Dog Training World Forums Behavior Problems Dog Anxiety Crate Setbacks with Anxious Dog Reply To: Crate Setbacks with Anxious Dog

  • Michael D’Abruzzo

    August 25, 2017 at 10:43 pm

    Hi Gidget,

    There are many things to consider here and certainly you can get an improvement if you follow the general guidelines of “Foundation Style” dog training and start from the bottom and work your way up:

    I’ll go in order from the bottom and work my up.

    1. Understand canine behavior: German Shepherds, especially the white ones have a very very strong pack drive.  More so than probably any other breed.   Therefore, whether it is part of the final plan or not realize that a white shepherd being kept separated away from the rest of the “pack” is very unnatural for one and will cause distress not far off from trying to put a wolf in a crate (I had a client with a wolf that would likely kill itself trying to get back to the pack if put in a crate).  This is a very primitive and natural instinct.   Much of what you see with white German shepherds is the result of “reverse domestication”.  Since they are not selectively bred for work, confidence around strange humans, sounds, etc.. like some of their working counterparts they revert to primitive behaviors very easily.  German Shepherds come from a tight gene pool that were line bred on dogs that were known wolf hybrids.

    What we think of as “good nerves” is actually dulled nerves to make a dog not care about certain safety hazards that would likely make a wild canine vulnerable.  Same goes for things like suspicion of people and being parted with the pack, stuck in a crate, etc.. He was born with similar propensities as a wild canine in many aspects.  To accept that this is “normal” for him is very important for the plan.

    2. Health:  Problems with health can obviously put some plans to a stand still and that is why it is located so far on the bottom, but also doing things out of order MAY contribute to a health problem which again sets you back.   Anxiety does lower the immune system in both humans and animals and can make it easier for parasites and other infectious diseases to get a leg up on him.

    That being said I would mostly pay attention to his diet at this stage and make sure he isn’t eating anything that causes mild allergic reactions which will make him that much more miserable and want to seek comfort if separated from you.

    3. Attitude – This layer is the most overlooked because most people don’t grasp its significance right away.  Our attitude about the dog will influence our behavior toward the dog, and our behavior will be the hands on training so we cant ever get this wrong.

    Our attitude is influenced by our past experiences, knowledge, and peer pressure.  So, for example, if our past experienced involved dogs that did well when separated and if peers advise us to punish him in the crate for his “bad” behavior our behavior will spring off of that.

    My advice is to start a new plan with a slightly different attitude. For sure I can tell you have a big heart and that is why you adopted him and everything you are doing is to help him.

    But, start to look at him slightly differently, as a dog that is behaving naturally for one with a more primitive pack drive and a dog that is likely very unhappy with the situation whether he is punished for vocalizing or not.  Wagging a dog’s tail for him does not make him happy and discouraging the crying or attempts to escape doesn’t lesson the anxiety.  If we are not careful an added association of ecollar corrections no matter how light will snowball the bad association with the separation and make it harder to stack the situation to more favorable associations than bad.

    I am obviously not against using ecollars in training, especially if a dog understands exactly how to avoid the punishment and we are asking something reasonable of the dog to succeed at.  If we are fighting raw emotions, I would see what we could do about the emotions first, instead of “treating the symptoms”.

    Treating the symptoms never really works unless by chance we are also following through with a plan that IS addressing the underlying issues before side effects get too bad.  That is what we want to focus on, the underlying reason.

    4. Applied Behavior Analysis – This is basically identifying the problem behavior and making sure we have an appropriate and reasonable replacement behavior picked out before we attempt to change the behavior in a scientific way that makes sense to us.  If it doesn’t make sense to us, it won’t make sense to him.  So what is our plan? And will it make sense?  That is what we do next.

    5. Leadership will serve two purposes for you (and him). 1. It established operations, so we control everything that motivates not only him, but also your other dog.  We need tools to work and motivate with. It sounds like the one of the reasons he is in a crate instead of with you is because your other dog will not allow it?  That is something that maybe can be explored.

    If we control resources we are empowered and it is easier to lead. When we lead we get to decide a lot of things, including resources such as resting places and your attention. We can make new behaviors more rewarding because everything becomes more valuable when we control it.   When the dogs are in control of any need there is much more potential for conflict.  For instance, do these dogs obtain their need for affection by their own solicitation and free access or do they wait for the family to provide?  Something as simple as a dog being responsible for initiating the affection can throw a wrench into any plan.

    A dog solicits affection, it makes sense to solicit you from another room.

    A dog solicits affection, and other dogs become a competitor for that affection.

    When they don’t solicit and are provided for, from the humans remembering to call the dogs over periodically it helps take a load off the dogs.  Nothing to guard and it isn’t their responsibility to share in affection with you.  I am going hasty with this explanation but it is important.

    6. Drive balance – When we control and micromanage the day we can control when the dog exercises, gets a chance to chew things, eat, etc.. we control and satisfy all the drives of the dogs and keep them balanced.  Print out a chart from the habitation article and make a note everytime you provide a need (love, food, play, potty break, etc..) and make a note everytime a dog fulfills their own need (CRIES to get attention, chews something they are not supposed to, etc..). Can we see trends in how much the dog’s need each drive?  Can we provide appropriate replacement behaviors before they provide for themselves?

    7. This brings us to ANXIETY: and if we really worked on our foundation we can work on this step, but it will not be the end of the plan.  The important thing to remember here is that this step is for working on ANXIETY and not obedience such as not barking when told.  Any automatic corrections for bad behavior fall under the next step habitation so you wouldn’t do anything involving that either until you work on this step.

    Unfortunately, the best way to work on things isn’t always the most enjoyable to us, but you were actually on the right track when you slept in the same room with him.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that for starters and it is how I do things with all new puppies or even an adult dog if the dog is going to be in the home and is prone to separation anxiety.  I would even go as far as pushing myself right up the crate if it helps him.  From there, at a pace that is working, you slowly distance yourself from him. It may be from right against his crate, to the couch, and then it may be you manipulate the room so he doesn’t quite see all of you, but he knows you are there.  Then, you leave the room for only a split moment and then go back to the couch. you do things like this slow each night to see what you can accomplish without triggering the anxiety.  He needs to be confident that he is never really alone and it is very important that you let HIM out of the crate before he makes any solicitation like crying, even if you need to wake up early.  He must get the chance to learn that you never really leave him (even when you are not there) and that he doesn’t need to panic for you to come back.

    If you are controlling his resources you can always put his best things only in his crate when he needs to be left alone to lean the association with the crate in a better direction compared to when he is out.

    Anxiety can take patience and it is OK to use meds to make it easier to get over the hump.

    Using punishment for certain behavior IS valid if you put an honest effort into helping with the reasons he is anxious.  But, do not do punishment unless it is done very carefully and according to a plan that makes sense in either habitation or obedience..

    8. Habitation: teaching a dog how to interact with the environment,so he basically does not destroy the house.  I do not know your exact situation, but sometimes spending too much time on crate training can slow down a true housebreaking plan, where you do not need the crate anyway because the dog will not make a mess and most of the anxiety is relieved the moment the dog does not feel trapped in the crate.

    There are a lot of options here that you can do.  For one, you can housebreak the dog in the room where you normally keep the crate.  Once the dog behaves well in the crate, without anxiety, with you in the room at night, AND the dog understands he will be provided with the times for going outside and fed in the morning etc.. you can start leaving him out at night with you and follow a three phase housebreaking plan (which does involve punishment in the second phase with ecollar for putting his mouth on anything besides what you hand him such as chews before we start to leave him unattended).  The thing is you don’t really want to work on habitation when the dog is experiencing anxiety because you do not want to punish physiological reactions that he can barely help.

    Habitation can also be done in the crate if you are there watching and he is not acting “anxious” but I usually limit it to only behaviors that will get him injured such as digging at the crate and i just would do a little “nick”.  I honesty never use the ecollar for barking in the crate because it is too much tied into emotional behavior and it is a good indication of where the dog is emotionally.  Also, i do not want to take away a release for emotions and add to the dogs anxiety.  The worst case scenarios are when there is danger of a dog being removed because of a complaining neighbor or family member.  In that case, you can use your judgement if “quiet” will help without side effects.  If you are using a plan that works on the anxiety and not just focusing on the punishment you should get improvement.

    9. Obedience: this is technically where you are telling the dog what to do. Such as “quiet” or “down”.  Remember, this is way up at the top because it ALWAYS works best if we have a solid foundation and it is done thoughtfully.  I have already written a short book here but all obedience i make sure I do a three phase style so the dog truly understand that obedience is just as much a good thing as a responsibility of his.  We never want a dog to be insecure about commands that utilize punishment, therefore the dog must always feel in control of the consequences and know 100 percent how to avoid them.

    10. Perception:  How does he perceive the crate now? How can we change it? Or how can we change his perception of being left alone in general whether in or out of the crate?  These are things we can work on if we have at least a somewhat sane dog that will chew on things we give him.

    11: management: we should always have a short term plan to hold as over and have a long term plan in mind.  What is a reasonable long term management plan that will give you both a good quality of life while avoiding setting up either of you for failure.  Is it reasonable to have all the dogs loose at night? Him loose in the room? Or for various reasons is the long term plan the crate?  I would suggest aiming high. Aim for what you think will cater to both of your needs best.


    I know this is long, but this is an initial blue print that you can potentially toy with.