Dog separation anxiety can be a devastating canine disorder.
The condition leaves dogs feeling distressed and panicked when their left at home alone.
Separation anxiety can be an overwhelming condition for pet parents to tackle.
Trying to resolve the issue can often leave owners feeling confused, helpless and defeated.
If you’ve experienced separation anxiety like me, you’ll almost certainly have been told or read advice online that recommends crating your separation anxiety dog.
However, in my experience with my two Alaskan Klee Kai, using a crate has had little difference. Having said that, I’ve persisted with the crate for fear of what would happen if I leave my dogs in a room alone.
In a bid to learn more about separation anxiety, I spoke to Malena DeMartini. She’s an expert in separation anxiety who has dedicated 20 years of her career working with this canine disorder.
In the third part of my interview with the San Francisco Bay Area dog trainer, I spoke to Malena about whether you should crate a dog with separation anxiety.
Part One: What is dog separation anxiety?
Part Two: Dog separation anxiety myths and misconceptions
Part Four: Do feeing toys help dogs with separation anxiety?
Part Five: How long does it take to break a dog’s separation anxiety?
Part Six: How to prevent dog separation anxiety
Part Seven: How To Help New Puppy With Separation Anxiety
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Do you recommend crating an anxious dog?
Here’s a couple of things about crates with regards to separation anxiety.
First of all, to go on record, I think crates are terrific management tools for many reasons. For example, it’s important to crate train your dog because at some stage they’ll have to go to the vet. If they were never exposed to a crate, it would be much more difficult for them to be crated in the vet environment. I don’t want people to think crates are bad.
Having said that, it’s really common that dogs with separation anxiety suffer from crate anxiety (or confinement anxiety). For example, if I leave my dog free in the house or outside of a crate environment, it might take one minute before he starts whining and two minutes before he starts howling. If I assess him in the crate and then walk out my door, within a millisecond he’s screaming.
It’s so common with the clients that we see that the crate exacerbates the problem.
Having said that, some dogs love their crate. Often times I hear dog owners say things like: “he goes into his crate at night and he loves it” or “he goes in there on his own and likes it”. While these are positives, it doesn’t mean the crate is the ideal area or correct management tool during alone time for a separation anxiety dog. It’s really important to assess and determine what is the most comfortable situation for that particular dog.
If you’re putting a dog in a crate and his anxiety is exacerbated, you’re unnecessarily making your job much more difficult.
How long should you leave your dog alone when doing separation anxiety training outside of the crate?
When you’re training a dog with separation anxiety, you’re going to be working beneath the dog’s anxiety threshold.
For example, your dog is good for 20 minutes and doesn’t bark or destroy anything, but by the time he gets to 30 minutes, he starts to get anxious, his threshold is 20 minutes or less. So in that example, we would be fastidious about not leaving him for 30 minutes and allow him to rehearse this behaviour over and over and build up his anxiety.
It is key to back up and keep the dog under his anxiety threshold during training.
If the dog is under his anxiety threshold, he will not be barking, peeing or destroying things so is there a need to have him in the crate? The reason most people use a crate is because they don’t want their dog chewing their stuff up, peeing on the floor or howling under the door. If he’s not anxious, he won’t be exhibiting those behaviors.
How do you decide whether your dog is better in a crate or not?
Whenever we’re looking at a dog or assessing what situation is best suited for them, we have to compare apples to apples. You will likely have some pre assessment information.
If you feel the dog might do better in a crate or even if you feel that is the preferred place for you to use, you need to determine the dog’s comfort level. (By the way – if the dog has never been crate trained I highly discourage doing this sort of assessment.)
I would do an apples to apples assessment – place the dog in the closed crate and exit the apartment door. Observe the dog to determine to what degree he expresses anxiety. In a day or so, do a second assessment and leave the dog outside of the crate in a generally free area and see if they are better, worse or the same. That’s the only way to really know.
Some dogs won’t care as long as you’re in the house. The difference between exiting the front door and remaining inside the house is really important to assess.
Who is Malena DeMartini?
Malena DeMartini is an expert in separation anxiety in dogs. With nearly 20 years of experience working exclusively on separation anxiety, Malena has encountered hundreds of cases. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Malena continues to be innovative to find better ways to treat the condition and support clients.
What is Malena DeMartini’s background in separation anxiety?
In 2001, I was doing all manner of behaviour work – everything from aggression to recalls and so forth.
Very early on, I got my first separation anxiety case. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m a very green trainer so I don’t know if I should take this on’.
The dog owner said she had talked to seven different dog trainers and all of them had refused to take her on so she didn’t know what to do. I said I wanted to be fully transparent with her and that I do understand the principles of separation anxiety but I haven’t done it before. So I said I’d help her but if I was in over my head, I’d call someone else.
We worked on the separation anxiety with her dog Guinness. After a short bit of time, we were very successful with his separation anxiety. Word spread like wildfire that I had success with a separation anxiety dog so I started to get a ton of referrals. People didn’t like working with separation anxiety.
The second case I took crashed and burned. From that point forward, I set out to research, trial and error and was very transparent with every client, letting them know that I didn’t have the perfect solution but I’d work with them in every aspect to make progress.
It went on for several years as I learned what works and what doesn’t work. Over time, I found a successful direction to go. It quickly became my passion! But I do always say that separation anxiety chose me, I did not chose it!
If you would like to learn more about Malena, you can visit her website malenademartini.com.
Do you suspect your dog is struggling with separation anxiety? Malena is offering helloBARK! readers the chance to avail of a special discount code for her online self-paced course for dog owners. For more information, contact [email protected].