Conquering Anxiety...for dogs (sorry humans)
Anxiety - it's the bane of human existence at times for certain people. Maybe it's a social situation where you don't/won't know anybody, or maybe it's a result from a fear of now knowing something you wish you did. Regardless of the situation, dealing with anxiety can be tough, but it's not just a human problem! I actually see more and more dogs with different levels and types of anxiety the more I work with dogs. But just like with humans, the anxiety that dogs can feel can also be helped with the right exercises and practices.
Now, don't mistake me for saying this blog post is a cure-all for all types of anxieties and for every breed of dog, or that it will give you a perfect strategy for your specific dog's anxiety problems. Also like humans, dogs are way too diverse to give one blog post that will help every single case. Solutions need to be tailored just like training. My aim is to help give a starting point and a greater understanding for how anxiety can occur.
That being said, here's a list of some causes I've seen while working with dogs that have led to specific types of anxiety:
1) Lack of early socialization. Now that I've been training and boarding dogs for a while, I've noticed the quick indications of same-space anxiety for dogs who are not used to being around other dogs or sharing spaces and/or toys with other dogs. This is one of the quickest types of anxieties to show up, especially when you're dropping your dog off for daycare or boarding. If your dog has same-space anxiety, they will immediately shy away from other humans and dogs, and try their best to avoid them by all means necessary. This gets dangerous, as I've seen dogs with this anxiety become aggressive when another dog closes in on their space unknowingly.
The easiest way to help with this one - socialization! Look at different dog parks, or plan a puppy play-date with a low energy dog or a dog of similar age. The more dogs your dog meets, the easier they will be with other spaces that are shared with other dogs.
2) Lack of separation. Now, hear me out...I'm not saying you need to leave your new puppy or dog behind the first few weeks you have them. That can add to anxiety and really have a negative impact on your dog. However, AKC (American Kennel Club) suggests that about 14% of dogs are affected by Separation Anxiety! This comes from a lack of trusting other humans or having relationships with any human other than their direct owner. It can also come from not being used to new environments. It's easy to detect, since most dogs with separation anxiety will whine at the door almost immediately after you leave.
To help with separation anxiety, make sure your dog is meeting other people as well as other dogs. Also, I would suggest letting them stay a day or two at a boarding facility or a friend's house when they are 4, 5 and 6 months old. Why? Because this is right in the middle of their biggest developmental stages, when they're learning most about their world around them. It will teach them that new environments aren't scary, that people aren't scary, and that you'll always be coming back for them! Also, leave lights and music on when you're not home so they feel safe, and make sure you're leaving their favorite toys and a small blanket or shirt with them when you Board them, so they feel like they have a small piece of home.
3) Fear of the unknown. Sound familiar? Correct, it's just like what humans have to deal with! Dogs can have a fear of the unknown as well. Anything they haven't had a chance to explore can be an immediate danger in their eyes, and this can manifest itself in other fears, especially when exploring new environments. Most people see this in a fear for the vet's office or a car ride.
To help with fears, you have to pay attention to what situations spark the fears. Sometimes it's easy to pick up, but other times, it can be slightly difficult. Make sure you're helping them realize their fears are misplaced by replacing negative behaviors with positive ones. Reward progress with their favorite treats. Be happy and extra supportive when you know their in a place that may cause anxiety (vet's office). You don't have to go all-in like the guy to my left...but doing so will help relieve some anxiety for them if they know you're not afraid.
For all types of anxiety, there are a few things to remember:
1) Anxiety isn't permanent. Every type of anxiety can be prevented and/or helped with the right exercises. Contact a trainer or vet to help you create a gameplan to help your dog's anxiety.
2) Don't downplay the severity of anxiety, because not addressing the issue(s) can lead to unwanted behaviors. Anxieties bring bathroom accidents, excessive barking or whining, a lack of eating or sleeping, unwanted aggression, and destructive behaviors. If you notice your dog is having some of the symptoms of anxiety, contact someone to help.
3) Anxiety is an issue for a lot of dogs in one way or another, and doesn't mean that you're a bad owner. Just like a child growing up with anxiety doesn't mean the parents were the source, a dog with anxiety doesn't immediately mean you are a bad owner. There are tons of factors that contribute to anxiety.
4) Anxiety is preventable. Not all types can be prevented, but treating your dog correctly will help proactively avoid your dog dealing with most types of anxiety. Treating your dog with love and affection, giving them their own space, providing them with food and clean water consistently, training them to enjoy new environments and early socialization are some of the main practices that can help prevent anxiety.
Last but not least, AKC suggests that the #1 way to help with anxiety is to look at training options. Training and counter-conditioning are the best ways to help address anxiety issues that your dog may be experiencing. Bandit's Buddies LLC has a trainer that specializes in training to counter-condition and address anxiety.
If you're interested in checking out some of these specialty training courses from our specialized trainer, check out:
Bandit's New Surroundings training course - Great for older adopted dogs or dogs in new environments, like after a move. It helps address anxieties with unfamiliar places.
Bandit's Better Start training course - Great for younger adopted dogs. It helps acclimate them to a new environment and addresses the anxieties they experience with a new owner.
Bandit's Stubborn Dog training course - Great for dogs with heavy anxiety issues. It helps pinpoint the roots of anxiety and counter-conditions the negative behaviors to positive.