Comforting Your Dogs: Understanding Confinement Anxiety

by | Apr 4, 2023 | TPLO Recovery

Dogs are naturally social creatures and are used to being around their owners, so being confined in a small space can cause them anxiety. Crates are useful tools to help you introduce a new pet into your home, helping them become familiar with their environment. While most dogs learn to accept periods of confinement, some canines experience anxiety.

This is important for pet owners to understand because confining your dog is nearly unavoidable in situations like after surgery, travel, or the need to secure them in times of emergency. Stress and anxiety in dogs may sometimes lead to a condition called “confinement anxiety”, characterized by extreme distress when your pet is confined to a small space.

Depending on the size of your dog, confinement anxiety can result from crates and pens to even larger restricted spaces like an entire room with the door closed. In more extreme cases, your pet’s confinement anxiety may be triggered by the mere feeling of being confined. 

How A Dog’s Confinement Anxiety Affects Their Quality of Life

If a crate or pen is too small for your dog, or if they associate a confined space with negative experiences, it’ll be difficult for you both when you have to confine your pet, which can damage property or injure themselves in the process. 

Closely observing your dog’s behavior before taking them to a professional will help. You must first identify whether your pet’s anxiety is caused by confinement and not separation, which is also a common source of distress among dogs. You may use the following questions to guide your observations: 

How does your dog react when they know you’re about to leave?

Does your dog’s behavior change when they realize you’re about to leave? If so, your dog may be experiencing separation anxiety rather than confinement anxiety. They may also generally prefer being in the company of others, and how you treat their condition will reflect that.

How does your dog react when you get home from being away for a few hours?

When dogs are attached to their owners, they react happily or excitedly when they know the latter is about to get home. If instead of happy, your dog is more relieved (after feeling panicked), this may be a sign they’re experiencing separation anxiety rather than confinement anxiety.  

Is your dog comfortable being in a crate or confined when you’re present?

If your dog is comfortable being in a crate or a confined space while you’re present but is uneasy when you aren’t with them, they may be experiencing separation anxiety. On the other hand, if your dog is uncomfortable being in a crate or confined space, whether you’re present or not, this may instead point to confinement anxiety.

How does your dog react to being in a crate or confined space with the door closed? What about with the door open?

Once you’ve determined that they’re experiencing confinement anxiety, you can ease your pet into crate training or have them grow accustomed to your home by slowing your pace and understanding their specific needs. Some dogs will treat their crates like security blankets once they’ve established the safety the space brings. They may also be willing to stay in a confined space, but only if they can choose to leave it.

Will offering treats and snacks change your dog’s behavior when confined or in a crate?

If your dog will accept treats while in a crate, you may use them to help train them to get used to being in the crate. On the other hand, if they are only comfortable eating in a crate while you’re present, this may point to separation anxiety instead of confinement anxiety. 

Symptoms of Confinement Anxiety in Dogs

Knowing the symptoms of your dog’s condition will help determine what can be done to ease their discomfort. Note that some symptoms of confinement anxiety may overlap with other forms of anxiety.

  • Pacing or running
  • Hiding or cowering
  • Digging or clawing, which may result in the destruction of furniture
  • Aggressive, continuous barking
  • Ears tucked back and tail between their legs
  • Unusual alertness
  • Excessive whining
  • Trembling, shivering, or shaking
  • Tense muscles when held or lifted
  • Constant urination or defecation (more than usual)

How to Treat Confinement Anxiety in Dogs

Here are tips for treating dogs with confinement anxiety, including natural ways to calm anxiety in dogs. Generally, it’s best to focus on and reward positive behavior and refrain from punishing your pet for its condition.

Create A Safe Space 

When dealing with confinement anxiety in dogs, you must first decide on a specific area or room you can designate as your pet’s primary space. Remember that they won’t be urinating or defecating here, as you’ll want to have them do those things in a separate area, such as in the bathroom or outside the house. 

In their primary space, you’ll lay out your dog’s bed, feeding bowls, toys, and anything you feel will make them the most comfortable. You can even include a personalized first aid kit. They should be able to retreat into this space whenever they need to. And, if your dog tends to be uncomfortable around new people or other animals, you shouldn’t let anyone else into the space.

Complete Your Dog’s Crate Training

When introducing a new pet into your home, it’s best to carve out time to go through crate training with them. Doing so will let your pet know that confinement doesn’t mean you’re abandoning them. 

You can place your dog in a crate or confined space at least once daily for a few minutes while with them. Offer them a treat if you need to. If your dog whines or barks, do not immediately comfort them. You must also not yell or shame them for this behavior and ignore them until a designated amount of time has passed. After their confinement period, you can then praise and reward them.

Provide Long-Lasting Toys

Toys can be useful tools for training your pets but are also ways to relax and entertain them. We recommend looking into durable toys that can occupy your pets for hours if necessary. Aside from chew toys, you can try educational toys that hide a small treat inside for your dog to figure out.

Consider A Pet Daycare

If your dog proves to be a bit more challenging, you can look into pet daycare centers or family and friends who can look after your pet when you’re out or away. A daycare will normally have a space for them to move around and play in as they interact with other friendly dogs, which will help build your pet’s confidence and social skills.

If you choose a trusted relative or friend, your dog may grow familiar with more people in your life. As a result, they will grow accustomed to different environments, feel safer, and better understand that you’re not abandoning them.

Consult A Professional Trainer

Another way to ease stress and anxiety in dogs is to hire a qualified trainer to help navigate your pet’s condition. A professional can provide you with more tips and tricks on dealing with your dog’s confinement anxiety. They’ll also be able to devote additional time to help your pet in case your work or lifestyle keeps you busier. 

Note that spending quality time with your dog is still the most important, and having a trainer helping out is only meant to be complementary practice.

Keep Calm and Carry On Together

The key to understanding confinement anxiety in dogs is ensuring your pet feels safe and encouraged in their new home. While each canine is different, leading to a mix and match of how to ease their discomfort, we suggest contacting your veterinarian for more insights.  

You can also learn more about dog health, injuries, and treatment by visiting the TPLOInfo blog today!

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