Help for Anxious Dogs
It has been a strange world for the last year, and we are not the only ones feeling it. Our dogs' and puppies' lives changed just as ours did, and many of them are experiencing new levels of stress and anxiety.
I see this most in dogs who came into this world in the middle of all this upheaval. They have not had the chance to be socialized and have become very dependent on the company of owners who are now getting ready to start leaving the house again. All dogs can benefit from the tips and helpful products in this post, but it is especially important for dogs and puppies who are already showing signs of fearfulness and anxiety. If your pup's fear is getting in the way of his quality of life, please contact a force-free trainer in your area. You can find one through The Pet Professional Guild.
Exercise is essential for all dogs and can help to reduce stress in anxious dogs. However, if the way you exercise your dog exposes him to
frightening situations, you could be making matters worse. While you may be certain that a situation is safe for Pup, if he does not feel safe, you must honor that feeling. Forcing your dog to face things that scare him, will not make him feel more comfortable. Exposure to harmless but frightening things needs to be done gradually and with care. Check out some of the free Shy Dog videos by world class trainer Emily Larlham for some tips.
If taking long walks is stressful for your dog, exercise him in the house or on your property instead, while you gradually expose him to the neighborhood. You can start by spending a lot of time in your front yard with Pup, training and feeding treats and playing. Puzzle, Meal Toys and Snuffle Mats are not just for inside! They are a great way to keep your pup engaged and rewarded while hanging out in the front yard. Use very high value treats like real chicken and beef when working in new areas.
When your Pup is feeling great about the front yard, then work on the area directly in front of your house. There is no need to take a one mile walk around the block everyday. You can walk back and forth in front of your house and let Pup really become familiar with the sights and
sounds in that location before adding a little more each day. Pretty soon you will be taking on the whole neighborhood with a calm and confident dog!
Create a Calm Environment
Your dog needs a space to feel at ease and rest from the daily stress she encounters. The next two items help you create a calm home environment.
Through A Dog's Ear
Music doesn’t just soothe the savage beast, it also calms the anxious one. The folks at Through A Dog’s Ear have studied the effects of different tempos and arrangements on dogs and have identified those that best help anxious pups. There are many products available to bring these specialized arrangements into your home from streaming to CDs to special speakers. Find what works for you and make it a part of your dog’s home environment to ease his mind.
Dog Appeasing Pheromones (DAP)
DAP mimics the pheromone nursing dogs release to comfort their puppies. While the research on dog appeasing pheromones is not quite as clear as the research on bioacoustics, some clinical studies have shown successful reductions in anxiety related behaviors and aggression with the use of DAP collars, diffusers and topical solutions. I almost always recommend owners try these out to see if it helps their dog. The collars and spray are not too expensive for a trial run, and if it helps at all, I consider it a win.
Many of the dogs who came into our lives during shutdown have not experienced time alone. Now that we are gradually getting back to school and work, these pups are feeling lost and afraid without their people. There are steps you can take to make time alone easier for your pup.
Reward Calm, Independent Behavior
It is natural to give our dogs the most attention when they seek us out, and to ignore them
when they are playing or resting independently. For most dogs, this works wonderfully. But for a dog that struggles to feel safe alone, we can build their confidence by rewarding them with attention when they are resting alone or entertaining themselves. When you see your dog showing independent behavior, give some her some attention or a small treat to encourage more of that behavior.
It’s hard to leave a dog that doesn’t like to see us go, but drawing out goodbyes only makes it harder on Pup. When it’s time to leave, keep it casual. We cue our dogs off to become anxious when we make a big deal about leaving. I once had a client who could go hang out at her neighbors for an hour without her dog getting upset, but if she went anywhere in her car, even to the grocery store for just 15 minutes her dog would be a mess. We soon realized that grabbing the car keys and the long, guilty goodbye is what triggered her dog’s anxiety, not the actual absence. When she visited her neighbor those cues weren’t present. She would leave through a different door and never even said anything to her dog when she did. It took a long time, but we eventually desensitized her dog to those cues and she learned to be happy and independent when her owner went anywhere.
Make It Awesome
You can even make leaving great for your dog by giving her something she only gets when you aren’t there. For many dogs, this is the trash can, everything on your counters and access to the best resting spots. However, if you don’t like coming home to last night’s scraps scattered throughout the house, you can provide an amazing stuffed Kong instead. Keeping a freezer full of stuffed Kongs and giving Pup one when you leave can make your absence a treat.
When working with anxious dogs, it is always my goal to begin by creating an environment that removes as much daily stress as possible. All the techniques and items above do that. You can change your dog’s environment a little at a time to see what has the most beneficial effects, or you can jump in and do it all at once and try to get the most effect as quickly as possible. If you try all of these and do not see it helping your pup at all, it is time to reach out to a professional for some extra help.