How to Create a Safe Space for Your Dog

Dog sleeping in crate

A dog’s safe space is akin to a personal sanctuary where they can feel truly secure. All dogs, regardless of their personality and energy levels, benefit physically, mentally, and emotionally from having a dedicated space to retreat to. Even if your dog doesn’t suffer from fear or anxiety, having their own safe haven to relax and unwind is immensely reassuring. By allowing your dog to choose when to leave a situation, you boost their confidence in handling uncertain or stressful scenarios.

What You Need To Know:

Why Your Dog Needs a Safe Space

Dogs thrive on rest and need ample sleep to grow and maintain their well-being. A designated safe space provides an ideal environment for your dog to rest and recharge. Plus, a safe space serves as a sanctuary for your dog, offering a retreat from the chaos of daily life. Whether your dog is anxious, fearful of loud noises, or simply needs some alone time, having a dedicated area to escape to can be incredibly calming.

Additionally, a safe space helps teach children to respect the dog’s boundaries. When a dog retreats to this area, it signals that it wants to be left alone, preventing unwanted interactions and reducing the risk of bites.

In multi-dog households, a safe space is particularly helpful if you have one dog with much higher energy than another or one who tends to get picked on more often, providing a necessary retreat where dogs can find refuge from each other.

What Constitutes a Safe Space?

A dog’s safe space is similar to a “puppy zone,” but without the need for an indoor potty area since adult dogs are housebroken. While a crate is a popular option, there are many other possibilities for creating a safe space, such as raised dog beds, closets, or even an entire room. Larger areas might also incorporate a crate into the space, making it a cozy, inviting area. Whatever the space includes, it offers the same mental, physical, and emotional benefits, ensuring your dog has a place to call their own.

Key Features of a Safe Space

  1. Comfort: Ensure the space is comfortable and climate-controlled. It should be cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Provide sufficient room for your dog to stretch out and relax, with cozy bedding and blankets for added comfort. Take note of where your dog naturally retreats when they need a break, and consider setting up multiple safe spaces in different parts of your home to accommodate various scenarios, such as when you have guests over. Introduce calming scents, like coconut or chamomile, which have known calming effects. You can also leave a piece of worm clothing or add a pheromone diffuser to provide your dog a familiar smell for added comfort.
  2. Accessibility: Your dog should have free access to this space at all times. This area should not be used for time-outs or punishment. Instead, it should be a place of peace and safety. As long as your dog is comfortable being alone, you can use this space for confinement when you leave the house.
  3. Stocked with Food & Water: Keep a crate bowl, spill-proof water bowl, or any other water bowl filled for your dog. Regularly feed your dog in their safe space in order to build a positive association there. In addition to providing your dog with a stress-free mealtime, it may also help prevent resource guarding.
  4. Mental Enrichment: Stock the area with safe, engaging toys and mental stimulation activities like puzzle toys or snuffle mats to make the space more enticing and rewarding. These can keep your dog occupied and calm, providing a productive outlet for their energy and anxiety. Chew toys are also beneficial as they can help your dog self-soothe. Puzzle toys and snuffle mats are great examples of boredom-busting activities that can keep your dog engaged and reduce anxiety. These types of mental enrichment activities are particularly important if you plan to leave your dog home alone in their safe space.
  5. Safety: Thoroughly dog-proof the area. Remove any hazardous items, such as toxic plants, electrical cords, and potential suffocation hazards like plastic bags. Ensure the space is free from any items that could pose a threat to your dog’s safety. Regularly check the area to maintain a hazard-free environment. Monitor your dog’s activity with a pet camera to ensure they are comfortable.

Types of Safe Spaces

Try to find places that calm and quiet or are places your dog already retreats to. Look for a quiet corner, unused alcove, nook under the stairs, laundry room, or other small/rarely used room. When considering a safe space for dogs with noise phobia, consider a room with no windows. Consider using a dog crate, even in limited space. Just ensure the crate is the appropriate size for your dog – large enough for your dog to stand up, turn around, and lie down comfortably. If you have the space, put the crate in a quiet area where your dog can escape and relax. You can set up playpens or pet gates to create a barrier around the space or separate a portion of a room. Dogs often seek hiding spots when they feel overwhelmed. Thus, you may consider a more hidden safe space like a closet, a tent, an area under a table, or the basement. You can also over your dog’s crate with a blanket to create a hiding spot, or use an igloo-style bed.

Introducing Your Dog to Their Safe Space

Introduce the safe space early and positively. Feed your dog in this area to create positive associations. Whenever your dog chooses to use the space, reward them with treats or chews. Ensure the space remains calm and not a place for rough play. This will reinforce the idea that it is a sanctuary for relaxation. If you don’t have a safe space established before you bring your dog home for the first time, they may pick their own place. If they do, that’s great. Go with whatever they choose.

When To Put Your Dog In Their Safe Space

Anytime you observe your pet experiencing stress or overwhelmed, encourage them to go to their safe space and reward them with a high-value treat. Look out for the following signs of stress:

  • Excessive panting and drooling, especially in the absence of physical exertion or heat
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Restlessness and pacing
  • Hiding or seeking solitude
  • Excessive barking or whining

Modifying the Safe Space for Noise Phobia

The best plan for dogs who suffer from noise aversion is to avoid exposure to the noise trigger whenever possible. However, in many cases, this is impractical, so the next best thing is to minimize the noise intensity. Here are some tips:

  • Draw blinds or use blackout shades to prevent flashing lights from thunderstorms or fireworks.
  • Add white noise or use a fan to muffle the noise.
  • Turn on soft music, such as classical, loud enough to drown out the noise but not so loud as to frighten your dog.
  • Turn on lights in the area.
  • Choose a location where your dog naturally seeks comfort during stressful times, such as a bathroom, closet, or under a table.
  • Position the safe space away from noisy areas and windows.
  • Train your dog to go to this safe zone, and strengthen their association with positive activities like playing, training, or feeding when the noise is not present.
  • Add soft bedding to the safe zone, and cover the crate with a blanket if it’s part of the space to create a den-like environment.

Meeting Specific Needs

When creating a safe space, consider your pet’s specific needs. For older pets, provide multiple beds with extra padding for joint support. For cats, include high hiding places, and move cat trees closer to windows for better views. Ensure the area is accessible and free of obstructions for blind animals. Provide multiple safe spaces to give your pet choices, as some may prefer different levels of cover or elevation.

In conclusion, creating a safe space for your dog is essential for their well-being. By providing a comfortable, accessible, quiet, and engaging environment, you can help your dog feel secure and relaxed, improving their overall quality of life and fostering a harmonious living situation for the entire household.

Where Can I Learn More?

Find out more about how to keep your pet calm:

  • Watch Dr. Douglas Dean’s 4th of July recommendations here.
  • See WoofDoctor on Wheels recommended
    • Calming products for dogs here.
    • Enrichment products for dogs here.
  • Read How To Get Your Dog Ready for 4th of July here.

If you’d like to schedule an appointment or discuss anxiety medications for your pet, please call us at (843) 966-3362

References

American Kennel Club. (n.d.). How to recognize when dogs need space and give it to them. Retrieved from https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/some-dogs-need-space/

Animal Humane Society. (2022). The Five Freedoms for Animals. Retrieved from https://www.animalhumanesociety.org/health/five-freedoms-animals

ASPCA. (n.d.). Five Freedoms. Retrieved from https://www.aspca.org/sites/default/files/upload/images/aspca_asv_five_freedoms_final1.ashx_.pdf

Landsberg, G. M., Hunthausen, W., & Ackerman, L. (2013). Behavior problems of the dog and cat. Saunders.

Lindsay, S. R. (2001). Handbook of applied dog behavior and training: Vol. 2. Etiology and assessment of behavior problems. Iowa State University Press.

Overall, K. L. (2013). Manual of clinical behavioral medicine for dogs and cats. Elsevier Health Sciences.

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