This article is contributed by guest writer, Alex Leaf.
How to Help a Dog With Anxiety and Stress
At one point or another you’ve felt anxious. The same holds true for our four-legged furry friends. In order to understand how we, as owners, can prevent dog anxiety, let’s first understand the underlying causes. There are three major causes of dog anxiety, which include fear-based, separation, and age-related anxiety.
Loud noises such as vacuums, thunderstorms, and fireworks are a few of the most common stimuli that induce fear-related anxiety. Negative experiences can also have a lasting effect. Although, it may be entertaining for us to watch our puppies slip and slide across the hardwoods, there can be consequences down the road leading your dog to be afraid of normal circumstances that otherwise wouldn’t cause fear. You’d be anxious too if you thought you had to play “the floor is lava” for the rest of your life. Read our Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve articles for tips on how to keep your pet calm during fireworks.
2. Separation Anxiety
Research suggests that 14 percent of canines experience separation anxiety. This can be detrimental to their behavior. Separation anxiety can cause many dogs to bark excessively, soil the house, and become destructive. Certain breeds, such as minis, toys, and terriers are, by nature, are more susceptible to separation anxiety than others.
Age-related anxiety can be traced from a decline in memory, learning, sight, awareness, and perception.
Signs and Symptoms
5. Destructive behavior
7. Excessive barking
10. Repetitive or compulsive behavior
Reducing and Preventing Anxiety
1. Consult a Veterinarian
First and foremost, it is important to identify why your dog is anxious. Your veterinarian will be able to help identify the source of anxiety as well as rule out any possible medical conditions. Once the source is discovered, your veterinarian will then be able to prescribe the appropriate training, counterconditioning, and, in some cases, medication. However, medication will only alleviate the dog’s senses and symptoms. Medication should not be confused as a cure for anxiety.
2. Counterconditioning & Training
Counterconditioning will allow you to influence your dog’s response to various stimuli. For example, during a thunderstorm your dog may respond by pacing around the house while barking. Counterconditioning will help reform your dog’s response to stressors. Instead of barking, you may have them conditioned to sit by your feet during the storm.
Training is also another way to foster your dog’s behavior. Desensitization is a training technique that will help guide your dog’s attitude toward a specific stimulus. Suppose they are fearful around the vacuum. Begin cautiously exposing the stressor in small doses. Eventually, incorporate positive reinforcement through rewards and praise. After all, he’s a good boy. The goal of desensitization is to show your furry friend that certain stressors aren’t so bad after all. Be careful though, they may expect a treat every time they walk by the vacuum.
Be patient when training and counterconditioning; it won’t happen overnight. Your own body language is just as important in their process. Showing frustration can make an already stressful situation worse.
3. Exercise Helps
Many large breeds and work specific breeds can become anxious just from boredom. Any of us would too if we were stuck in a room for 8 hours. The more tasks they have throughout the day the better. Consider what the needs of your dogs are. Undesirable behavior can be treated simply by adding a trip to the park in the morning. Physical stimulation is vital for your canine’s development and mental health. Meeting their essential needs will go a long way in maintaining both physical and mental health, as well as preventing unwanted behaviors. Read our Promoting Healthy Lifestyles article to learn more about how to keep your pet active and healthy.
4. A Calm Routine
Dogs are creatures of habit who enjoy the subtleties of routine in their daily lives. Limiting ambiguity in their schedule will reduce anxious feelings. For them, routine means security. Sleeping, eating, and playing at regular times are no exception. Creating a structured routine and eliminating obscurities will help reduce anxiety.
5. Pet-Owner Bonding
Humans aren’t the only ones to benefit from pet-owner relationships. Like us, dogs too are empathetic creatures. They feel what we feel – happiness, sadness, anxiousness, and excitement, which is why physical contact is just as important for them as it is for us. In the article, 9 Ways to Improve Your Relationship with Your Dog, Karen P. London, PhD, mentions there is strong evidence that physical contact through grooming and petting lowers stress in dogs. Many of us work throughout the day, which leaves little time to spend with our dogs. Allowing your dog to climb into bed with you is a great way to optimize your time with your favorite furry friend. Even a 5 minute belly rub in the morning will go a long way in reducing their anxiety.
By nature, dogs are social creatures. Most are born into a litter of 5-8 puppies and typically spend their infancy with the pack. Since most dogs are taken from their litter at a very early age, it’s essential to continue their socialization so they can prosper as well-rounded dogs. Early exposure will help create positive experiences and encourage the development of healthy coping mechanisms.
It goes without saying why dogs are man’s best friend, which is why we should be there for them during their ups and downs.