Whether it’s the rumbling engine of a truck, a loud thunderstorm or a visit from UPS, from time to time all dogs get scared. However, some pups have a worse time than others dealing with fear and anxiety. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. The following tips should help your pup feel better in no time!
Start Behavior Modification Early
Behavior modification will be up to you but exposing dogs to a variety of social situations and environments when they are young puppies (up to 14 weeks of age) will decrease the likelihood of fearful behavior. Most fears, phobias, and anxieties develop at the onset of social maturity, from 12 to 36 months of age. Puppies that are deprived of social and environmental exposure may become habitually fearful, which can be avoided with only a little exposure during this formative time.
If you’ve already passed this critical period, you will need to teach your dog to relax in a variety of environmental settings. Desensitization and counter-conditioning are most effective. Desensitization is the repeated, controlled exposure to the stimulus that usually causes a fearful or anxious response in such a way that the dog does not respond with the undesirable response. The goal is to decrease the reaction to a specific stimulus (such as company at the door). Counter-conditioning is training the dog to perform a positive behavior in place of the negative behavior (in this case, fear or anxiety).
For example, when teaching your dog any desirable behaviors, use positive reinforcement. The signs involved in an oncoming anxiety attack are subtle; learn to recognize the physical signs associated with your dog’s fears, phobias, and anxieties and nip the situation in the bud before it has a chance to take over your dog’s behavior. Avoid reassuring the dog when it is in the midst of experiencing fear or panic; the dog may interpret this as a reward for its behavior. Encourage calmness, but do not reinforce the fear reaction. Absolutely avoid punishment for behavior related to fear, phobia, or anxiety.
Create a Calming Area
Pay close attention to where your dog hides when he’s scared and make the area is easily accessible. If your dog runs under your bed when company comes, leave your bedroom door open. Make the area as comforting as possible with his favorite blanket, dog toys and clean water. It’s also a good idea to provide your dog with a “safe space” such as a bed or a teepee, that’s just his in areas of your home that tend to see a lot of activity. Unless your dog runs in there himself, crates may not be ideal in an anxious moment, as dogs can feel trapped and act out.
Look Into Anxiety Wraps
Much like swaddling a baby, anxiety wraps apply pressure to your dog’s lateral side body making him feel safe and protected why alleviating or lessening five major conditions; fear, anxiety, hyperactivity, insecurity, and shyness. These items can be purchased for around $35-50 or if you’re in a pinch, try this DIY approach using a common winter scarf.
Loud noises in the sky? Try grabbing your pup’s favorite ball and having a game of fetch, bouncing the ball off of the wall so that it mimics the loud noise or having a little wrestle on the floor. Leaving the radio or TV on may also help to distract your dog from focusing on noises outside the house. Some dogs show no interest in playing or treats when they are scared so remember to never force your pup to do anything.
Talk with an Animal-Behavior Specialist
Since dogs are unable to tell us just what is scaring them, an animal behaviorist will read your dog’s body language to see how they react to certain situations. The behaviorist can also give your family tips on how to make the dog more comfortable in certain situations (mailman at the door, dinner parties, families with children or new babies, etc.). To locate a board certified veterinary behaviorist in your state, look on this list.
When all else fails, medication might be a good option to help calm your dog. Your veterinarian will first want to rule out other conditions that might be causing the behavior, such as thyroid disease or a neurological disorder. Their behavior could also be originating from a response to a toxic substance found in the home, such as lead. Blood tests will rule out or confirm such a possibility. Your vet will also look at other symptoms of anxiety such as itchiness or pain, which must be controlled and treated separately.
Most dogs will respond respond well to a combination of behavior modification and treatment with anti-anxiety medication.Your dog may need to live in a protected environment with as few social stimulants as possible until the medications become effective, which can take from days to weeks. In extreme cases, hospitalization may be the best choice. Most likely, you will care for your dog at home, and will need to provide protection from self-inflicted physical injury until the dog calms down. You may need to arrange for dog walking day care or dog-sitting until your vet gets the anxiety under control.