Similarly to people, a variety of things and circumstances can trigger a dog’s anxiety, as well as different types of it. Our canine companions can experience everything from social and separation anxiety to stress prompted by noise, which is why so many dog owners aren’t fans of fireworks. The effects the anxiety might have on your dog can also range from physical symptoms to behavioral issues and bad behavior. The first step to being able to help your dog and treat his anxiety is being able to differentiate between a dog’s bad house manners and a mental disorder, as well as being able to identify what it was brought on by.
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The Root of the Behavior
Though it is quite common and normal for dogs to go through periods of mild anxiety from time to time, your dog shouldn’t be exhibiting any symptoms of it for an extended period of time, otherwise, it could mean he has chronic anxiety. If he is spending most of his days with his tail tucked in acting withdrawn, biting or obsessively licking a toy, he is most likely anxious about something or is feeling distressed. Visiting a veterinarian is essential in order to rule out a potential medical issue that could be manifesting in similar ways to anxiety.
Some dogs are also genetically predisposed to experience more anxiety than others, breeds such as Bernese Mountain dogs, Poodles, Basset Hounds and Siberian Huskies to name a few. These breeds are especially sensitive to the surroundings they are in and any changes can impact their well being or cause them to get stressed. While other breeds such as German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, and Cocker Spaniels are more prone to separation anxiety and thus need a lot of attention and family time to feel happy and well. Regardless of breed, any dog can develop separation anxiety when left alone for longer periods of time, especially ones that form very close bonds with their owners, get attached and rely on human interaction.
Encouraging the Behavior
When you come home to a destroyed couch, chewed up slippers, or step into a yellow puddle created by yours only, your first thought might be to condemn your canine family member for the bad behavior. However, very often the mischief is actually a symptom of distress and anxiety, rather than a lack of house manners - especially if your dog has undergone house training before and knows what’s okay and what isn’t. Don’t encourage the destruction either. Instead, remain calm and don’t yell at your dog as it can just cause more stress and trouble. Try to identify the reason for his distress, either by taking him to the veterinarian for diagnosis or to a professional dog owner who will help you decipher your dog's behavior. The aim is to resolve the underlying cause to prevent it from happening, instead of scaring him into submission. You can also try to get your dog to associate you leaving with positive things. Give your dog a treat before you leave the house or get him used to your absence in baby steps. Leave for a few minutes and come back. Then for a few hours and come back, this should slowly desensitize your dog to your absence, especially if he has some interactive toys or another dog to play with in the meantime. The same method can be used for noise anxiety. If your dog is afraid of the vacuum, consider taking it out and playing fetch around it so that your dog gets a bit more comfortable around it. Later, you can play the sound quietly on your laptop and either play with your dog or give him treats during that time. The goal is to distract your dog and replace his negative association with a positive one.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Social anxiety is usually common in dogs that have not been properly socialized during an early age, especially during the first 2 years of their life. During that time your furry friend should be exposed to as many different things and experiences as possible. Meeting other puppies, older dogs of different breeds, cats, and other smaller animals as well as babies and kids all in order to familiarize with them while at the young, impressionable and harmless stage of their life. The puppy should also get used to car rides, both to the veterinarian and to the dog park to build a good association with those places in the future. Your four-legged friend should also be introduced to some potential, future noise anxiety triggers, such as the hairdryer, the vacuum cleaner, toaster, and anything else you think he might encounter at an older age that might spook him.
Both dogs and humans go through stressful periods in their life or have moments of anxiety. However, the key to raising a happy, healthy and stress-free furball is to properly socialize him during his puppyhood and desensitize him to potential anxiety triggers. Making sure your dog experiences a variety of different experiences during the early age of his development is crucial in preventing behavioral issues in the future, thus saving a few of your favorite pairs of shoes in the process!