To crate train a rescue dog with separation anxiety, you’ll need A LOT of patience.

Some rescue dogs with separation anxiety will never be able to stay in the crate alone. However, many rescue dogs overcome their anxiety and learn to enjoy being alone in the crate with the proper training and desensitization.

In this article, I’ll let you in on what I’ve learned from the many rescue dogs I’ve worked with about how to crate train a rescue dog with separation anxiety.

How To Crate Train A Rescue Dog With Separation Anxiety
This young dog NEEDED to be on someone’s lap. Building his confidence will be essential to crate training him… or ever sitting alone again.

How to Crate Train A Rescue Dog With Separation Anxiety

Crate training a rescue dog with separation anxiety is a lot like training one without this problem, but the crate training process must be more gradual and focused on building positive associations with the crate and alone time. It’s going to take more patience on your part and you may need special equipment like a doggie camera.

If your dog experiences extreme stress, not just discomfort, when left alone, they may be suffering from separation anxiety. If your dog whines a bit and then settles down, my general crate training article may meet your needs better.

However, if your rescue dog has separation anxiety and you are trying to learn how to crate train them, this article is for you. Read on for a step-by-step guide with all of the tips I’ve learned over the years

STOP! You NEED to read my general article on how to crate train rescue dogs to get the full story. This article is tailored to specifically address separation anxiety-related issues with crate training your rescue dog.

Why Crate Train A Rescue Dog With Separation Anxiety?

Crate training is not a tool for managing serious separation anxiety. Dogs with severe separation anxiety can hurt themselves in a crate, and forcing a dog with separation anxiety into a crate against their will is a surefire way to worsen their anxiety.

Many dogs in shelters are confined to crates for up to 23 hours a day (seriously). And that’s the treatment they receive at rescue shelters, let alone whatever experiences they’ve had in cages before they ended up there.

Dogs from shelters or rescue groups and those adopted from veterinary hospitals or found abandoned more commonly had separation anxiety than dogs from other sources (breeders, family or friends, and pet stores collectively). – Dr. Gerrard Flannigan, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association

How To Crate Train A Rescue Dog With Separation Anxiety
Dogs that have been adopted and returned numerous times have reasons to feel separation anxiety.

Your dog may have serious, traumatic reasons to be adverse to the crate, and you need to be sensitive to that or you risk making their symptoms worse. That said, I wholeheartedly believe that, when approached properly, crate training is one of the best ways to help a rescue dog cope with the symptoms of separation anxiety. 

If you find that crate training your rescue dog with separation anxiety is too stressful, don’t worry. While crate training is great, there are alternatives to crate training that may work better for you and your rescue dog.

Help Your Rescue Dog Adjust

While you may want to treat your new buddy to free roam of the house, the reality is that too much freedom can be intimidating and detrimental. The security and predictability offered by a crate can be invaluable for a rescue dog suffering from separation anxiety. 

Stop the Feedback Loop

When you crate train a rescue dog with separation anxiety, you enable them to control and prevent their own stress-inducing behaviors. Pacing, destructive behaviors, and other repetitive, anxious responses to separation anxiety can be limited and redirected to positive self-soothing behaviors

Create a Safe Place

The crate provides a low-stimulus environment that’s just for your dog. By teaching your rescue dog that a crate is a safe place, as safe as their favorite human’s side, you can empower your rescue dog to find happiness in the world and build their confidence.

Build a Routine

Over time, the crate will become a part of you and your dog’s life rhythm. They will learn that, sure, you may leave but you always come back! And the time spent in the crate doesn’t have to be spent just waiting for you; instead, they can enjoy a favorite, crate-only toy or extra special treats.

The goal of crate training rescue dogs with separation anxiety is to equip them with the tools they’ll need to enjoy a long and happy life with you. Once your rescue dog learns to love their crate almost as much as they love you, it’ll be much easier to address any other symptoms of their separation anxiety.

How To Crate Train A Rescue Dog With Separation Anxiety
You can see the concern in Bones’ eyes as he anticipates going back into the kennel again. He’s spent a lot of time in kennels, and he’s not a fan. Dogs like Bones have more ground to cover in overcoming their anxiety than other dogs.

Choosing the Right Crate(s) for a Rescue Dog with Separation Anxiety


Getting an appropriately-sized crate that makes your dog feel comfortable is more important when crate training a rescue with separation anxiety. 

Generally, the rule is that it should be spacious enough for your dog to stand, turn around, and lie down, but not much bigger than that, so it feels cozy and den-like.

However, some rescue dogs experiencing separation anxiety may do better in a larger crate that won’t make them feel trapped. It may also give them more room to comfortably engage with healthy distractions like toys and treats.

If you’re looking for a larger play area for your rescue dog with separation anxiety, there’s a great one here on Amazon. It has different height options for dogs of any size and you can buy as many or as few panels as you want, allowing you to customize the amount of space your dog has.

Plastic vs. Metal

When dealing specifically with rescue dogs that have separation anxiety, there are some particular considerations.

  1. Metal crates offer much more visibility. It may be comforting to your dog to be able to see you through the slats of a metal crate, and you’ll be better able to monitor their behavior, too. On the other hand, your dog may appreciate the darkness and privacy that plastic crates offer.
  2. Metal crates are louder. The joints where the metal interconnects knock together no matter what. Dogs with separation anxiety may be more noise reactive, so a quieter plastic crate may be the way to go if they are sensitive to sounds.
  3. Plastic crates are harder to clean. Rescues with separation anxiety are prone to accidents in the crate, and metal crates can easily be sprayed down to sanitize. Plastic crates typically require more scrubbing and may need to be disassembled.
  4. Plastic crates let you start slow. Most plastic crates have a top and bottom half that can be connected. By starting with just the bottom half, you can get your dog used to the crate and the bed without putting the top and door on just yet.

Pro Tip: Regardless of what crate you choose, be sure to securely prop open the door so that your rescue dog can go in and out without the door slamming and scaring them.

Metal Crate

I’ve used and liked this BestPet crate, but I’ve been happy with other brands too. Whether you buy new or used, look for a metal crate with two, not one, latch.

Dogs can push out from the bottom of crates with only one latch. The latches should be simple; complicated housing just makes them harder to clean.

Choose a crate with two doors. It makes it MUCH easier to position it in your house, which is important if you need to keep the crate near you to train a dog with separation anxiety.

Plastic Crate

I like this Petmate plastic crate because the door is secure but easy to lock. The metal windows on the sides provide good airflow and are hard to get a tooth into. They let a nervous dog see out, but also lie down and feel secure and out of sight.

This crate has secure screws holding it together, unlike some other plastic crates with flimsy clamps.

How Many Crates

Dogs that constantly want to be at their person’s feet may crate train faster with crates in multiple rooms of the house.

Having a crate in each room where you spend time is a great way to teach your dog to tolerate a healthy distance without causing them trauma that sets back training.

How To Crate Train A Rescue Dog With Separation Anxiety
Molly had been overbred, without anything soft to lie on by the look of her elbows. Separation anxiety and fear of being caged in dogs like her are likely tied to deep, long-lasting neglect.

Setting up a Crate for a Rescue Dog with Separation Anxiety


Rescue dogs with separation anxiety are often more prone to destructive behavior. If your rescue dog shows signs of eating bedding, don’t put any in the crate. Swallowing bedding can result in life-threatening choking or blockages.

If you see no signs of destructive chewing, it’s a good idea to put in a comfortable bed that fits the size of the crate pan. This one by the Hero Dog Store is comfy, washable, and designed to deter chewing.


Some rescue dogs with separation anxiety benefit from music, TV, or soothing sounds. They even make music specifically designed for dogs. These may be helpful distractions for your rescue dog with separation anxiety. Take a look!


Chew, food-distributing, and puzzle toys are extremely helpful for any dog during the crate training process, but for rescue dogs with separation anxiety, they are invaluable. 

Chewing is naturally self-soothing, which is why so many dogs who experience separation anxiety are destructive in the house or crate.

Get as many chew and food-distributing toys like Kong and Goughnuts as you can afford so you always have one available for your dog to take out their nervous energy. You can get great deals buying food toys in bundles.

These kinds of toys are one of the most crucial elements in crate training a rescue dog with separation anxiety.


Many rescue dogs with separation anxiety benefit from being near familiar scents, so put some clothing that smells like you in the crate with them. You can also sleep with a stuffed animal to get your smell on and then put it in the crate with your rescue dog. 

Some people swear that their dogs benefit greatly from treats that have CBD, lavender, or other anxiety-relieving ingredients. If that helps, your dog, great. But a study published in 2020 by Frontiers in Veterinary Science strongly indicates that CBD does not have an anti-anxiety affect on dogs.

Pheromone collars are also popular but remember never to leave a collar on your dog when they are in the crate, as they can easily become snagged and choke your dog.

Calming Jackets or Vests

The Thunder Shirt is the brand name I’ve used, but there are lots on the market. These jackets use a technique called deep pressure therapy to soothe anxious dogs.

This may be best for early crate training when you are able to fully supervise your dog. Even a tight-fitting vest or jacket can become tangled in the crate.


Being able to see how your dog is responding in their crate when you leave offers helpful insights. You can time your return perfectly, monitor their progress, and tailor your training pace to their specific needs in a way you likely won’t be able to do without a camera.

You can get a really good one on Amazon for less than $50 but you can probably find a great deal on a used baby monitor at a local thrift store.

Prep Tips For Success in Crate Training a Rescue Dog

If you’re just getting started with crate training, I highly recommend that you read my article on crate training a rescue dog before you learn how to crate train a rescue dog with separation anxiety. The following tips are specifically for targeting separation anxiety while crate training your rescue dog.

Talk to Your Vet

Symptoms of separation anxiety overlap with many other diseases and problems rescue dogs are likely to have.

One of the first foster dogs I ever worked with, Georgia, came to us just after her singleton puppy (Peaches) had been adopted. She was sweet, but clingy and acted terrified when she wasn’t with us – classic signs of separation anxiety.

But a couple of days later, Georgia almost died. Turns out, she had severe heartworms. Once Georgia started getting treatment, her behavior changed dramatically. Still sweet, but she certainly did not have any separation anxiety and she was absolutely fine with being crated (which is good because crating is essential for treating heartworms.)

How To Crate Train A Rescue Dog With Separation Anxiety
We thought that sweet Georgia had separation anxiety, but a medical condition was to blame for her behavior.

Sometimes, fear and illness cause behavior that looks very much like separation anxiety or fear of the crate. That’s why it’s so important to have a vet clear your rescue dog of medical issues first. 


All dogs are calmer when they’ve had enough exercise, and rescue dogs suffering from separation anxiety are no exception. A dog who is physically tired will be much less anxious and more willing to go lie down and take a nap in their crate than a dog who has already been pent up all day.

This is also an opportunity for your dog to go potty before they enter the crate, which everyone appreciates.

How To Crate Train A Rescue Dog With Separation Anxiety
This is how you want your rescue dog before crate training: Tired and happy!

Establish Leadership

This does not mean dominance. By being a strong and decisive leader, you can help your dog feel calmer and like they don’t need to worry about making so many decisions. This calmness will lead to trust in you when it comes to crate training.


Rescue dogs with separation anxiety are suffering from a lack of confidence. Training that builds their confidence will, therefore, help improve their separation anxiety. 

Active sports like flyball, dock diving, or frisbee are great options. Obedience training focusing on self-control and focus is also great. Agility and rally are both good options that combine physical activity with focus and training. 

Going for a run or playing a game of fetch doesn’t count (it’s exercise, which is good, but it’s not training, which they also need). It must be an activity your dog has to work at to improve their performance; that’s how training builds confidence, and that’s what they need to get over their anxiety.

How To Crate Train A Rescue Dog With Separation Anxiety
Agility is a great way to build confidence in nervous rescue dogs experiencing separation anxiety.

Manage Other Pets

Many people assume that other pets will be comforting to a dog with anxiety. However, for most dogs, separation anxiety is about the people in their lives, not other animals. Seeing other animals running loose when your rescue dog is in their crate can frustrate them or make them feel like they are being punished.

If your dog seems less anxious when other animals are nearby, then by all means, experiment with crate training near your other pets. However, be aware that most rescue dogs with separation anxiety are not improved by the company of other animals.

Never crate two animals together.

How To Crate Train A Rescue Dog With Separation Anxiety
Being around Lisa seemed to calm Jazzy during her heartworm treatment, so we put their crates near each other at night and let Lisa wander around when Jazzy was crated during the day. (Aren’t they like twins?!)

Crate Training a Rescue Dog

Introduce the crate

A proper introduction to the crate is key to ensuring you have a good training experience. If you force or scare your dog when they are first getting used to the crate, they may generalize those negative feelings and think that the crate is a bad thing. 

When it comes to rescue dogs and separation anxiety, the most important thing is to not force it. 

Begin making positive associations with the crate. Start by giving your dog their food and water in the crate with the door propped open. If they won’t go in, move the bowls to just outside the crate. Gradually, place them closer, then just inside the crate, and eventually, move them to the back of the crate.

If the crate is big enough, crawl in there yourself. Play with them near the crate, give them treats when they go in. Train them to lay in the crate to eat and chew.

Gradually start using a command word like “go place” or “crate” so they can start learning right from the beginning what the crate is and that it means they’re getting treats or something else positive.

Use the command each time they go in when you toss in treats or food, and then begin saying it before they go in. Soon, they’ll run for their crate whenever you ask them to. 

Identify Their Triggers

You want to identify and focus on any triggers that seem to initiate your dog’s symptoms of anxiety before you start closing them up in the crate.

Does your dog get anxious when you pick up your keys? How about when you put on your jacket? Once you identify triggers, start performing them randomly throughout the day. 

Pick up your keys and put them down. Put on and take off your jacket. Open and close the door. Perform as many cues as you can that indicate you are about to leave, then don’t. 

Desensitize your shelter dog to your leaving cues well before you introduce keeping them in the crate into the equation.

Break The Anxious Cycle

Once your dog is ignoring leaving cues, start leaving unexpectedly without any of these cues. During this stage, the crate door stays open, but you should train your dog to always eat meals and food toys in the crate. 

First, choose times when your dog is occupied, ideally chewing on a food-distributing toy in their crate with the door open. 

Without saying anything or even looking at your dog, step outside and come right back in. If your dog is okay with that, try walking around the house. Are they still fine? Try staying out a bit longer. When you come back, continue ignoring your dog. 

You want to push it until your dog notices you’re gone and return before they start to react anxiously. A camera is invaluable for this, but you can also glance in a window or listen for whines. 

Your goal is to break the cycle in which your dog:

  • Dreads you leaving
  • Becomes more anxious as they see cues that you’re about to leave
  • Experiences extreme anxiety when you leave
  • Is overwhelmed with relief when you return

It can take a long time at this step to see any results, but stick with it. This is the hard part. 

Crate Them

Once your dog is ignoring leaving cues and ok with you leaving briefly, it’s time to start crate training. 

Make sure your dog is thoroughly occupied with the best food-dispensing toy you have. Close the crate door and perform a brief leaving cue (like picking up your keys) and leave for a brief period. Use a cue word like “Be right back.”

Not more than a few minutes at first is probably about right. You want your dog to start feeling a little bit anxious that you’re gone but not go into full-blown anxiety.

Do not let them out of the crate until they are calm. You don’t want them to feel a huge rush of relief when they exit the crate, as that can reinforce negative associations with entering the crate.

You may want to leave your dog in the crate for a few minutes when you return so they can get over their excitement, calm down, and then exit the crate like a good pup.

Practice several times a day, gradually extending the time your dog spends in the crate. Be sure to keep mixing it up; not every crate time should be longer than the last one. 

Leave the crate door open and accessible to them throughout the day in between crate times, and keep giving them toys, meals, and treats in the crate throughout the day.

How To Crate Train A Rescue Dog With Separation Anxiety
The devotion of a rescue dog like Earl is powerful, but the traumas behind this devotion can lead to serious behavioral problems, including separation anxiety.

Create And Stick To A Routine

A routine is important for every rescue dog, but it is even more pivotal for a rescue dog experiencing separation anxiety. 

Maintain cues so that your rescue dog knows when you’re leaving and when they’ll be going into the crate. This is the opposite of the desensitization that we talked about earlier. However, once your dog is overcoming the anxiety about your coming and going, it can be helpful for them to have some expectations.

If you consistently take your dog for a walk, give them a food toy, say your command word, put them in the crate, grab your keys, and leave for a few hours every day, repeating the process exactly, your dog will begin to anticipate what’s happening in a positive way.

They understand that nothing bad will happen because they are used to the routine of walk, toy, crate, nap, return.

As you start to move away from dealing with your rescue dog’s separation anxiety, it will be natural for you to be excited to see your dog when you get home and perhaps make a bit of a fuss. This is a mistake. 

Emphasizing leaving and returning can cause your dog’s separation anxiety to resurface. Always keep your greetings and coming home uneventful. Once your dog is out of the crate and has gone potty, you can go ahead and have a show of saying hello to them. Remember, when you crate train a rescue dog with separation anxiety, the process is never really over.


What if my rescue dog likes their crate too much? 

Convincing a rescue dog to spend time outside of the crate is very similar to convincing them to spend time in it. Give them plenty of treats and food-dispensing toys in a comfortable place outside of the crate. Above all, be patient and encouraging, and your dog will eventually come out of their crate.

Will getting another dog help with my dog’s separation anxiety?

It is unlikely that getting another dog will help with separation anxiety, and it’s likely that another dog will introduce new issues like jealousy or aggression in your anxious dog. You may want to foster one to see how your dog reacts first.

Should your rescue dog with anxiety be crated in the same place every time?

Some dogs do seem to benefit from being crated in a different location at night vs. the day. A daytime crate in the living room can help establish expectations for how long they’ll be in that crate, and a nighttime crate in your bedroom or somewhere else can help establish better sleeping habits.

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