Is your dog an anxious Annie or a nervous Norman? Cat the Vet is here to help with advice on recognising and treating anxiety in dogs...
Anxiety and nervous behaviour are one of the most common behavioural problems our dogs suffer from. It is horrible for them to find the world so stressful and it can be really challenging for us as well, knowing they are struggling. The good news is though, we can help them!
The first step is recognising anxiety and not mistaking it for disobedient or ‘shy’ behaviour. Barking at other dogs, refusing to go out for walks, howling or being destructive when left alone are all signs which are easy to think of as ‘naughty’ but are actually indications your dog isn’t coping and needs your help.
Often these problems can be traced right back to their earliest experiences of life, which is why getting a puppy from a reputable breeder is so important. Good socialising in a family home right from birth is absolutely vital to help a puppy develop into a well-rounded and confident adult.
In fact, what many nervous dogs lack is self-confidence, which is why they struggle to manage in social situations and when they are left alone. One of the best ways to combat this is training! All dogs, regardless of breed, thrive on learning new things! It exercises their bodies, their brains and gives them huge satisfaction. It also means you will be better able to keep control in situations they may find stressful and shift their attention from things that trigger them, back to you instead.
Start by going right back to basics with simple commands like sit and stay and work on really reliable recall. You can move on from there to more complex tricks if you like! Working together like this will deepen the trust between you and your pet, enrich your relationship and help you to help them to remain calm in difficult situations.
There is a saying that ‘a tired dog is a good dog’ and this is very true! Many dogs with nervous anxiety are not being exercised enough and their excess energy can make them agitated and unable to relax. All dogs needs a good off-lead run every day but this can be challenging if their behaviour is poor. A good option is to see if there is a secure field in your area that you can rent or use a long line to give them more freedom but you still remain in control.
“If your dog struggles to cope alone, it can really restrict your life and potentially get you into trouble with the neighbours if they bark the house down! It can also lead to them chewing on doors or other surfaces in the house and toileting inside as well. All of which are incredibly frustrating but it is vital we don’t punish them because that will only make things worse.
Give your dog a small, enclosed space with a comfy bed to snuggle on, they will really appreciate a hidey-hole! Leaving calming music playing quietly and installing a pheromone plug-in diffuser near their bed will also help them relax. Distract them by giving them a chew toy stuffed with tasty treats, so they concentrate on that and not the fact you are gone.
Practice leaving them for short periods at first and then you can gradually build up the time you are away. When you return, don’t reward any over-excited behaviour, wait until they are sitting quietly before you say hello. Keeping things low key will help your dog to learn that calm behaviour is the type that you would like from them.
Some pets will toilet in the house when they are left. This isn’t because they really need to go, it is generally because it is comforting, distracts them temporarily from their distress and also helps spread their scent which they find reassuring. As their confidence in being left improves, this will settle but in the meantime clean any accidents thoroughly with a pet safe and disinfecting household cleaner like Zoflora Home Fresh, which is also gentle on sensitive noses.
Many of our dogs are worried and anxious about life. It can be very hard for them, and for us too, both to see them struggling but also in trying to deal with their sometimes difficult and challenging behaviour.
Hopefully this blog has shown you that there are many ways in which you can help but also, don’t be afraid to ask an expert for their advice as well. Your vet will have some insights and will also be able to refer you to a behavioural specialist if they feel it appropriate.