Some dogs can find unfamiliar places, people and noises a bit worrying. If you have a nervous dog or a busy home, it can be really beneficial to set up an area in your home where your dog can go for some quiet time to relax. If you take your dog for away with you, it can be helpful to make this space portable, in a crate for instance, so it will provide a familiar, safe space for them in a strange environment.

A safe space is a specific area where your dog feels relaxed; somewhere they can go when they are feeling overwhelmed or just in need of an undisturbed rest. This could be a crate, under a table, in the corner of a room or even behind a sofa; whatever suits the dog and their needs. Providing this space allows the dog the choice to remove himself or herself from a situation that worries them to an environment where they feel much calmer. This small degree of control can offer a lot of comfort to anxious dogs.

These spaces can be useful in a variety of different situations. They can provide a refuge when guests visit if your dog is worried by household visitors. Perhaps your dog is scared of fireworks or thunder; your dog may feel more relaxed in their established safe space. If you take your pooch on the road with you, creating a safe space which is portable, such as a crate, provides a familiar space where they are more likely to settle. In homes with young children, a safe space can offer your dog some time out from the hustle and bustle of playtime.

Safe spaces are a great way to teach children in the house about boundaries and consent. Talk through with them that when the dog is in this area they are asking to be left alone so we should not disturb them here. By making sure they understand why it is important for the dog to have their own space, it can also help them work on developing their empathy and compassion.

So how do you set up this space and make sure your dog feels comfortable there? Well, as always, consistency is key. If a dog knows what to expect in a situation, they are generally much more relaxed. Here are a few tips on how to establish a safe space for your dog.

Comfort – The area should an ambient temperature in both summer and winter, be an appropriate size for the dog to stretch out and stand up and have plenty of soft furnishings in for them to get comfy in.

Accessibility – The dog should have free access to this safe space to come and go as they need. It is important not to confine your dog this space as a punishment as the aim is for your dog to build a strong positive association with this space.

Water & Food – Your dog should have easy access to water either in or next to this area so if they are feeling very anxious they are able to fill this need for the safety of the space. It can be a good idea to feed your dog their meals in and around this area too, to not only help build a positive association, but so your dog knows they are able to eat without being bothered.

Stress Free Environment – Encourage calm behaviour by leaving your dog treats like chews and stuffed Kongs in this space; these encourage your dog to lick and chew which releases calming hormones. While our dogs do enjoy our company, we can be a source of stress for them so it is import that everyone is aware that the dog should not be bothered when they are in their safe space. Consider the area you set this space up in, to maximise its impact. For example, keeping it away from windows will help if your dog finds passing people and dogs or fireworks worrying. Choosing an area of the house that has less human traffic can help promote a relaxing atmosphere as the dog can be less focused on what their human is up to. During particularly stressful times, during fireworks or family gatherings for example, using a plug in hormonal diffuser, such as Adaptil, can be very helpful.

For recipes to keep your dog’s Kong interesting, check out our Enrichment Cookbook.