Confinement isn’t natural for a dog. In fact, it is counterintuitive. The vast majority of dogs will quickly learn to accept confinement, especially if they are introduced to it in a process of positive reinforcement. However, some dogs will react anxiously to confinement regardless, because instincts drive them to roam and wander freely. Confinement anxiety may also be learned.
Typical anxiety symptoms include restlessness, whining, barking, destructive behavior and, in severe cases, incontinence, shaking and obsessive behavior such as fur chewing and biting. To distinguish your dog’s behavior from other types of anxiety, context is key. If he exhibits signs of anxiety only when confined or when anticipating confinement, for example if he sees you putting bedding in his crate, confinement is probably causing his anxiety. If there isn’t a definite link between confinement and the anxious behavior, observe his behavior patterns and keep a diary so you can identify a cause. It may not be confinement anxiety.
Separation anxiety causes similar behavioral issues, but some key distinctions exist between it and confinement anxiety. Confinement anxiety can occur with or without the presence of the owner, such as when the dog is crated for transport, denied access to the garden or simply placed in a room alone with the door closed. Separation anxiety, meanwhile, occurs only when the dog is denied access to his owner or other family members and pets -- whomever he doesn't want to be separated from.
If a dog has a traumatic or unpleasant experience while confined, for example if he soils the crate or a thunderstorm occurs the first time he is crated, he may associate these experiences with the memory of being confined and he’ll form a negative association between the two.
Positive reinforcement can help a dog to accept confinement. By rewarding the dog with treats and praise when confined, he’ll learn that confinement has positive outcomes. If the dog has developed negative associations with confinement, a combination of neutralization and counter-conditioning will help. Neutralization involves helping the dog learn that confinement isn’t bad by gradually introducing him to the experience for brief periods; this way he learns confinement is always temporary. Neutralization removes negative associations. Counter-conditioning involves providing positive stimuli during confinement so he forms positive connections with confinement.
- Encina Veterinary Hospital: Beyond Separation Anxiety: Part 2, Confinement Anxiety and Barrier Frustration
- The Ohio State University; College of Veterinary Medicine: Housetraining
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