What is Insecure?
Insecure dogs can manifest many of the traits of anxious and fearful dogs, such as hiding, trembling, or growling. Your dog may keep away from you, or snap at you when he is feeling anxious. An insecure dog is unsure of his environment, lacks self-confidence, and can act aggressively towards people, even his owner. Other signs of insecurity can include a lot of yawning and panting, submissive postures, and incidences of house soiling. Reasons why your dog may be insecure include:
- Genetic predisposition
- Medical condition
- Heat cycle
- Age-related degeneration
- Lack of leadership
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Why Insecure Occurs in Dogs
There are various reasons why your dog may exhibit insecure behaviors.
A stressful situation could occur at any time, such as during an accident or a scary situation. For some dogs, stress may be a daily fact at home. A family who yells a lot, is constantly busy, or has lots of guests coming in and out, may be unwittingly causing a stressful environment for their pets. Environmental changes can also cause stress, such as moving into a new house, changes in routines, or the loss of a companion or family member. The introduction of a new dog can create a disruption in the hierarchy of the household, and could cause your dog to become less confident.
Anxiety is common in dogs, and can occur due to a traumatic event or situation. Common anxieties revolve around loud noises, travel, and confinement. Separation anxiety usually involves anxious and destructive behavior when the owner leaves the dog alone. Loud vocalization can precede indoor elimination, tearing up of items or furniture, or repetitive behaviors. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating anxiety disorder that is created by an episode of physical harm or extreme fear, such as an attack, a natural disaster, or loss of an owner.
When a fear becomes excessive, it can turn into a phobia. Fears and phobias are often triggered by a specific being, item, or noise, such as people with glasses, toasters, or thunder. Signs of a fearful episode can include pacing, cowering, raising of hair on the back of the neck, whining, excessive barking and grooming, and incontinence. Fears are able to develop due to a lack of proper socialization in puppyhood.
If your dog is acting insecure, it may be an inherited disposition towards fear and insecurity. Different breeds and temperaments of dogs can exhibit insecure behaviors, regardless of the socialization, health, or mental stability of the dog.
If your dog has an illness or disease that is causing discomfort, he may behave in an insecure manner. A dog in pain can cower from situations that may exacerbate that pain, or hide from people or animals who may bump into him or step on him in an act of self-preservation. Some infections and conditions can affect the brain, which in turn can affect your dog’s behavior. This can cause a normally confident dog to show insecure symptoms.
Female dogs that go into heat can experience behavioral changes within a cycle that lasts 21 to 28 days. Your dog may seem on edge, become more attached to you, and could hold her tail close to her body, similar to a cowering posture. These insecure and jumpy behaviors are usually only seen while your dog is in her cycle, and should disappear afterward.
Aging pets can experience the similar kinds of deterioration as humans, such as vision and hearing loss. They can also suffer from cognitive dysfunction and dementia, causing them to become lost in the house, to vocalize more often, and exhibit clingy behaviors. Older dogs may sleep more, find out of the way places to rest and hide, and change their social behaviors. Dogs who are anxious in their younger years may be more anxious as they get older. Declining senses and disorientation can cause fears of new things and people, and a lack of interest in playing or being touched.
Lack of Leadership
Dogs look up to their human owners for guidance. Owners may unknowingly contribute to their dog’s insecurity by rewarding unwanted behaviors in an attempt to soothe their fearful dogs. Without a strong leader, they may become unsure of the rules, and unsure of themselves. Learning how to lead your dog can ensure that he received the right message about what is and what isn’t appropriate behavior.
What to do if your Dog is Insecure
If your dog is acting insecure, you may assume it is a behavioral issue. Your veterinarian will want to perform a physical exam and some tests to be sure there is not a medical reason behind the insecure behaviors. Blood tests and a urinalysis can help identify any infections or imbalances in body chemicals and hormones. If any masses or abnormal skin areas are identified during the exam, imaging techniques or a skin scraping or biopsy may be taken. Your vet will ask you basic questions about your dog’s diet, elimination habits, and any possible exposures to infectious agents or toxins. The age and breed of your dog will also be factored in. An eye, ear, and neurological exam can help to identify age-related issues such as cognitive dysfunction, and hearing or vision loss, while X-rays can verify arthritis. If no physical reason can be identified, then your veterinarian will look at behavioral issues that could be causing the problem.
The best way to diagnose a behavioral disorder or condition is to monitor your dog’s behavior and note any triggers that may have prompted the unwanted behavior, such as noises, people, or when your dog is left alone. Videotaping your dog during insecure moments can help your veterinarian determine what may be causing the insecurity.
Once you have determined what is causing the behavior, a treatment plan can be crafted with your veterinarian. Any medical condition will be treated accordingly. For age-related issues, pain and anti-anxiety medications may help, as can mental stimulation through toys and games, ramps to assist in movement, and a safe, quiet place to rest.
Anxiety, fears, and stress can be managed through reduction of triggers and stressful environments, as well as anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications to calm your dog. New animals should be introduced slowly in a neutral location, using positive reinforcement, and continuing your dog’s normal routines. Techniques including behavioral modification, counterconditioning and desensitization can help your dog gain confidence and learn how to respond more appropriately to fearful situations. Becoming the leader your dog needs can help him to learn the rules and become less unsure of himself and his surroundings.
Prevention of Insecure
While some dogs may seem predisposed to insecure behaviors, providing good socialization while young can give your dog the confidence he needs to be able to tackle any situation in his life. Expose him to new people, animals, and environments while a puppy to prevent anxieties and fears from becoming behavioral problems.
Cost of Insecure
The cost of treatment for your insecure dog can vary considerably, depending on the reason for the insecure behavior. Behavioral problems can range from $200 to $1000, with fears and anxieties averaging $375, while aggression can be closer to $500. Age-related conditions can range up to $2500, with arthritis and dementia averaging $325. Overall, treatments can range from $200 to $3000 or higher.