Anxiety in dogs can manifest itself in various ways. Sometimes a dog will engage in destructive behavior, such as chewing on furniture, or going potty even after being fully house trained. The dog may whine, shake or bark excessively.
If you suspect that your dog has anxiety, it is always a good idea to discuss it with your veterinarian. Similar to humans, there may be numerous reasons for anxiety. Some dogs are born with this condition. In others, anxiety is a result of a stressful or fearful event. Often times anxiety is observed in rescue dogs as a result of human abuse and neglect. Even just the experience of staying at a rescue boarding facility can initiate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A strong fear reaction to something, such as a loud noise from fireworks or thunder, may be the cause future anxiety episodes during bad weather or Independence Day celebrations. Understanding the underlying reason for anxious behavior in dogs is very helpful for managing anxiety. In any case, the most important thing for the dog owner is to realize that anxiety is a condition and not bad behavior on the part of the pet.
In our years of dog behavior training experience, we have dealt with lots of anxious dogs. When we meet a dog for the first time, we evaluate them and determine whether we are able help or if the dog requires medical attention.
One of the best starting points in dealing with dog anxiety is to provide them with a safe, calming place. It can be any location in the house, like a dog bed or a crate. The dog should go there once you issue a “place” command and place all 4 paws in the “place”. Eventually, the dog will learn how to calm themselves down at that safe location.
Another method that we use often is desensitization. If a dog is anxious in public places, we take her on short trips to a pet store. We always start with brief visits and increase the length of stay gradually. If done properly, this method helps the dog to adjust to noise and distractions around them and even start enjoying the outings.
One of the most common conditions that we see in our trainees is separation anxiety. Often times, the dog owners unknowingly encourage separation anxiety in their pet. Before leaving the house, they fuss and pet the dog excessively while feeling guilty leaving the dog alone. Instead, the best strategy is to pay little to no attention to the dog before leaving the house or coming back home.
It is very helpful to perform a “leave and return” exercise. An owner gets ready to leave the house by collecting car keys and putting on a coat. He then leaves the house for 2-3 minutes and comes back without paying too much attention to the dog. The leave interval is being increased gradually to 5-10 minutes. This exercise helps the dog to realize that the owner is always coming home, thus easing separation anxiety. It is also important to exercise the dog regularly to avoid boredom anxiety.
In most cases, with patience and proper dog training, anxiety is manageable and treatable. In more severe cases, the dog may require anti-anxiety medication. A veterinarian should evaluate the animal and choose the best suitable medication.
Stephanie and Adam Knapp,
Behave-U K9 Training, LLC