How to crate train a dog with separation anxiety

Angela Watson

Crate training a dog with separation anxiety 

There are many benefits to crate training a dog with separation anxiety. Crates can be used to help housebreak a puppy. They can also give your dog a safe place to stay when you’re away or something frightens them (such as a thunderstorm). In many cases, such as during long car trips, vet visits or kennel stays, crate training is even necessary.

Dogs who have separation anxiety are often destructive, so teaching them to properly use a crate can help prevent or limit these behaviors. Although crate training can be a challenge, it might be just what your canine companion needs when you’re not around.

Why does your dog have separation anxiety?

There are many possible reasons why a dog might develop separation anxiety, including:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • A recent move
  • A major change in routine
  • A stressful or high-energy environment
  • A change in people in the home

Any dog can develop separation anxiety, regardless of breed, age, history or environment.  Whatever the cause, the best way to handle separation anxiety in dogs is to be consistent, positive and patient. If possible, socialize your dog with other animals and humans, too.

How to crate train a dog with separation anxiety

Crate training a dog who has separation anxiety requires a bit of time, patience and consistency. 

Introduce the crate

Put the crate in a quiet area of the home with the door open. Place something with a familiar scent inside the crate, such as a worn shirt or the dog’s blanket. Since dogs rely on their sense of smell, this will help them get used to the crate as part of their environment. Next, put a small bowl of dog food in the back of the crate. Add one or two of the dog’s favorite toys as well. For dogs with high anxiety, include a stress relief toy and use calming spray on or around the crate.

Give the dog some time to start building a positive association between the crate and their normal environment. This could take a few days, or it may happen right away. Don’t try to push your dog into spending time in the crate until they are comfortable going inside on their own. Even then, leave the door open for the first week or so.

Increase crate time

Once the dog is accustomed to the new addition, encourage them to go inside and close the door for 5-10 minute intervals. This will help the dog get used to being inside the crate without adding additional stress. Don’t pay attention to the dog while they’re in the crate. After the time is up, let the dog out and reward them with calming treats, praise or playtime.

Over the course of a few weeks, gradually increase the amount of time the dog is in the crate. Try to get up to 30-minute intervals. While the dog is in the crate, go about your day as usual. It’s okay to leave the room, but don’t leave the house until the dog can comfortably stay in the crate without showing signs of anxiety.

Take short trips

If the dog has mild separation anxiety, it may be safe to take short trips out of the home. This could be a walk around the block or a trip to the mailbox. The main thing that matters is getting the dog used to being in the crate while you’re away. Start with 10- or 15-minute excursions and work your way up to half an hour over several days.

When you return, take your time to settle in before going to your dog. If the dog seems upset or overly excited to see you, wait until they calm down before letting them out of the crate. Once you do, reward them with a treat or praise for good behavior.

Dogs can learn to associate different activities with certain times of the day. Because of this, it’s important to vary up the time you leave each day. Go out in the morning one day, then in the afternoon or evening the next. This will help the dog get used to you being gone at any point of the day, not just one specific period.

If there are other people in the household, involve them in the crate training and short trips. Over time, the dog will become accustomed to people coming and going, not just you.

Give pre-departure cues

For a dog with extreme separation anxiety, even putting on your shoes or grabbing your keys could cause an adverse reaction. To avoid this, put the dog in their crate and go about your day as usual until they settle down. Next, act as if you’re leaving by gathering the things you’d normally need for a trip outside. Rather than actually leave, simply go to another room for 15 to 30 minutes while the dog stays in their crate. If necessary, start with one cue at a time (ex. pick up your keys or open and close the front door).

Once the dog is no longer stressed about the idea of you leaving, start incorporating more pre-departure cues into the crate training routine. Do this every day for as long as is needed. Eventually, you’ll be able to leave the house for short periods.

Monitor your dog

It can be helpful to check in on your dog and see how they’ve been doing while you’re away. To do this, set up a dog-monitoring camera connected to your phone. While outside, check the video feed to see how your dog reacts without you around. Knowing this can serve as a baseline for how long you can leave the dog alone. Adjust your time away as needed.

Stay calm and use positive reinforcement

Dogs are sensitive to their environment and to humans’ emotions, so they are more likely to act excitable if you do. When crate training a dog with separation anxiety, don’t make a big deal out of leaving or returning. Instead, stay calm while the dog is in the crate. Once you let them out, you can reward them for good behavior.

As the dog gets used to being in their crate, consider moving the crate to a busier area of the home. Again, any change in routine should be gradual and should only be done if the dog is relaxed.

Best crates for dogs with separation anxiety

Frisco Fold & Carry Collapsible Crate: available on Chewy.

This crate comes in different sizes and has a divider panel for a growing puppy or small dog. It also has a washable mat and can be stored when not in use.

MidWest Homes for Pets Dog Crate: available on Amazon.

Designed with a single and double door, this metal crate is durable enough to withstand sharp claws and teeth. It is lightweight, quiet and secure. Plus, it comes with rolling feet so as to not scratch up floors.

EliteField 3-Door Crate: available at Amazon.

This soft-sided crate is ideal for crate training while you’re around because it provides security and comfort to the dog. It comes in several colors and is lightweight enough to transport.

Top Paw Double Door Wire Dog Crate: available at Petsmart.

This mid-range metal crate is perfect for puppy training and large dogs alike. It’s also secure and has rollers to prevent scratching the floor during transport.

Carlson Pet Products Secure and Foldable Crate: available at Amazon.

Best for small dogs, this durable crate is easy to assemble, secure and portable. It also has a removable, washable pan for accidents.

Angela Watson is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.

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