Does your dog dig in and refuse to get in the car? Do fireworks and thunderstorms send your dog into a frenzy? Does every bath start with a round of hide and seek while your dog tries to avoid getting clean? If any of these scenarios sound familiar, you may have an anxious dog. Dogs who have anxiety – whether only about specific situations or more generalized to many situations – are reacting to protect themselves from perceived threats. We know that these things aren’t really going to hurt the dog, but the dogs are convinced that they are in danger. Unfortunately, when their anxiety is misunderstood and mishandled, it only grows. But with appropriate and consistent training, dogs suffering from anxiety can be calmer and less reactive, making life with and for them a lot less stressful.
How Can I Know That My Dog has Anxiety?
If your dog is in the presence of something that scares her, such as the bathtub or a thunderstorm, and you notice your dog yawning excessively, licking her lips frequently, drooling, tucking her tail, looking away from you, or panting then your dog may be trying to tell you that she feels anxious. If the situation that is causing the anxiety persists, she may also start to exhibit aggressive behaviors, such as stiffening her body, keeping her tail raised, growling, widening her eyes, and showing her teeth. If she feels frightened enough, her arousal instincts can take over and make her seem out of control.
What Can I Do to Help My Dog?
Start with a visit to your veterinarian to rule out illness or injury as the cause of your dog’s anxious-seeming behavior. Your veterinarian can also help you with tips and, if needed, medications if it is confirmed that your dog has anxiety.
Once illness or injury has been ruled out and you’re sure your dog’s behavior is anxiety related, consult a trainer or veterinary behaviorist to help you learn how to work with your dog to reduce her anxious behaviors. Positive reinforcement can help your dog not to react to her anxiety. Make sure that she associates positive experiences, like earning lots of treats for being calm in an anxiety producing situation, every time she’s faced with a trigger and she should soon learn that the trigger isn’t really that bad.
Keep your dog well-exercised so that her mind and body are too tired to overreact to anxiety causing stimuli. Be sure to play and exercise every day.
Create a safe space in your home that your dog can go to when she needs to calm down. Teach her that this is a place of calm and safety by making it comfortable, placing a favorite blanket and toy there, and giving her lots of positive reinforcement for going there to relax. You could use a crate in a quiet room for this and add in a white noise machine to help quiet any outside noises that might make her uncomfortable. This is a great option for dogs who are scared of things you can’t avoid, like fireworks or thunderstorms
With patience, effort, and help from your veterinarian and a trainer, you can help your dog overcome her anxiety and live a fuller and calmer life.