Separation anxiety is a particularly frustrating problem for pet parents, and it is surely even more taxing for our furry little friends.
Arguments about the pack-structure of wolves aside, dogs are inherently social animals. And once many of them bond – whether they do so with humans or other critters – they do not like to be separated. When left alone, these poor pooches often feel extremely anxious, and often act out in destructive and potentially dangerous ways.
Today we're exploring some of the fundamentals of dog separation anxiety, as well as taking a look at the best dog crates for separation-anxiety prone pooches.
Want to get straight to the crates? See our quick guide to the top picks below:
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|ProSelect Empire Dog Cage|
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2PET Foldable Dog Crate
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This article is pretty lengthy, which is why we've broken it down into linkable sections. Feel free to click a category in our table of contents below to jump ahead!
Many dogs get into occasional mischief when left alone in the home.
They may get into the garbage (I will never tire of that clip) to root out something delicious or sleep on a bed that’s normally off-limits.
But most dogs behave themselves reasonably well when left alone, and they don’t cause too much damage.
But dogs suffering from separation anxiety are a different matter. These dogs struggle mightily when alone – even if their person is only away for 10 or 15 minutes. Some of the most common ways dogs express their anxiety (and try to cope with it) include:
Take a look at this extreme example of separation anxiety from this poor pup, who even resorts to attempts to chew the wire dog crate in an effort to get out, which is not just sad, but also incredible dangerous!
Separation anxiety is a relatively well-defined affliction, but it may stem from a wide variety of causes.
Some of the most common causes of the problem (as well as things that are correlated with separation anxiety) include:
Any dog can suffer from separation anxiety, but some are much more likely to need to be by their parent’s side than others are.
Some of the breeds that most commonly grow anxious at your absence include:
As discussed above, breeds that are known to be people pleasers, and bond very closely to their humans, often suffer from separation anxiety. For them, time away from their owners is simply misery.
By contrast, these breeds tend to be more independent and aren’t often troubled by a bit of alone time:
While these breed tendencies are fairly consistent, it is important to treat your dog as the individual she is. If your dog feels nervous when you leave, then it doesn’t matter whether she is a Chow Chow or a Rottweiler.
Besides, your dog has no idea what breed she is - she simply feels what she feels!
Like most other behavioral problems, separation anxiety can be a tough nut to crack. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and you may have to experiment with several different strategies before you find one that works.
Some of the most commonly implemented solutions include the following:
Almost every behavioral problem imaginable can be at least partially remedied by providing your dog with more exercise.
Not only do dogs benefit from the endorphins and general fun experienced during some tennis-ball time, it wears them out, making them more likely to sleep while you are away.
We humans have the habit of comforting our dogs before we leave. Human children can be reassured with words promising your return, but these kind intentions can actually set your pup back.
The attention shown to your dog when you come or leave is actually rewarding your dog's nervous behavior, feeding into his stress cycle!
When puppies cry for our attention, we naturally want to run over and comfort them. However, dogs need to learn how to be without your company in order to grow into confident, secure animals.
When you leave the home, don't say anything to your dog. Practice the same habit when you return - no big shouts of "I'm finally home, did you miss me?" Instead, walk past your dog and, if he's waiting politely, you can then go back and let him out.
However, if he's banging and busting at the crate, wait until he is calm. Don't reinforce his crazed behavior!
Dogs tend to be very aware of your physical movements and behavioral signals that you'll be departing. You may not be aware of your departure routine, but your dog certainly knows it well!
Instead of grabbing your jacket and jangling your keys as you head out the door, mix up your routine to prevent setting your dog off into a state of panic. Pick up your jacket and purse for time-to-time for no reason, and place departure items in different spots around the home. Exit out of different doors of the house, and remember not to say anything to your dog when you leave - just go!
Practicing alone time should start as a puppy - you can begin by making your disappearance into a game!
Try practicing leaving your dog's view by having your pup sit and wait while you leave the room for 30 seconds. Then a minute. Then two minutes! Start small and work your pup up to longer periods of absence.
As your dog learns how to be alone, you'll want to teach your pooch how to accept and even enjoy their crate time. Start crate training early to teach your dog how to be alone and how to find comfort in their crate.
Making your dog's crate a fun and positive place can be done by:
One great method for desensitizing your pet to the crate is by using the crate for a fun game!
Games like these can go a long way to helping build positive crate experienced for your pooch!
Purchase an especially interesting game or dog puzzle toy to help occupy your pup during alone time. This only works if your dog really loves the toy in question, but assuming she does, it will help distract her while you are away. Super-cool toys may not completely eliminate her separation anxiety, but they can definitely help.
Many owners also often opt to give their dog a frozen Kong treat when they're away. Kongs can be stuffed with peanut butter and treats, and then frozen, to create a tasty, irresistible item your dog can redirect her energy towards!
Leave familiar and favorite items with your dog when you leave. Although it sounds kind of silly, you may be able to help ease your pet’s worries by leaving a worn T-shirt or pair of socks with her when you must leave. The comfort of her person’s scent may help her feel less lonely!
You might also want to consider trying providing your pooch with some anti-anxiety medicine. Options vary from natural, calming dog treats, to vet-prescribed medications.
Some dogs will feel better if they have a buddy to hang out with while you are gone.
You’ll have to use care to ensure that your dog gets along well with the new addition, and avoid leaving them home alone until you are satisfied that they’ll cohabitate peacefully.
Thinking about getting a companion for your pooch? You might want to consider a cat!
That's right - cat-friendly dogs may greatly appreciate a feline sidekick. Just make sure to keep your pooch out of the cat's litter box!
Naturally this solution won't be right for everyone - bringing a 2nd dog into your home is a big decision. However, if you're considering a duo dog situation anyway, easing separation anxiety is another perk to consider.
Another option is to utilize one of the many interactive products that allow you to interact with your dog while you are away.
Technology has given dog owners the ability to interact with their pup from afar – some such products even allow you to dispense treats or manipulate a laser pointer. By using these types of devices, you can periodically “check in” with your pet, and calm her fears.
Utilize a crate to help your dog feel safer while you are gone. Many wild canines retreat to a subterranean den when fearful, and domestic dogs exhibit similar instincts – they love to hide in tight, secure little cavities.
A well-selected crate can provide this type of “hiding box” for your pup, and keep her out of trouble while you are gone.
Don't worry - we'll show you some of the best crate options below.
One obvious, although probably not super viable option, is to simply accept that your dog will perpetually live in your shadow and make the appropriate changes to your lifestyle. Of course this isn't a realistic option for all people, but it is the only reasonable immediate solution for some anxiety-stricken dogs.
And with remote working at an all-time high, it isn't so ridiculous to imagine that you could spend the majority of your hours with your pup at home!
If you choose to go this route, you’ll need a good travel crate to keep her safe while in unfamiliar locations.
It's also worth noting that some dogs age out of separation anxiety, although you'll likely need to power through some turbulent times to reach those more relaxed senior years.
While crates vary in a number of ways, including design, size and materials, among others, ones well-suited for anxious dogs all share a number of important features.
The following six crates may help you comfort your anxious dog and make her feel better while you are not home. However, you must be sure to select a suitable crate for your circumstances.
Be sure to consider the crate’s size, your dog’s size and the anxiety level of your pooch before making a selection.
About: The AmazonBasics Soft-Sided Pet Travel Carrier is designed to be a carrier for families on the go rather than a stand-alone kennel, but its design and materials will help keep your anxious dog calmer while you are both out and about.
PROS: Owners with dogs who suffer from severe separation anxiety may simply have to take their dogs with them everywhere. The AmazonBasics Soft-Sided Carrier is well-suited for these types of scenarios, and it will help keep your pup safe and feeling secure while she accompanies you on your journeys.
CONS: The AmazonBasics Soft-Sided Pet Carrier is only suitable for small dogs, and the manufacturer discourages its use for dogs over 8 pounds (small model) or 22 pounds (large model).
We also don't recommend leaving anxious dogs alone in this carrier - they'll tear through it quite easily! This carrier is really more ideal for when you want to keep your velcro dog by your side, not when you want to leave her alone.
PROS: The AmazonBasics Top-Load Pet Kennel is a great choice for owners looking for an economical, yet functional kennel to keep their pup feeling more secure. The durable plastic shell provides a darkened, cave-like sense of safety for your pooch, while still providing plenty of ventilation.
CONS: Unfortunately, the AmazonBasics Top-Load Pet Kennel is only available in two sizes, both of which are on the small side, so this kennel won’t work for your Great Dane.
About: The Petmate Sky Kennel is a no-frills, high-quality kennel that will keep your pup safe and comfortable while you go about your day.
Although the kennel is marketed to owners looking for an airplane-friendly kennel, it will also work to keep your separation-anxiety-ridden dog out of trouble while you are at work.
PROS: This is a heavy-duty dog crate, which is perfect for larger, more determined dogs that represent an escape risk. The hard plastic sides and top also offer a comforting, dark environment that gives your dog a sense of security.
CONS: High-quality, durable dog kennels like the Petmate Sky Kennel require premium materials and craftsmanship, which raise the price point compared to soft carriers and smaller designs.
About: The Petnation Port-A-Crate Indoor/Outdoor Pet Home is a cozy little casa that may help to keep your dog feeling safe and secure while you run errands or head out for the day. The soft-sided crate design allows it to be ultra-portable and easy to assemble.
PROS: The Petnation Port-A-Crate offers one of the coziest and comforting interiors of any kennel on the market. Owners of moderately sized, moderately anxious dogs will likely be very pleased with the way this kennel calms their pup.
CONS: Due to the fabric-construction, this kennel is not suitable for chewers! If your dog channels her anxiety by chewing, she'll bust right out of this soft crate. In addition, this crate can't fit extra large canines.
Although the Petnation Port-A-Crate is available in sizes large enough for 70-pound dogs, owners of larger dogs will need to look elsewhere for a kennel.
PROS: The Impact Case Stationary Dog Crate is the ideal option for owners seeking one of the most secure and well-constructed crates available. Additionally, this crate features largely solid walls, which makes the interior dark and cozy, to help soothe your pet’s stress.
CONS: If you want a USA-made, IATA compliant crate with protected corners and an automatically locking latch, you’ll have to lay out a considerable amount of cash. Additionally, the Impact Case Stationary Crate requires user assembly.
PROS: The ProSelect Empire Dog Cage is perfect for owners of dogs that are big, strong or determined enough to bust out of most conventional crates. The ProSelect Empire Cage is strong enough to handle everything your dog dishes out, and its high-quality construction guarantee it will last for years.
CONS: The ProSelect Dog Cage is one of the more expensive crates on the market, so it isn’t a great choice for budget-minded shoppers.
PROS: Thanks to its tubular steel frame, this soft-sided kennel is one of the more durable units available to pet owners. Additionally, most owners that have tried the 2PET Foldable Dog Crate rave about the kennel’s high-quality construction.
CONS: The 2PET Foldable Dog Crate is only appropriate for dogs under 70 pounds in weight, and – like all other soft-sided kennels – is inappropriate for dogs who tend to chew or dig.
All dogs should have a safe place to hang out when they are anxious, and a cozy little crate is perhaps the perfect option.
Consider the crates we’ve outlined here, and try to incorporate one of them into your anxiety-preventing plan.
We’d love to hear success stories from owners with anxious pups, and we’d like to know which crate worked best for your dog! Let us know in the comments below.
Ben is a proud dog owner and lifelong environmental educator who writes about animals, outdoor recreation, science, and environmental issues. He lives with his beautiful wife and spoiled-rotten Rottweiler JB in Atlanta, Georgia. Read more by Ben at FootstepsInTheForest.com.