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Does a dog barking in the crate mean separation anxiety?

Tonight it happened again. I had a session with a client that thought their puppy “was screaming bloody murder” in the crate and were anxious to get my opinion  about whether their puppy had separation anxiety.

We put the puppy in the crate, walked out of the room and the puppy barked. They looked at me with questioning eyes. “Well? What do you think?”

“Totally normal. Don’t worry about it.”

They were relieved and a little surprised. They thought for sure their puppy had separation anxiety and they were doing irreparable damage to their little girl.

First of all, it is highly unusual for puppies to have separation anxiety. That term gets thrown around very loosely and often incorrectly. There is a specific checklist of behaviors that can be used to identify whether a dog has separation anxiety. These behaviors include the following:

  1. Pre-departure anxiety such as pacing or looking “depressed”
  2. Barking for extended periods of time
  3. Self-damage caused by excessive scratching on the crate or doorways or chewing on the crate until teeth break
  4. Regular housetraining accidents within 30 minutes of departure
  5. Large saliva puddles in the crate
  6. Refusal to eat treats when alone
  7. Inability to be alone when you are home – follows you from room to room
  8. Destruction when alone

There is no universally agreed-upon criteria for how many of the above issues a dog has to have before being diagnosed with separation anxiety, but my personal opinion requires a dog to have four or more with at least one of them being self-damage or regular housetraining accidents when alone.

So what do you do when your puppy barks in the crate to avoid this turning into a serious problem? Simply periodically reward when he is quiet and ignore barking, scratching, whining or putting paws on the side of the crate. Eventually your puppy will learn that barking in the crate is not an effective way to get your attention and this behavior will extinguish.

The only exception to the rule of ignoring a barking puppy is if you think your puppy has to go potty. If this is the case, at least wait until your puppy calms down a bit before taking him out. If you take him to his location and he does not go potty within 3-5 minutes, put him back in the crate. Learn from this and don’t take him out the next time you hear that type of barking.

Visit my site to learn about my Barking and Separation Anxiety Ebooks and solve these problems logically and humanely.

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Comments 2

Jeff Millman on Tuesday, 09 August 2011 14:31

Hi, my puppy is doing great so far in his confinement area. I leave for about 4-5 hours. I leave a pee-pee pad in the far corner area far away from his crate. When I get home he has shredded to pieces (after he's peed on it of course). What is this behavior trying to tell me? He's mad or is he displaying separation anxiety? Plenty of good chewing toys are left in his crate as well as his fav. animal Monkey. We do not even leave him for long! Needless to say I've had to take away his pee-pee pads. I'm afraid he's eating it. Is there any way I can train him NOT to do this while we are not there?

Hi, my puppy is doing great so far in his confinement area. I leave for about 4-5 hours. I leave a pee-pee pad in the far corner area far away from his crate. When I get home he has shredded to pieces (after he's peed on it of course). What is this behavior trying to tell me? He's mad or is he displaying separation anxiety? Plenty of good chewing toys are left in his crate as well as his fav. animal Monkey. We do not even leave him for long! Needless to say I've had to take away his pee-pee pads. I'm afraid he's eating it. Is there any way I can train him NOT to do this while we are not there?
Jeff Millman on Wednesday, 17 August 2011 03:50

Hi Ailin,
It is difficult or impossible to absolutely know what a dog is "feeling". He might be bored, he might have some anxiety, or he might like the taste of the pad (or other reasons that I am not stating). The point is to rule out problems by going through the checklist. Have you worked on separation anxiety prevention? Have you purchased a pad holder to make it more difficult for your puppy to chew on the pad? The way you can train him not to do it when you are there is to work on "Leave it" when he starts to chew on it. Provide him with safe alternatives, and tire him out with training and physical exercise so he is tired when you are gone.

Hi Ailin, It is difficult or impossible to absolutely know what a dog is "feeling". He might be bored, he might have some anxiety, or he might like the taste of the pad (or other reasons that I am not stating). The point is to rule out problems by going through the checklist. Have you worked on separation anxiety prevention? Have you purchased a pad holder to make it more difficult for your puppy to chew on the pad? The way you can train him not to do it when you are there is to work on "Leave it" when he starts to chew on it. Provide him with safe alternatives, and tire him out with training and physical exercise so he is tired when you are gone.
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