Dealing With Doggie Anxiety
Updated: Jun 24
Anxiety is a very common behavioral issue for dogs. Some dogs are anxious only in certain situations (going to the vet, when visitors arrive, etc) while others have anxiety in numerous situations. In the latter case, the anxiety becomes chronic. We aren't sure why some dogs handle stress better than others but then again, some people are better equipped at dealing with stress as well. If your dog's anxiety is sudden and you can't find a cause, please seek veterinary care right away. There may be an underlying physical cause. If your dog is just having a hard time dealing with changes at home, here are some basic steps you can take to help him in dealing with doggie anxiety.
1.) Take him for a walk- Exercise is not only great for your pup physically, but helps him settle down mentally. The walk satisfies your dog's need for mental stimulation in that he gets to see, sniff, and hear sounds that he wouldn't be exposed to in his own house or yard. Sniffing also lowers cortisol levels in the blood. Just like humans, dogs need to both venture out into the world and get plenty of exercise to maintain health. For those days when you're short on time, you can also switch one of these walks out for a vigorous 15 minute game of fetch. Just make sure he is still getting his pee break every five or six hours. When your pup has to hold it, this can exacerbate his general anxiety. 2.) If your dog is social, let him meet some furry friends - Dogs have their own "language". Part of this language includes a series of gestures called calming signals. These signals not only allow for peaceful interaction between dogs but they remind dogs how to calm themselves as well. A dog that doesn't have the opportunity to use "doggie language" much will soon forget it and therefore will not be as well-versed in calming himself during stressful situations. Social interaction also supplies more mental and physical stimulation for your pup too. 3.) Adopt a routine - Imagine for a second that when you went to work everyday your boss kept moving your desk. Some days you'd be next to the noisy copier and other days you'd be isolated in the storage room. While this scenario is a bit far-fetched, this is how your dog feels when he doesn't know where he is allowed in the house and where he is not. If you decide your dog shouldn't sit on the sofa, then your need to reinforce him for not doing so consistently. All of us get lazy with rules at times but having consistent experiences is especially important for anxious dogs. When your dog knows what is expected of him, he can relax. This goes for his feeding and walking routine as well. If that routine changes too much, he becomes uneasy. 4.) Give him mental stimulation - Teach him some new cues for treats. Play hide n seek. Get him an interactive game with treats. Hide treats for him to find. Doing things for reward will boost his confidence and lower his anxiety.
5.) Comfort him when he's upset. Once upon a time, we were all told not to comfort an anxious dog. Now, we know that is absolutely not true. If your dog is upset, give him some love! You can't reinforce emotional states. You can only reinforce behavior.