DOG ANXIETY

- FEARS, NERVOUSNESS & PHOBIAS

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DOG ANXIETY - FEARS, NERVOUSNESS & PHOBIAS:

Is your pet generally nervous? Do they scare easily, appear to be scared of everything, seem to be ‘scared of their own shadow’ or can become scared for apparently no reason? If so, they might be suffering from anxiety.

WHAT IS ANXIETY IN DOGS?

Fear is a normal response to an actual or perceived threatening stimulus or situation. Anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress. Anxiety is a feeling of fear or apprehension of what is to come when your pet anticipates a threat or fearful situation. Phobia is an excessive and irrational fear response i.e. an irrational fear of something that is unlikely to cause harm.  

 

Does your pet:

  • Show fearful or hesitant behaviour’s in new environments or around unfamiliar objects / animals / people that they have never met before,

  • Find it hard to adjust to new environments,

  • Freeze in response to unusual noises and unfamiliar things, and they’re typically afraid of unfamiliar people and animals,

  • Show reluctance to enter unfamiliar rooms,

  • Avoid investigating a new thing or environment, and instead tend to withdraw.

COMMON SYMPTOMS OF ANXIETY IN DOGS:

An anxious dog or a dog that is having a fear or stress response may show any of the following symptoms in their body language:

  • Rigid posture (freeze) or “shut down”,

  • Panting, salivating and/or drooling,

  • Tail tucked between their legs,

  • Dilated pupils,

  • Flattened ears,

  • Head down or lowered body position,

  • Licking of their lips,

  • Barking, whining, whimpering or howling,

  • Pacing,

  • Shivering,

  • Running away and / or cowering in the corner of a house,

  • Self-harm, including excessive licking or chewing,

  • Not eating,

  • A general inability to settle.

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COMMON CAUSES OF ANXIETY IN DOGS:

There is a wide range of things that can make your dog fearful, nervous and anxious. Below are common causes:

 

  • Fear of other dogs - unfamiliar dogs, dogs that appear threatening, unpleasant experiences with dogs,

  • Fear of other animals – cats, birds, cows, sheep,

  • Fear of unfamiliar people – children, strange men, people that act, smell or look different,

  • Fear of loud noises – fireworks, thunder, gun shots, trucks, trains, construction sites,

  • Fear of objects – balloons, hats, umbrellas, walking sticks,

  • Fear of new environments – somewhere that they have never been before,

  • Fear of strange environments – boarding kennels, new house, travelling in a car,

  • Fear of different surfaces – tiles, grates, steps, grids, manhole covers,

  • Fear of specific situations – going to the vets, at the dog groomers, being washed.

ANXIOUS DOG RESPONSES THAT MAY RESULT FROM STRESSFUL SITUATIONS:

An anxious dog or a dog that is having a stressful response may result in any of the following:

 

  • Very subtle changes in body language which, for those not trained or experienced, may be easily missed altogether,

  • Avoidance and / or escape from the stimulus or situation,

  • Conversely, your dog may become aggressive ‘out of the blue’,

  • Defensive fear based aggression, such as barking, lunging, snapping or biting can be a reaction employed in the face of the unknown or a perceived potential ‘threat’. It is a defensive mechanism.

IS MY DOG JUST BEING SILLY:

  • Your pet is not being silly or playing up. They are fearful, 

  • Ignoring their reaction or dragging them into a situation where they do not feel comfortable is the last thing that you should do. This can also become potentially dangerous if they feel their only option is to protect themselves and therefore may bite, 

  • Owners who try ‘flooding’ (exposing their pet to a high level of stimulus to the thing that they fear) are usually not rewarded in the way that they hoped and live to regret their actions. Taking a sink or swim approach is very dangerous and could result in you needing to euthanase your beloved pet,

  • Even trying to get your dog used to a stimulus yourself needs careful consideration and help from a trained Animal Behaviourist if you are going to be successful in not heightening your dog’s fear,

  • Just because you know there is no real ‘threat’ doesn’t mean that your dog will adjust, and you certainly have not communicated this to them in an effective way. Defensive fear-based aggression accounts for most dog bite incidents.

IS LACK OF SOCIALISATION KEY TO DOG ANXIETY?

Many dogs who display fears, nervousness, anxiety and phobic behaviours were not socialised adequately or effectively as puppies. This may not mean that they were not socialized at all.

  • Socialisation needs to be done correctly to avoid fearful responses. 

  • It’s not purely a matter of doing a lot with your puppy. 

  • To effectively socialize, you need to do a lot but in the right way. Please see New Puppy – 8 Steps to Success for more advice on this topic. This can be found on the Learning Zone on the website: 

  • Unfortunately, owners may be blissfully unaware that they are socialising a puppy inadequately. Or the importance of conducting effective socialisation to all new things that they will be exposed to as an adult dog, before their puppy reaches 16 weeks old (within the sensitive period of development), to maximize their success of avoiding neophobic reactions. 

AVOIDING ANXIETY IN DOGS - SOCIALISATION TOOLS:

Behaviour tools have been developed to guide owners on how to effectively socialise their puppy. 

  • Socialisation Chart: Details a range of new experiences and new things to remember to socialise and desensitise your puppy which also explains, and this is key, hoe to socialise your puppy effectively on the back. 

This resource can be found on the Learning Zone of the website. Click on the link below:

DOES GENETICS OR BREED DISPOSITION PLAY A ROLE IN ANXIOUS DOGS?

  • Besides the owner performing effective and adequate socialisation with a puppy, what is next likely to play a role, is how your puppy has been treated before they get to you. Was the mother well cared for, well-nourished and free from stress? Once born, did the puppy’s caretaker socialise them in the right way before they got to you?   

  • To a certain degree, genetics or breed disposition can play a role. Sometimes, dogs are genetically wired to be weak nerved and wary of novel stimuli. Even within the same litter of puppies, some may be very confident, and some may be less so. This could be because back in time when dogs were not domesticated, each behaviour characteristic had a particular function. Nervous behaviour had a function.

  • Today, in the domesticated dog a nervous function is not useful. Despite lots of socialisation, some pups may never be totally comfortable when faced with novel stimuli. These are the ones that need just a little more help and guidance. There is nothing wrong with them. Knowing how to help them adjust is key, to help them to avoid going down an unnecessary anxiety pathway. The problem with this though is that you can’t recognize this. You are not a trained Behaviourist.

DOG ANXIETY TREATMENT:

The earlier you spot anxiety in your dog’s behaviour the greater success you have in treating it if you get professional help from a Dog Behaviourist / Dog Psychologist. If anxiety is left untreated it will continue to grow in its severity and things will get a lot worse in the future. Even to the point of your dog having to be surrendered or rehomed. The best advice that we can give is to get help early for dog anxiety treatment from the right professional person, an Animal Behaviourist. This is not a dog training issue. 

 

You will need to enlist the help of a professional Dog Behaviourist  / Dog Psychologist to be able to assess the root cause of the fear and anxiety along with assessing your dog inherent behaviour and true personality. After their assessment, they will develop up a Behaviour Modification Plan for implementation. The earlier you seek help from a professional Animal Behaviourist the easier it will be for you to turn things around with your dog, as the problem isn’t big, so treatment will be successful as you have less work to do. In saying that, a professional Behaviourist will still be able to help you with your dog even if the anxiety has been left untreated for several years. It is still worth getting help and you will be surprised what difference that it can make for the quality of life for your dog and in extension yourself. 

 

Dog anxiety treatment focuses on changing the dog’s emotional response with the stimulus (counterconditioning) and/or replacing the undesirable response with one that is desirable using reinforcement-based techniques (response substitution). In scientific terms, this is Desensitisation and Counter Conditioning. In other words, we turn the negative association into a positive experience for the dog. The good news is that it is actually quite a simple process, but very subtle and depends heavily on many variables, which will be reviewed by the Behaviourist. Each case is different as every dog and every owner is different. It is important to remember that a Behaviourist is a skilled professional, enlisting their help not only makes your life easier but you get the results that you want.  A trained Animal Behaviourist can make the most complex situation look easy and will build you a manageable behaviour modification plan to work from. 

DOG ANXIETY MEDICATION:

In some cases, anxiety medication may be required from your vet if the dog’s anxiety is so high that it stops the dog’s ability to learn the Behaviour Modification Plan designed by your Animal Behaviourist. BUT, by only giving your anxiety medications to treat a behavioural issue you WILL NOT be fixing or treating the underlying cause of the behavioural issue. Medications mostly help to treat the symptoms of the behavioural issue. Medications should only be given as part of a Behaviour Modification Plan. You will work with both your Vet and your Behaviourist who will work together to help you to fix the issue.

THUNDERSHIRT FOR DOGS:

Thundershirt for dogs is a natural calming solution that may help reduce anxiety in dogs in a drug-free way. Just like cuddling an infant, the Thundershirt for dogs applies gentle, constant pressure to the dog to calm anxiety, fear and over-excitement issues. The Thundershirt for dogs may be of benefit for the following anxiety situations including desensitisation work, fireworks, thunderstorms, separation anxiety, travel and visits to the vet etc.

 

Using a Thundershirt to treat a behavioural issue will only be providing mild relief to the symptoms of the behavioural issue and WILL NOT be fixing or treating the underlying cause of the behavioural issue. Get from a professional Animal Behaviorist to help you rectify the cause of your dog’s anxiety. 

For more information on the Thundershirt please click the link below to visit the manufacturer's website:

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HOW CAN WE HELP YOU?

At Animal Behaviour Australia we are committed to rectifying the cause of your pet’s behaviour problem so that you have a problem-free pet. Dealing with symptoms alone does not rectify the underlying cause or address motivating factors resulting in your pet’s behaviour. We advise that you seek help to address BOTH the cause and symptoms, by booking a Behaviour Consultation for your pet with our Animal Behaviourist. A targeted treatment plan will be provided for your particular pet and situation. Each pet and situation is different, so each plan is different. A Behaviour Consultation does not cost as much as you may expect. Get help for your pet now. BOOK NOW!!

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