gets worst when they sens that their guardian is leaving.
  • Destructive behavior: If you have a dog that has separation anxiety, you can be sure you are remodeling the house soon enough especially if you have a strong large breed. They will destroy tables shoes furniture anything they can bite.
  • Pacing: This is a clear sign that your dog is in distress if you notice that he is walking in the same path back and forth or in circle then something is really wrong and this is one of the symptoms of advanced cases.
  • Escaping: Dogs with separation anxiety will try their best to escape when left alone, there were cases of dogs chewing their way through doors to escape. This is actually one of the things that make crate training an older dog with separation anxiety both hard and useful.
  • Excessive salivation and drooling: When drooling is associated with all of the above it is most certainly a case of separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety is a serious behavior disorder that could lead to serious incidents, consulting a veterinarian is strongly advised at the first sign of any of the symptoms mentioned above.

What you need for crate training an older dog with separation anxiety

Besides a lot of patience, there are a few tools that will make crate training an older dog with separation anxiety easier and safer.

The first thing you need is obviously a crate, usually, for most dogs, I recommend a wire crate since it is the best one for crate training and I’ll explain why later. However, as we read earlier chewing, escaping and destructive behavior are very common symptoms of separation anxiety.

Choosing a safe crate is crucial to avoid any potential incidents especially if you have a large strong breed. Meaning soft-side crates and plastic crates are not to be considered.

There are two options :

Crate for small breeds with separation anxiety

Small breeds are not strong enough to chew through the wire, which is why the regular wire crates are fine.

I recommend the Midwest double-door ultima pro wire crate (click here to check the current price on Amazon), The ultima pro model is extra stronger and does great in the case of an aggressive small dog.

You will notice that I recommended the double-door crate, it’s because it helps a lot when you are first introducing your dog to his new crate and makes it easy to explore it and offers a lot of open space so the dog doesn’t feel trapped once inside.

When choosing a crate for crate training it usually has to be a few inches larger than the dog but not too large because then the dog will sleep in one corner and make the other a potty corner.

However in the case of separation anxiety I recommend getting a crate a size larger to make the process easier.

Crate for large breeds with separation anxiety

When it comes to large breeds with separation anxiety things are to be taken seriously.

Escape attempts by dogs with separation anxiety are often extreme and can result in self-injury and household destruction, especially around exit points like windows and doors.

This is why you need a heavy-duty crate to make sure your dog is exactly where you left it and safe.

Most aggressive dogs will chew on the wires of a wire crate hurting themselves or just tearing the crate appart.

For those bad boys, I recommend the heavy-duty crate by SMONTER(click here to check the current price on Amazon), I don’t like pushing products but on this one, it is the safest crate on the market for aggressive dogs, and what I like about it is that it has almost the same features as the wire crate that makes crate training easier.

Toys and training treats

You can’t talk about crate training without training treats and toys especially chew toys.

They do a great job in making the crate a nice place and they keep the dog’s attention out of the crate and their guardian.

Now for crate training an older dog with separation anxiety you need a food puzzle toy to keep him busy.

For this task, I strongly recommend the KONG chew toy(click here to check the current price on Amazon). The hollow part can be filled with treats and cream or mashed banana and will keep the dog busy for long.

There are plenty of kong recepies online that are easy to make and great for dogs.

You will also need some nice low calories training treats to help you lure the dog into the crate and motivate him. they do a great job as reward to enhance good behavior.

Now you are all set for crate training your dog and let us get into the actual steps you need to follow to make it work.

How to crate train an older dog with separation anxiety

Choosing the best time to do it

Crate training an older dog with separation anxiety is very special and the first impression is very important, so dedicating the weekend to start the process will make it easier.

You’ll have plenty of time to spend with the dog and a couple of days to introduce him to his new crate while you are around.

Introducing your dog to his crate

It makes it really easier if you introduce your dog to his crate before it’s time to actually go in it.

Take your dog with the leash on and explore the crate secure the doors of the crate open to avoid any incidents that would freak him out, and just let him sniff around and explore it.

Having a crate that provides a lot of open space is also helpful that’s why I don’t recommend plastic crates.

When your dog is comfortable around it you can start using those training treats to lure him inside the crate.

Just toss a treat inside and once in there praise your dog verbally and reward him with a treat. Keep repeating this process for a few minutes then go back to using a toy for a little play session to break things up and relieve your dog from the tension.

The gaming session should be close to the crate then go back to luring him inside with the treats. Often dogs do pick it up fast and associate going in the crate with having treats so they generally offer to get in the crate on their own to get the treat.

That’s your first sign that crate training is going well and you can move onto the next step.

Making the crate great

I like this part so much that I’ve made it my blog’s slogan, this is crate training is all about, making the crate the best place in the world for your dog.

This one is based on Pavlov’s dog experience where he uses a whistle before serving dogs their food for a while then every time he blows the whistle the dogs start to salivate even if there is no food, what he did is associate food with the whistle, and that’s what you want to do associate great things with the crate.

Food is one of the best things to make a dog like a place or something, using it is the smart thing to do.

Start serving your dog his meals in the crate, and make sure to stay next to the crate when he feeds so he doesn’t feel trapped.

keep doing it for a while and your dog will automatically associate the food with the crate and it will be the first thing he thinks of when he wants food.

You also want to do some activities in the crate include it in the play sessions. I suggest using the kong fill it up with nice treats and give it to your dog then take it back after a minute or so and toss it in the crate.

The best time to do this is a few minutes before feeding time in the crate keep the playing interactive meaning you play with the dog. and also after the meal but this time it has to be passive where the dog just plays and chews on his Kong.

The best way to keep him interested and in the crate while the door is open is to secure the kong to the crate from the inside so the dog has to be in it to play with his favorite toy.

Notice that up until now we never close the door of the crate the dog can leave whenever he wants.

You are basically telling your dog that you can leave the crate whenever you feel like it but if you stay in it nice things will happen.

Exercising the dog

This part is really important and many dog owners overlook this step, a dog that has had plenty of exercising just before going into the crate is more likely to relax in it.

Dogs need to be low on energy to stay in the crate, just like we would probably be more comfortable laying in our bed when we feel tired.

You want to make sure your dog has a play session or a walk just before going in the crate and it would be best if it is around feeding time so he can relax.

Spending time in the crate while closed

When you start seeing some progress and your dog is feeling safe in the crate you can close the door of the crate while he eats at first with you sitting next to it.

If your dog shows any objections just open the door and keep repeating the first few steps until he pays no attention to the crate while eating.

The goal is to increase the time the door stays closed after he eats, you want to increase it gradually a couple of minutes every time using the kong to keep him busy with you at his side at all times.

Keep doing the same thing and increasing the time and playing with your dog in the crate with it closed until he has no issues being in it.

When you feel your dog is fine in the crate closed you can start moving around the room getting out and back to it but always at his sight. he needs to get used to being in the crate while you are not in the room.

The biggest issue when crate training an older dog with separation anxiety is that every time he’s left alone it triggers his anxiety. That is why you have to be patient with every step and make things natural.

Anytime your dog is getting upset about being in the crate don’t rush it or get frustrated just start over and be patient.

After a while, the time you spend out of the dog’s sight while he is relaxing in the crate will increase and allow you to even leave the house for 20 to 30 minutes.

Don’t make a scene of leaving

One of the biggest mistakes dog guardians do, while crate training an older dog with separation anxiety is that they make a scene of leaving.

That only makes things worst for your dog, in fact, you should ignore the dog for at least 5 minutes before leaving.

Another thing to avoid is to crate your dog just before leaving, this will automatically associate the crate with you leaving the house and he will reject it.

You need to do the same thing when you come back to the house, do not interact with the dog right away, even if he barks or does whatever he is used to doing when you come back just ignore it for about 5 minutes.

When the dog is calm then you can let him out this way he’ll learn that being agitated will not get him out of the crate and help enforce good manners.

Patience is a virtue

What you need most when crate training an older dog with separation anxiety is patience. Older dogs are harder to train because you need to break their old habits before they acquire new ones.

This is actually harder with the separation anxiety disorder but it only takes time to do it.

In fact, all experts agree on the fact that crate training is the best option for an older dog with separation anxiety.

When you lack patience you tend to rush things and that could backfire the main idea of crate training is for your dog to like the crate, if he feels trapped in it it won’t work.

You need to make your dog feel safe and relax in the crate, he should be looking forward to being in it after his playtime.

What not to do when crate training an older dog with separation anxiety

There are a few things you should avoid at all costs when crate training an older dog with separation anxiety that will set you back in training.

Rushing the dog into the crate

Rushing the dog into the crate after small progress could freak the dog out and set you back with crate training and destroy the trust you are trying to build with the crate.

Never rush things and with any signs of objections be patient and slow down.

Punish your dog in the crate

The worst thing you can do is to punish your dog in the crate. the crate is a safe place not a place for time out so never use it for punishment.

Don’t reprimand your dog in the crate in fact punishing dogs only confuses them unless caught in the act.

letting the dog out while barking or whining

Never let your dog out of the crate while whining or else he will use it again and know that the way out is whining for long periods.

Dogs are smart and they test our reactions, so be smarter and use it to enforce good behavior.

Final thoughts

When dealing with a dog that has separation anxiety, patience is your friend, take your time and make the most of the toys and training treats you can read this article about training treats how to use them and how much you can give your dog.

Exercise plenty and make the crate the best place for your dog and he’ll make things easier for you.