Confinement anxiety isn’t nearly as common as other forms of anxiety in dogs, and it’s the most likely to be confused with some other anxiety disorders. At its most basic, confinement anxiety means that your dog becomes anxious and distressed when they’re confined in an area smaller than the one they’re used to.
Unfortunately, depending on the size of the space where your dog usually hangs out, “confinement” can mean anything from a crate to an entire room. In extreme cases, your dog’s anxiety may even be triggered by the feeling of confinement. In other words, even if they only think that their access to the rest of the house has been cut off, they may start showing signs of confinement anxiety.
Overall, however, the most common trigger of confinement anxiety is actual confinement, usually in a crate. If your dog has been properly crate trained, they’ll be able to use their crate as their own personal room or safe space.
If the crate is too small or if they have some negative associations with the crate, something as simple as putting your dog away when you’re ready to leave can become a full-scale production for you both.
Signs and Symptoms
As with all other forms of anxiety, knowing the signs and symptoms that your dog tends to display can be incredibly helpful when it comes to getting a diagnosis and a potential solution. While some of the symptoms of confinement anxiety may overlap with those of other anxiety disorders, there are still a few that will set them apart.
What’s the Same?
Across the board, the symptoms of confinement anxiety are largely the same as those of separation anxiety, noise anxiety, and most other forms of anxiety disorders in dogs. This means that most common signs can be broken into the same three categories: active, passive, and physiological.
Active signs of confinement anxiety in dogs may be more difficult to notice if your dog is actually confined in a relatively small space.
Passive signs are generally an indication that your dog is too frightened or anxious to display more active behavior, and can sometimes be easier to overlook, as they’re less likely to be destructive.
Physiological signs are usually clearly visible and easy to notice.
|Active symptoms||Passive symptoms||Physiological symptoms|
|Pacing or running||Hiding or cowering||Panting or salivating|
|Digging, clawing, or destruction||Ears tucked back, tail between legs||Trembling or tense muscles|
|Climbing and jumping to “escape” the noise||Unusual alertness or vigilance||Urination or defecation|
|Barking or other signs of aggression||Whining or lip licking||Dilated pupils|
The main difference between the “ordinary” signs of anxiety in dogs and the signs of confinement anxiety in dogs is when the signs manifest. If you notice your dog displaying common signs of anxiety only when you’re getting ready to leave, then separation anxiety may be a more likely culprit.
If you’ve noticed that your dog displays signs of anxiety wherever you are, but only in the event of a loud or disruptive noise, then they may be suffering from noise anxiety. However, if your dog starts showing classic signs and symptoms of anxiety only when they are confined or suspect that they are going to be confined, then confinement anxiety becomes the most logical explanation.
Diagnosis and What You Can Do to Help
Once again, perhaps the largest issue when it comes to a proper diagnosis for confinement anxiety is the risk of comorbidity. Because so many different forms of anxiety can overlap and impact each other, it can sometimes be difficult to nail down the exact cause of your dog’s anxiety. In order to avoid any incorrect diagnosis or just to reduce the amount of time it takes for your dog to get the treatment they need, pay careful attention to your dog’s symptoms.
In regards to treatment plans, the best thing you can do for your dog’s health is have them diagnosed by a medical professional. A veterinarian or an animal behaviorist will be able to help you decide on how you and your dog should proceed. They will also be able to help you rule out any other possible diagnosis and prescribe any medication that your dog might need to feel calmer, safer, and happier.
While the final diagnosis should always come from your local vet or a similar professional, you can still do a lot to help make their job a little easier. The most important aspect you can bring to the table is a history of your dog’s behavior.
Important Questions to Ask
By watching your dog’s behavior closely before you take them into the vet, you can help streamline the diagnosis and treatment process. Any information you have on behavioral history will be extremely helpful, but you may want to pay careful attention to some of the following issues.
Notice that most of these questions are geared towards drawing a clear line between separation and confinement anxiety. It may seem a little redundant, but by having a clear and immediate answer to each of these questions, you’ll help your vet rule out the most obvious comorbidity factor.
How does your dog behave before you leave?
Do your dog’s signs of anxiety increase when they notice you’re getting ready to leave? Do they become more frantic when it’s time for you to go, or do they stay at roughly the same level of anxiety?
How does your dog act when home alone?
You may want to set up a camera at home to get a clear answer to this question. If your dog’s anxiety increases when they’re at home alone, you may be dealing with separation anxiety rather than confinement anxiety.
What does your dog do when you get home?
Similar to the above issue, dogs with separation anxiety will often become increasingly distressed the longer they’re left alone. If your dog seems relatively “okay” once you’re gone and only panics when they think they might be locked in their crate, confinement anxiety is more likely.
How does your dog behave when you’re at home?
Does your dog still show signs of anxiety when you’re at home and nearby? If they still seem distressed by confinement regardless of where you are, then that’s probably the source of their anxiety.
Where do your keep your dog when they’re home alone?
How big is the enclosure where they’re confined? While the size of the area doesn’t always matter, it can help explain some of your dog’s behaviors. In a best-case scenario, it can be the easiest thing to fix!
Does their behavior change when they’re confined? If so, how?
Keep a record of your dog’s reactions to confinement. Your vet may have some extra questions, but these will most likely help get the diagnosis you need.
What You Can Do to Help
Seeing your dog in the grip of an anxiety disorder can be a scary, stressful situation. The good news is that there are plenty of options you can take to get your dog back to a safer, healthier place.
It’s important to remember that there’s no real “cure” for anxiety in any of its forms. Instead, most treatment plans seek to help you and your dog manage the condition and reduce some of the most common triggers of anxiety. Even if your dog is never entirely free of their anxiety, you can greatly reduce their suffering on a daily basis.
Most vets will recommend a combination of pharmaceutical and therapeutic help. Any anti-anxiety medication will help your dog get a handle on their fears and put them in a place where they’ll be able to handle different stressors more calmly.
Antidepressants are some of the most common medications prescribed to dogs that suffer from confinement anxiety. Common prescriptions include fluoxetine and clomipramine, both of which boost your dog’s serotonin and overall mood.
In general, these medications should start working over time. Most dogs take between four and six weeks to show real improvement, so be patient when working with your dog and don’t expect them to get better overnight!
Rapid-acting anxiolytics like trazodone and clonidine are often prescribed for situations in which you have no options but leaving your dog behind. Most vets will recommend a dosage for your dog to take an hour or two before you’re getting ready to leave or put them in a crate.
No matter how certain you are of your dog’s diagnosis, talk to your veterinarian before administering any medication to your dog. Giving your dog too much of a solid medication or giving them the wrong medication can be extremely dangerous and can actively harm your dog.
As with any new medical treatment, keep an eye on your dog’s behavior and watch out for any potential side effects. If you notice anything that has you feeling concerned, talk to your vet immediately before continuing treatment.
If your vet has suggested a more treatment-based approach to dealing with your dog’s anxiety, there are a few steps you can take at home. In general, focus on rewarding positive behavior and refrain from punishing your dog when they show signs of anxiety or distress.
Provide long-lasting toys and treats whenever you have to confine your dog in order to give them something to occupy their minds. Make their confinement area as safe and comfortable as possible and consider playing soothing music or white noise in order to help them feel more relaxed.
Crate training may be more difficult for dogs with confinement anxiety, but it can still be done. Once you’ve established that your dog’s crate is essentially their “room”, they should feel more comfortable settling in once you’re gone.
You may also want to look into relaxation training in order to get your dog used to staying in a specific area. Work with your dog, give them plenty of love, praise, and affection, and you may be able to mitigate some of their most dramatic symptoms.
Building an “escape-proof” home can be a good idea, but only up to a certain point. Remove any objects that may injure your dog when they’re home alone, but don’t go overboard in restricting your dog’s movements.
If possible, you may also want to consider taking your dog to doggie daycare whenever you have to leave them alone. This will allow them plenty of time to run and play without feeling cooped up, but may also increase their separation anxiety.
Biggest Risks and Concerns
The biggest risk to dogs with confinement anxiety is the drive to “escape proof” your home. While an escaped dog is bad, anything too restrictive can also be extremely dangerous, leading to injury and even death in extreme cases.
Remember that the goal should never be to punish your dog. By stripping away all creature comforts and confining them in a harsh, uncomfortable space, you will teach them to continue to associate confinement and punishment, which can seriously hurt their progression.
You may also want to reconsider getting another dog to help your anxious dog. Not only will a new dog not magically cure your dog’s anxiety, but you may end up in a situation where you have two anxious dogs!
Overall, just focus on reassuring your dog and encouraging their good behavior. While there may not be a one-size-fits-all cure, you can still do a lot to reduce their anxiety and help them feel more relaxed, more confident, and more secure both in and out of confinement.