Crate training an option for separation anxiety

As I read through a recent email regarding the adoption of a companion pet for an older dog, I was grateful for the kind-hearted folks who obligated themselves to this task.

Their current dog, a little old girl, has complicated medical issues they willingly accepted, but they contemplated the idea that she might appreciate a four-legged friend. The email described their decision to adopt a 10-year-old female Cockapoo from a shelter in Utah and the current adjustment period.

The two little dogs bonded immediately and the newest member of the family graciously appreciated her new home, except when the two-legged members left the house. At first, there were small cries and whimpering, but soon those became frenzied howls that echoed off the walls. The dog would pace the floors looking out windows and doors for any sign of the human counterparts.

Professionals call this separation anxiety. It is one of the most common behavioral problems associated with when the “pack leader” leaves the pups alone. Some dogs will chew on household items such as shoes or chair legs to releasing their frustration, while others will urinate or defecate in retaliation. In severe panic mode, some dogs can injure themselves.

While the cause of separation anxiety is as diverse as each dog’s manifestation of it, there are measures you can take to assist your pet in overcoming this disorder.

In this little dog’s case, the couple consulted a trainer at Petsmart and were advised to crate train the dog and leave her confined during the night.

The email described their experience with this method one evening. The dog expressed no anxiety entering the crate and had apparently been introduced to one in her past. All was well until they closed the crate door, turned off the lights and went to bed. The dog began with small cries and whimpering but those soon escalated in intensity.

The couple tossed and turned listening to her torment for three hours before opening the crate door and letting her out. After a few pets, the dog went and laid down and everyone went to sleep.

Crate training is a valuable tool in helping dogs overcome separation anxieties, however, certain circumstances can inadvertently compound the problem. The idea of crate training comes from the idea that dogs feel comfort in a “den” atmosphere and a crate can offer that safe haven.

I support crate training for a multitude of reasons, however, this couple’s situation requires a deeper analysis in helping this dog learn to accept separation. Crate training is important when working with a puppy, but teaching an old dog might be challenging.

This couple educated themselves on certain techniques required to help the elderly girl adjust to the crate and their departure. Some beneficial assistance they incorporated included not making a commotion when leaving or entering the home.

Good-byes are said 10–15 minutes before vacating the house and likewise with hellos upon return. The nonchalant departures and returns eventually will help reduce the dog’s separation anxiety levels.

The old girl was acute in anticipating a departure, becoming excited when they picked up keys or put on coats. To help her adjust, they picked up keys, put on coats and then sat down for a few minutes. After some time passed, they quietly stood, took off their coats, put down the keys and went back about their routine around the house.

Through this process, a change doesn’t become an “event” but simply an aspect of their lives.

While the first night of crate training could be dubbed as failure, the couple continue to work with their new family member, helping her adjust to the crate. They began by placing an article of their clothing and an interactive toy, such as a “Kong” filled with peanut butter, in her crate.

The little dog was placed in the crate for short periods of time during the day, gradually increasing the time she was confined to the carrier. I imagine that in due course, she will eventually find refuge there.

I commend this couple for taking the elderly dog into their family and having the patience and common sense to help her overcome anxiety. Her life would possibly have resulted in a long-term shelter stay without their intercession.

Adjustment periods for pets placed in new homes typically are minimum of 4–6 weeks. However, those first few are always the hardest.

Commitment, understanding and a willingness to accept the responsibilities of a new life are keys to success when adopting an older pet.

Charlé Thibodeau has been passionate pet caregiver for more than 30 years and is the owner of Ah, Natural! Ltd. If you have a pets question you would like Thibodeau to answer in her column, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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