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How Do I Help My Dog's Anxiety?

Posted by Hot Dog Collars on 10/31/16 10:58 AM

Does your dog appear fearful or stressed? Does your dog bark when left alone at home?  If so, your pet may be suffering from anxiety. We tend to notice it more in our canine companions when they bark or destroy things. In either case, an anxious dog is experiencing a heightened internal response.

Fear is an instinctual reaction which protects animals from threatening situations. Some level of fear is beneficial to survival. Yet fear can also become harmful when it manifests inappropriately. A persistent or excessive fear of a specific thing or stimulus is called a phobia. Fear or dread in anticipation of a future event is what we refer to as anxiety.

dogs feel stress too Fear triggers a variety of physical reactions in the body. The most immediate change is the release of adrenaline. This heightens awareness in the animal, and makes it prepared to fight or flee from a threatening situation. When an animal is experiencing anxiety, their body undergoes the same physical reactions. The heightened state of alert associated with fear can be detrimental to long-term health.

Some common signs are compulsive or destructive behaviors. Excessive vocalization or pacing behaviors may also indicate stress. Noticing the signs of distress early on is important! Anxious reactions tend to escalate over time. A common example is the timid dog who shies from strangers, whose reactions amplify over time. Without intervention, this dog could develop a dangerous fear-aggressive response toward unfamiliar people.

Learning the signs of anxiety in your pet can help you understand whether an animal is undergoing stress. The common fear reaction signs for dogs are: Avoiding eye contact or visible whites of eyes, cowering body posture, tail tucked between legs, whining, panting when not hot or thirsty, excessive yawning, tightened facial muscles, ears dropped to side.

The first thing to do if you suspect your pet has an issue with anxiety, is to get your furry friend to a vet for an examination. Dogs can respond to pain or illness in ways that we interpret as being afraid or stressed. Improper elimination could be the result of an issue with diet or digestion. Compulsive behaviors could indicate a neurological condition. Environmental toxins, such as lead, may also cause an animal to appear fearful or aggressive.

Consider also possible environmental triggers for your pet. If your dog has a fearful reaction to being confined, this may have resulted from a previous negative experience. Perhaps in the past they were locked in a crate for long periods of time or otherwise neglected. Separation anxiety is the most common kind of anxiety found in pets. The exact cause of separation anxiety is unknown. It is likely exacerbated if the animal was previously abandoned or has had many owners.

Age and socialization can also be a factor in dog anxiety. Young dogs who are not properly socialized within the first 12-14 weeks of life may become habitually fearful around people. In extreme situations, we refer to these animals as being feral or semi-feral. Older animals may also be more prone to anxiety, due to changes in the nervous system with aging.

poodles get stressed out Some pets experience anxiety for no apparent reason. This so-called idiopathic anxiety can be especially difficult to treat. Just as with people, an animal's behavior develops through a complex interaction factors. Some may be genetic or environmental. We may never be able to say for certain why some animals seem more anxious than others.

Some dog breeds may be prone to higher levels of anxiety. These include Siberian huskies, greyhounds, Bernese mountain dogs, border collies, and poodles, among others.

So what will your vet likely recommend if they determine your animal has an issue with anxiety? There is a possibility they may prescribe anti-anxiety or behavior-modification drugs. These are normally reserved as a last resort as they can have side effects. Drugs are not for all dogs, and they can take some time to become effective. If your vet prescribes medication for your dog, be sure to follow up with them regularly. It is important to check your pet's condition and progress while on medication.

There are many ways owners can help support their pet's treatment. Changes to routine or environment may help. Behavior modification through training is also a frequent component.

In dogs, clicker-training with positive reinforcement with treats is a common method. In the scenario of a dog who behaves anxiously around other dogs, you may first teach them to sit and stay while at home in a neutral setting. When she follows your command, she is given a treat as a reward, which is reinforced by the sound of the clicker. Over time, and perhaps under the guidance of a trainer or behaviorist, she learns to repeat this behavior when another dog is present. With consistency, she begins to replace her fear of the situation with anticipation for something good: the treat.

beds keep your dog safe In cases of separation anxiety, changes to routine can help to reduce this. Say your dog has begun to associate certain actions like putting on a coat or reaching for car keys as cues that you are about to leave. You may try changing these, or the order you do them in, so they cannot predict that you are leaving. Try not to make your departure a big deal. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, try ignoring your dog for several minutes before leaving. Behaviorists suggest this may actually reduce anxiety as you are not rewarding them with affection and then leaving. This is potentially confusing to your furry friend!

Make sure your animal has a safe place they feel comfortable in that they can remain in while you are gone, with plenty of stimulating toys. Consider playing soothing music or leaving the TV on while you are out, to give them something to listen to while you are away.

Regardless of the treatment, be patient with your dog! Your companion's anxious reactions are not done out of spite, and any punishing or scolding may cause them to distrust or fear you. Your dog looks to you not just for its physical needs, but also for comfort and protection. In working with your pet slowly yet consistently, you may be surprised by the results!