Teaching Oscar to Relax in His Kennel to Get Over His Separation Anxiety

OscarOscar is a 8 year-old Golden Retrievier Mix who was adopted a little over a month ago.

His owner called me to help him get over the anxiety he showed whenever he is left alone. Oscar had chewed through doors and door frames when left out and when his owner’s got a kennel he literally bounced the kennel around the room before he bent the kennel door until he was able to escape.

When I arrived for the session, Oscar seemed a bit nervous, but only marginally so. He kept a bit of distance from me when he sat down, kept his head lowered a avoided direct eye contact. However once he got close enough to give me a good sniff, he relaxed and laid down on the floor as I discussed the situation with his owners.

Many dog owners feel sorry for their dog when it develops separation anxiety. To compensate they often think that removing all rules and boundaries is the compassionate thing to do. But dogs respond best to clear, confident leadership, especially when the dog lacks confidence or is anxious.

A great way to help a dog feel more confident is to clearly communicate the rules and limits it is expected to follow. This way the dog knows exactly what it can and cannot do rather than wandering around in a cloud of uncertainty. It also has the added benefit of communicating to the dog that it is not in the leadership position. There is a lot of responsibility to be in a leadership position. Combine that with a dog who lacks confidence and its no surprise the dog can develop anxiety.

After suggesting a few basic rules to add to their daily life, I demonstrated a leadership exercise that will help Oscar see his human house mates as the authority figure. It took a few moments and some gentle corrections before he understood what I was asking from him. But as soon as he did, he mastered the exercise quickly. It was nice to see him walking with more confidence and a nice bounce in his step.

Next I went over to Oscar’s kennel and tossed a few treats inside to gauge his fear of the kennel. While he was slightly trepidatious, he did walk into the kennel to retrieve it. This was a good sign as his owners had told me that they often had to pick him up and carry him into the kennel. While this gets the dog inside, it frequently reinforces a dog’s believe that the kennel is a bad place. Its always better to use a treat or toy to motivate a dog to walk in under his own power.

Each time I tossed in a treat, I let Oscar exit the kennel as he wished. But after tossing in about a dozen treats and seeing little hesitation from Oscar, i followed behind him to block him from exiting the kennel. I gradually took a few steps back and left the door open so that Oscar was restraining himself. Oscar tried to exit it a few times without permission, but I used body language and movement to communicate that I wanted him to stay inside.

His owner told me that she had never seen him lay down in the kennel. But after a few moments, Oscar sat and then laid down in the kennel. As soon as he did, I rewarded him by giving him permission to come out. We repeated the process a few times and Oscar laid down faster each time.

Next I coached his owner through the exercise herself so she could repeat it after our session. It took her a little longer to get Oscar to lie down as she had a slower corrective movement at first. But after a few corrections her timing and body language improved. Within six minutes Oscar laid down in the kennel for her as well.

Its important for a dog to practice being in the kennel in a calm frame of mind and the best way to do this is to practice being in the kennel while the family is home. The more experience the dog has of being in the kennel in a calm frame of mind, the more he will realize that the fear of the kennel was unfounded.

I suggested that his owners practice this exercise a few times a day while they are home. By leaving the door open and making Oscar restrain himself, we can help him build up a tolerance for the kennel. After a while that tolerance turns into acceptance and knowledge that nothing bad happens while he is inside.

To further enhance that feeling, I suggested that Oscar’s owners feed him inside the kennel and even toss in a few tasty treats when he isnt watching. This way he experiences some good activities or experiences in the kennel.

It will probably take a week or two of this desensitization process before Oscar gets completely over his fear of being in the kennel. Once that happens, his confidence level will rise and his anxiety will dissipate completely.

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