Claustrophobia is defined as the fear of small, enclosed spaces. While many canines take after their wolf ancestors, who made dens in such snug spaces, some can develop this fear of being trapped in a cramped spot. If Fido goes nuts when you put him in his carrier, crate or other enclosed space, you can take steps to help alleviate his anxiety with positive reinforcement.
Causes of Claustrophobia
According to Dr. Lore Haug, in a discussion posted by the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America, our canine companions can suffer from a form of claustrophobia known as barrier or confinement anxiety. The causes for such anxiety can vary but are usually due to improper crate training or using the crate, or another enclosed area, as a form of punishment. Using confined spaces to punish your pup teaches him to associate them with bad things. Another cause of canine claustrophobia is the fear of being attacked by a predator in an enclosed space that he can't escape from, according to "It's a Dog's Life...but it's Your Carpet: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Your Four-Legged Friend."
Signs of Claustrophobia
A phobic dog may panic when he's exposed to whatever stimulus he fears. In the case of a claustrophobic dog, Fido will become upset when he's confined in a small space, but not at other times. Once confined, he'll panic and may attempt to escape. Other signs of anxiety include trembling, diarrhea, a tucked tail or even self-destructive licking or biting, warns petMD. Don't confuse claustrophobia with separation anxiety, which is a separate issue. Dogs with separation anxiety may only become upset in a small space, such as a crate, when you leave but while not in your presence. Some dogs do suffer from both disorders and confinement can worsen a dog's separation anxiety, according to the Banfield Pet Hospital.
Dealing with Claustrophobia
If your pup fears confined spaces, change his opinion of them using positive reinforcement to associate them with good things, recommends the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Choose a crate with enough room for Fido to sit, turn around and stand in. Line it with a comfy blanket and place a favorite toy and some treats inside. Allow Fido to enter the crate by himself and reward him with praise and treats whenever he goes inside. After he becomes used to the crate, close him in for a few seconds at a time, gradually extending his confinement. Reward him with treats and praise if he behaves calmly inside the crate.
If Fido is becomes violently panicked and destructive while inside his crate or another enclosed space like a car, he could injure himself. Seek the help of an animal behaviorist and your vet to deal with severe claustrophobia issues. Your vet can prescribe medication to help calm your dog and reduce his anxiety when confined, which can assist with crate training. Make confinement in a crate less stressful by having a dog walker exercise your pup during the day so that he's not cooped up for hours. Regular exercise also helps to relieve stress in dogs, according to Banfield Pet Hospital, which should help with his claustrophobia.