Dog Training Tips Help a Shepherd Mix Get Over Separation Anxiety in the Crate

By: Sam Kanouse

Published Date: July 14, 2017

Luna is a nine-month-old, German Shepherd / Australian Shepherd puppy, who lives in Omaha. Her guardian set up a dog behavior training session to fix separation anxiety and crate training.

Luna was excited to see me when I arrived. She started jumping up on me, which her guardian described as being new behavior when greeting guests. By petting a dog that jumps up on you, you are reinforcing that behavior. Instead, we train ‘manding,’ which is when a dog automatically sits down to receive attention. You can do this by training your puppy to sit when guests enter the house, with several repetitions your puppy will learn how to sit to receive attention from guests.

You can see how Luna’s initial greeting went in the video below.

Luna quickly settled down after I went into the home. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Luna already had several rules in place already; no furniture, sitting before going through the doorway, and waiting to eat until given permission. I helped fine-tune Luna’s eating ritual by providing her guardian with a few dog training tips for structured eating.

The main dog behavior concern that the guardian had was Luna’s separation anxiety in the crate. Luna would potty in her crate, be visibly anxious upon the guardian’s return and she started to attempt to escape the crate by bending the wire of the crate itself.

I asked the guardian if Luna would go outside to potty, and her guardian informed me that she would. Even if Luna was at the dog park and went to the bathroom several times and then the guardian left her in the crate for only 30 minutes, Luna would go again. This made me think that Luna believed in a cause-and-effect relationship between her crate behavior and her guardian’s return.

When I went downstairs to where Luna’s crate was, I was happy to see that the guardian had already started to work on counterconditioning with the kennel. She created a positive association between Luna being in the crate with the door open and having her guardian close by. This was a great first step in making the kennel have a positive association for Luna.

However, when the guardian would leave Luna, her separation anxiety would set in. To help Luna fix her separation anxiety, we started by breaking down the components of her guardian leaving into small steps. We used positive dog training, by giving Luna treats at each step; picking up the car keys, picking up the guardian’s bag, going into the crate, etc. You can see how we accomplished crate training in the video below.

By slowly increasing the duration that the guardian is away from Luna and then slowly increasing the distance, Luna will develop self-control and calm energy while her guardian is away. However, dogs tend to get stressed when they are in their crates for five hours or longer. To help Luna over come her kennel anxiety, I would suggest incorporating a dog walker if Luna will be in her crate for longer than five hours, to break up the duration that she is in the kennel.

It will be important for the guardian to practice this over and over again, slowly increasing the level of difficulty for Luna. Luna will indicate that she is comfortable by laying down or sitting in her crate when the guardian returns. If Luna is displaying any high-energy behaviors such as standing with her tail held high or moving around in her crate the guardian has moved too quickly through the steps.

I suggested to the guardian to enroll Luna in a doggy daycare while working on crate training. This will help Luna isolate the kennel into only positive associations, without having to regress backwards by leaving her in the kennel for extended periods of time until she has worked up to that point. I recommended that the guardian practice this five times per day, every day until Luna has calm energy upon her return when she leaves for several hours.

By the end of the session, Luna was relaxed and comfortable in her crate while the guardian was out of eye sight. We finished up the session by going over Luna’s Roadmap to Success video, which you can watch below.

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This post was written by: Sam Kanouse

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