Yes, dog training classes can help anxious dogs a lot. But before discussing how the training works, one must know the underlying reasons for the dog’s anxiety. Knowing the types of dog anxiety is also important as different measures have to be taken in order to deal with different anxieties. Here’s the complete guide to help pet parents that are worried about their anxious dogs.
Types of Anxieties in Dogs
Most of the time, dogs show anxiety towards the thing with which they had a bad experience in the past. But dogs can also show this behavior when they encounter a completely new and strange thing. Different stimuli can trigger anxious behaviors in dogs. On the basis of these stimuli, the following types are categorized:
Separation anxiety refers to the type of anxious behavior in which the dog has a great bonding with the family members or with particularly a single person. Such dogs entirely become dependent on the owners and never leave them. They feel safe in following the owners from room to room and sticking by their side. They get anxious when they are separated from the owner.
All dogs have different thresholds. When the owners get ready to go outside, dogs start showing abnormal behavior in their presence. They start barking or destroying things. Some dogs become scared after the owner has left. When the owner leaves, dogs might defecate in the house.
Some dogs even start eating their poop out of anxiety, while other dogs chew on objects. In most cases, these dogs are over-possessed with specific humans and show behavior problems because they lack interaction with other humans.
One in every six dogs is suffering from separation anxiety, which makes up almost 14% of the dogs’ population.
Anxiety in a Fearful Dog
Dogs get afraid really quickly. Though a fear response is normal, becoming afraid of usual things can be problematic for dogs. Lets’ understand it with an example.
Dogs are afraid of wolves, jackals, and other predators. It’s normal behavior, and humans cannot do anything about it. But many dogs are scared of loud noises like thunderstorms snd fireworks. These things can become the cause of a dog’s anxiety. If not treated timely, the fear can gradually increase and become intense enough to make the dog remain fearful for the rest of his life.
Other stimuli triggering anxiety in fearful dogs include humans (especially strangers), other animals, or pets. It is also referred to as social anxiety. Sometimes they are even scared to walk down the stairs or to ride a car.
In addition, some are scared of vet clinics because they had a bad experience with injections or with the vet. Investigation shows that between 10% and 78.5% of dogs are fearful in vet clinics, with 13% refusing to enter and 29% showing stress in the waiting room.
Anxiety in an Older Dog
Age-related anxiety is common among dogs. Though all the dogs might not suffer from it, most of them do. It occurs when there’s a cognitive decline. Medically, the condition is called Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS). The syndrome affects the memory, and the dog begins to forget things.
Sometimes he is unable to recognize the owner and the surroundings. As a result, his learning ability is reduced. Not only is he unable to learn something new, but he also forgets the lessons from previous training. His senses of touch, smell, and hearing are also affected.
Moreover, he suffers from diseases and is in pain due to his old age. All these things make him lead to distress and anxiety. Signs of CDS include restlessness, sleeplessness, excessive barking, lethargy, tremors, and collapse.
Common Symptoms of Anxiety
When surrounded by extreme fear or anxiety, dogs tend to become aggressive. Aggression is a kind of defensive mechanism. Aggressive dogs start barking and biting if a stranger or another animal comes near. They suffer from excessive panting and drooling.
They show destructive behavior by tearing the mats and carpets or by trying to escape through the doors and windows, and during the process, end up hurting themselves. They start urinating or defecating in the home even if they are potty trained outdoors. They show restlessness by wandering here and there. Except barking, the vocalization includes short cry sounds, also called whining.
They show licking behavior and yawn, becoming sleepy a bit due to low energy. Energy levels lower as they refuse to eat due to inner fear. Sometimes, they become fearful to the point that they hide from their owner; even if the owner tries to calm them down, they run away.
Which Dogs Are More Prone to Anxiety?
Though some people claim that some dog breeds are more anxious and tend to be more fearful than others, it’s not the breed that makes the dog anxious; it’s the dog’s past encounters, accidents, traumas, and personality. Some dogs of a certain breed tend to be cheerful; at the same time, the same breed can have the most fearful dog ever.
Two dogs of the same breed, same size, and same age may have entirely opposite personalities. One was brought up in a friendly environment and became very social. At the same time, the other had the trauma of being chased by a predator or a harsh veterinarian injected him in the cruelest way. As a result, he can develop fear and become anxious.
How Does Training Help With Anxiety?
An anxious dog can be trained to become more social and overcome his fear. Like a psychiatrist treats a human to overcome his anxiety, one can approach similar tactics to help the dog. But the process demands time and patience.
Bring Them to a Calm State
First of all, to begin with, the training determines the cause of his anxiety. For example, if he is suffering from separation anxiety, don’t leave him alone. If he is afraid of guests, don’t take him in front of them. In short, be careful of the surroundings and remove the things from the surrounding that are putting the dog at risk of anxiety.
To determine the cause of his anxiety, either you have to watch over him closely, or you can consult a veterinarian. Consulting the vet is important, as it’s possible that the signs you observed might not be from anxiety but from disease.
Get Their Trust
Getting the puppy to trust you should be your next goal. Replace his fear with interesting things. Give him food. Purchase toys for him. Teach him new tricks and make him practice them over and over again.
It will make the dog forget his fear for some time. Sitting on the ground and interacting with him will build his trust in you. You can also seek some tips from the experts. Getting the dog’s trust is important to proceed with the next step.
Begin With Desensitization
As the name shows, desensitization means making the dog insensitive toward a stimulus. It is done by exposing the dog to the stimulus that triggers anxiety in him. You must be thinking, how’s that possible. The dog will not be able to tolerate the stimulus as it’s something that the dog already fears. That’s not how desensitization works.
You are going to expose him to the stimulus but at extremely low intensity. If he shows a bit of fear, expose him over and over again so that he becomes used to that intensity.
After some time, increase the intensity of the stimulus. Gradually, he will become used to it too. Every time after increasing the intensity, he will show fear, but he will end up becoming accustomed to it each time.
Proceed With Counter-conditioning
After exposing the dog to the stimulus, start changing the dog’s mind. The process is called counter conditioning, in which the dog’s negative response towards stimulus is changed. It can be done by accompanying the exposure to the stimulus with something that the dog loves.
For example, it might be a treat or something else that he fascinates. In this way, the dog will start relating that stimulus with a good thing – actually a thing that he loves. As a result, it will lower his fear.
Remember that desensitization and counter-conditioning go hand in hand. You must expose the dog to the lowest level of the stimulus and feed him his favorite treat. Each time you increase the intensity of the stimulus, try to make the treat more delicious.
Seek Out Positive Reinforcement Methods
If the dog tolerates the sight of that particular thing, reward him. Give him toys and use the positive reinforcement methods. Pat him on his back and use vocal markers to realize that he is doing good. It will encourage the dog and will make him realize that you have got his back, leaving him to worry less.
Training a dog to combat anxiety is not an overnight process. It will take a lot of time, probably more than the time required for behavioral training. In the beginning, the dog will not be used to it and will start barking and whining because of the rush of stress hormones.
Besides aggression, he will show other signs of anxiety too. You have to calm him down and train him to combat his fear. The dog will be anxious, but you have to be patient. It’s time-taking, but it’s worth it.
Other Treatments for Anxiety
Sometimes dogs are anxious not because they are afraid of something or someone but because they are in pain. They get anxious because some parts of the brain have been designed in such a way to receive unpleasant and negative responses from the surroundings and the body.
As a result, they produce similar responses to both pain and anxiety. For instance, dogs get intestinal blockage or upset stomach, lose their appetite, and become lethargic while you might be thinking he is suffering from anxiety or depression.
You can never grasp the reason behind their pain. Visit the vet, let him examine the dogs, and prescribe medication. Never ever try to medicate the dog by yourself. You can actually worsen his condition.
Besides sickness, there are some calming medicines that can help the dog’s anxiety. Sometimes instead of training, treatment works better.
How to Prevent Anxiety in a Dog?
You can take care of some things to prevent anxiety in dogs. Some of them are the following:
Learn Dog’s Body Language
Keeping a pet comes with comprehending its body language. The same goes for the dogs. Learning the dog’s body language can save both you and the dog from bad consequences. Anxious dogs usually lick their paws or yawn as a result of lethargy. He will be wandering from one room to another. In case of separation anxiety, he will be wandering closer to you, in fact following you wherever you go.
While in the case of fear-based anxiety, he might be drifting away from you. Anger build-up in them from time to time. Aggressive dogs can be recognized by their growling and whining. Moreover, tucked ears and frozen body posture are signs shown by an anxious dog.
Engage Him in Socialization
Practice more socialization with your dog on a leash. Take them for walks daily. Take him to the dog park. Talk to other pet parents and their dogs. Stop by cats too. Meeting animals from different species can enhance their socialization. Give them potty training outside the house.
Set up a schedule so that the pup knows it’s time to go greet other dogs and humans. Take the furry friend to dog training classes if you can afford it. Private classes don’t help with socialization. Instead, opt for group classes; they are cheaper and provide more chances for socialization.
Take Care of Their Mental and Physical Health
Taking care of dogs’ mental health is as important as their physical health. Feed him healthy foods and engage him in activities that make him happy. Take him for exercise and go for medical checkups regularly.
Dogs can become anxious for various reasons. They can be afraid of strangers or animals. They might be afraid of getting separated from their owner. They might have diseases that cause pain or make them forget things. Anxiety is not good for the dog’s health, whatever the case is.
It needs treatment right away. Training a dog can help combat anxiety. Get to the core reason behind his anxiety, win his trust, and engage him in desensitization and counter-conditioning.
Use positive reinforcement to train the dog. The process will take some time, so you need to be patient. It would be better if anxiety is prevented from the start by taking good care of the dog’s mental health.