Treatment for Dogs with Anxiety

An anxious dog finds life difficult. Unlike a confident, well-balanced dog, he cannot make sense of his world. Your anxious dog has not developed the coping strategies that many dogs have naturally. It’s not all about socialization either.


My dog was well socialized but is extremely anxious

Puppy socialization is an art form but sadly, there are dog trainers that fail to understand that not all puppies are the same. Throwing a bunch of puppies together and expecting them to play nicely is not the way to approach puppy training.

Puppies are all different sizes and individual temperaments. Introductions need monitoring to watch for shyness or bullying. Only when a puppy is confident of his ability to cope, can you let him run with the other pups.

Genetics can produce nervous or anxious behaviour. However, you can help him to develop coping strategies for managing his issues. In this article, we are going to explore various treatments for your dog’s behaviour.

Identify the issue

Okay, you have a problem. What is it and how does the behaviour manifest? Anxiety and nervousness can present in many ways:

  • Fear – running away
  • Barking
  • Lunging
  • Cowering, drooling, or shaking
  • Hiding
  • Fear aggression – your dog barks and lunges at other dogs and/or people. This is often confused with pure aggression. What appears to be aggression is often rooted in fear. The dog reacts defensively to keep away the object of his fear.

Although the above list of behaviour appears to be variable, the foundation for overcoming the issues is similar.

Do not buy into your dog’s behaviour

Dog psychology is NOT the same as human psychology. If your child were scared, you would soothe him, reassuring him that he need not be afraid. Your child would hug you and feel comforted.

With a dog, your efforts to reassure him merely compound his fears. By cuddling him, you are reinforcing the behaviour. For instance, a young dog hearing his first clap of thunder may jump and hide under the table. Naturally, you try calming methods by stroking him and using soothing words.

The next time he hears thunder, he will seek that reassurance because he believes there is something to be afraid of because you inadvertently highlighted the fear by your behaviour towards him.

What do I do then?

For anxiety based around loud noises

It is best to ignore the behaviour – do not make a big thing of symptoms of fear. If your dog reacts to thunder, simply carry on with what you were doing. Ignore the dog for a few moments and then do something to distract him. If he loves playing with a ball, encourage him to play. 

In this way, you are teaching him a positive association with the thunder. It might seem counterintuitive to you, but this is how a dog thinks.

If this happens outside of the house, ensure that your dog is safe. When scared, a dog may run away so put him inside the house or on a lead. Although you are ignoring the behaviour, it is important to put your dog in an environment where he normally feels safe.

For fear aggression, barking at objects etc.

Your dog has to learn that you will protect him. In his moment of fear, despite he may be barking and lunging, he is terrified. To explain this, we are going to portray a typical example of a dog that is reactive to other dogs.

You are walking your dog up the road to the park. Ahead, in the distance, you see another dog walker. Look down at your dog and see if he is displaying any of the following symptoms:

  • Hackles raised
  • Has stopped walking
  • Body language stiff and tight
  • Head raised, looking into the distance at the dog walker
  • Lips have gone tight – the top lips retreat into the gums
  • Straining on the lead

If you are seeing any of the above signs, your dog is preparing to react. His physiology is responding to the trigger (dog in the distance) and his responses will escalate as you walk closer to the trigger.

What are you doing?

Observe your own behaviour. Are you doing any of the following?

  • Tightening the lead
  • Holding your breath
  • Feeling anxious
  • Feeling angry that your dog is behaving this way

Your responses are important in helping to change the behaviour of your dog. The method we use is Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT for short)

What to do next

Observe how far away you are from the trigger and make a mental note. Is it 50 yards, 100 yards, or more? With a happy voice, call your dog, say ‘this way’ and turn and walk the opposite direction to the trigger. Look down at your dog and observe when the physiological symptoms have gone. This will usually be when he looks up at you, happy to be away from the trigger.

In the beginning, you will be doing a lot of turning around.

Over time, with regular practice, this is what will happen:

  • Gradually, the distance for the reactivity to the trigger will reduce – within a few months the original 100 yards may reduce to 25 yards or less. The success of the training will depend on your consistency and approach.
  • Your dog thinks you are the best thing since sliced bread because you have proved that you understand him. You have protected him by removing him from scary monsters. Your dog will develop a stronger bond to you.
  • Your dog increases in confidence and is happier in strange situations

BAT is a fabulous training method for the fearful or anxious dog.

At the same time as you are working through this treatment, it is a great idea to teach your dog an alternative behaviour. Sit or a down is a calming behaviour that will reduce his reactivity. 

Carry treats with you and give him a treat when he is calm and happy.

Over time, your dog will learn to sit and look at you whenever he sees the trigger and, later, the trigger will be able to pass by as your dog looks up at you happily assured that he is safe with you, and that he does not need to be anxious or reactive.

There can be no set timescale for recovery from anxiety, stress or fear based reactivity but if you work through these guidelines, you can be confident of seeing great improvement in your dog.

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Last update on 2019-07-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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