How to Train Your Dog to Detect Anxiety

Hard
6-9 Months
Work

Introduction

Imagine a bride that suffers from anxiety attacks-- how does she manage on her wedding day, a day full of anxiety-producing triggers? The answer: with the help of her anxiety detecting service dog. Pictures of a bride and her anxiety service dog, Bella, comforting her on her wedding day, captured the hearts of many, when they appeared on social media. Bella helps her mistress by alerting to symptoms of a heightened anxious state in her owner, and allowing her owner, to take a moment, get help, adjust her environment, and receive comfort from her anxiety service dog. Bella helped her owner get through her special day with flying colors. Dogs like Bella can make a big difference in the life of people who suffer from anxiety attacks, heightened states of anxiety in response to stressors in the environment. Allowing people suffering from anxiety to function and conduct a normal life by participating in events, holding down a career and functioning in public settings are just a few of the benefits an anxiety detecting dog can provide.

Defining Tasks

People experiencing anxiety attacks are triggered by a stressor in the environment, however, the anxiety reaction can far exceed that of what a non-anxious person would experience. Symptoms such as shortness of breath,a racing heart, muscle tremors, foot tapping, or leg bouncing, or other involuntary movements may occur. These symptoms can act as triggers for a vigilant anxiety detecting dog to pick up on, before the person suffering the anxiety attack is even aware that their anxiety level is rising. The service dog can alert the person to their rising anxiety level, providing distraction, allowing owners to consciously engage in anti-anxiety activities to bring down their anxiety level, receive medication, or remove themselves from the anxiety-producing situation. In addition, some anxiety detecting dogs are also taught to provide comfort such as deep pressure therapy, or other anxiety relieving behaviors. An anxiety service dog may help guide a confused person to a safe place, alert a loved one, or put their body between the person and others to protect them and give them a sense of security.

Service dogs must have quiet, calm temperaments so they can be used in public, but be alert enough to pick up on small cues that an anxiety attack is occurring, and motivated to work to alert their handlers and provide comfort. Most dogs begin training at 1-2 years of age, and training can take several months to a year or more. Dogs are trained to alert their handlers with a predetermined alert such as a nudge of the leg or the hand, which gets the handler's attention and allows them to initiate steps to prevent their anxiety from escalating further.

Getting Started

Before training, you will need to determine what alert you will want to have your dog use to let you know that anxiety levels are rising. Frequently, a nudge with the nose is used as a signal. You will also need to identify what symptoms of anxiety you manifest that your dog will need to alert on. For example, increased heart rate, breathing rate, muscle movements, scratching, or touching your face are all possible signs people exhibit when their anxiety level starts to rise. Lastly, you will need to determine what actions you want your dog to take to help you reduce anxiety, lead you away from the situation, provide DPT, or fetch medication are all possible tasks your anxiety service dog can perform to help resolve anxiety conditions. All service dogs being used in public places will need to be well socialized and obedient in a variety of circumstances and around a variety of people, so a lot of work to establish the dog is comfortable working in various situations prior to training will be required. You should also investigate service dog certification requirements in your area.

The Link Alert & Anxiety Method

ribbon-method-1
Most Recommended
20 Votes
Link Alert & Anxiety method for Detect Anxiety
Step
1
Reward alert
Tech an alert behavior such as a nose nudge. Capture the behavior and reward with treats.
Step
2
Command alert
Now add a verbal cue, such as ‘nudge’.
Step
3
Vary
Change position train your dog to perform the alert in several different places and while you are sitting or standing.
Step
4
Choose anxiety cue
Identify an anxiety symptom, for example scratching, touching face, or fidgeting.
Step
5
Provide anxiety cue
Act out the anxiety symptom, and give the verbal cue for your dog’s alert.
Step
6
Associate
When your dog provides an alert in response to the command and anxiety symptom, reward. Ignore false alerts. Repeat for several weeks multiple times per day.
Step
7
Remove command
Now manifest the anxiety symptom without providing the verbal cue. Reward when your dog performs the alert behavior in response to the anxiety cue alone.
Step
8
Vary
Practice in different places and positions.
Recommend training method?

The Link Anxiety & Reward Method

ribbon-method-2
Effective
5 Votes
Link Anxiety & Reward method for Detect Anxiety
Step
1
Choose anxiety cue
Identify an anxiety symptom, for example scratching, touching face, or fidgeting.
Step
2
Present cue
Present the symptom in the presence of your dog. When your dog pays attention to what is happening, reward him with a treat.
Step
3
Teach alert
Teach your dog an alert such as a nudge and put it on a verbal command.
Step
4
Associate
Present the anxiety symptom and the verbal command for the alert. When the dog practices the alert while you are practicing the symptoms, reward your dog. Ignore false alerts.
Step
5
Remove command
Practice the symptom without providing verbal command. When the dog alerts to symptoms or cues for anxiety, provide your dog a reward.
Step
6
Add complexity
Practice in a variety of situations and environments with distractions.
Recommend training method?

The Clicker Training Method

ribbon-method-3
Least Recommended
3 Votes
Clicker Training method for Detect Anxiety
Step
1
Capture alert
Capture an alert behavior, such as nudging your hand. Mark with a clicker and provide a treat as a reward.
Step
2
Verbally command
Associate a verbal command such as “nudge” when the dog nudges. Mark with clicker and provide treat.
Step
3
Add anxiety
Manifest an anxiety symptom, use the verbal command for the alert, and mark alert with the clicker when the dog alerts appropriately.
Step
4
Remove verbal command
Remove the verbal command, manifest the anxiety symptom, and continue to mark successful alert behavior with clicker and reward.
Step
5
Remove clicker
Remove clicker command, manifest anxiety symptom and reward alert behavior that occurs with anxiety cue only.
Step
6
Practice and vary
Practice in lots of different places, positions and with distractions. Go back to step 3 if necessary in different distracting situations and proceed through steps until the dog is able to alert to anxiety cues in a variety of circumstances.
Recommend training method?
author-img

Written by Amy Caldwell

Published: 10/10/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
skippy
Chocolate Labrodor
2 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
skippy
Chocolate Labrodor
2 Years

i am dealing with really bad anxiety as a student and need more assistance in my day to day life to help prevent panic attacks or nonverbal episodes from occurring

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1106 Dog owners recommended

Hello Cassie, Are you wondering if you can train your dog yourself to be a service dog? I would start by doinggo to a doctor, in this case psychologist to be formally diagnosed first. Things like PTSD, Panic Attacks, and high levels of anxiety should be qualifying medical conditions for you to have a service dog. You can train your own dog, depending on whether pup has a good nose, is focused on you and willing to learn, and doesn't have any issues with aggression or reactivity. First, pup needs to be allowed public places - this means working on pups general obedience, socialization, and manners, so that pup can go places, get along well with everyone, and be well mannered enough not to disturb others. Joining a Canine Good Citizen or Intermediate obedience class is a good way to work on those things. How is pup around kids, various ages, races, and personalities of people, new objects, noises, other animals? Pup needs to be able to be calm and not distracted by those things. Pup should be able to handle a child or adult suddenly running up and hugging or petting them (although someone should never do that to a service dog - it probably will happen at some point when in public with pup so often). The socialization and manners part of Service Dog training is actually the hardest part many times. Without it a dog can be asked to leave places by restaurant and building owners for causing a disruption and they won't qualify as a service dog. Pup will always be a dog still, so will never be perfect at all times but should do very well! To qualify as a Service Dog a dog needs to be well mannered in public as mentioned above, and be able to perform at least one specialized task that directly assists with the medical or psychological condition they are trained to help with. The person also has to have a doctor approved medical or psychological condition that qualifies - anxiety attacks, depression, PTSD, ect.. should qualify. Some dogs are able to detect anxiety based on scent. This is done using saliva samples taken during times of high anxiety. The dog is taught an alert, such as Sit, paw, bark, or nose. You then practice having the dog sniff the sample, give their alert, and you reward with a treat. Practice this until you don't have to tell the dog to alert but they will simply alert when they smell the sample, then you reward. Once pup can alert really well on the sample, then Saliva samples taken during anxious times and saliva samples taken during normal times are practiced together - with the dog only being praised and rewarded for alerting to the anxious sample, and not the normal sample. Ignore incorrect alerts and don't reward them. Practice this until pup can reliably alert to the correct sample only. Once pup alerts consistently, you plant the sample on yourself and practice with the scent somewhere like your pocket - rewarding alerts. You then plant the scent on yourself at random times during your day and in different environments to help pup do the alert when they aren't in "training mode" to teach them to pay attention to you in various environments and be ready to alert at all times. You can also teach pup to alert to your anxious "cues", finding things you tend to do while anxious, like bite nails, rub arms, wiggle a leg, ect...Those cues will be unique to you and probably subtle. Pay attention to what yours are. Once you know them, teach pup to alert you whenever you do those things so that pup will also alert when you do them subconsciously while anxious. Typically that's the initial anxiety alert task trained to qualify pup. You can also teach additional things that benefit you, such as pup doing pressure therapy - like pup laying on you now. Leading to exits during times of high anxiety. Helping initiate social interactions for those with social anxiety. Laying under your legs and chair to provide a comforting presence and stay out of the way in public places, as a few examples. Social media, such as instagram and facebook is actually a good resource to connect and follow other owner-trainers who are teaching their own pups tasks too. It can be a good place to meet others in your city doing the same thing to connect for practicing things with people doing similar training with their dogs. There are trainers who offer remote and in person service dog training assistance - whose role is not to take the dog and train it entirely themselves (which is great but much pricier), but who can guide you in training your own dog as needed for a lower price. Youtube is also a resource to find service dog trainers who share some how to videos on teaching specific tasks to help you trouble shoot as you go. For now, I suggest starting with pup's public access - with socialization, manners, and obedience. You can work on task training at the same time if you have time, but obedience and socialization is often more time sensitive. While doing that, you can certainly reward pup's natural alerts right now to further encourage them. In the United States there is no official certification required for a dog to pass as a Service Dog. A qualifying medical or psychological condition, great behavior while in public, and at least one task that directly helps with your condition is all that is required. Carrying a copy of ADA law regarding service dogs, pup's vet papers, a note from your doctor simply stating your need for a service dog (you don't have to disclose what condition you need help with to anyone), and a vest for pup letting people know pup is a working service dog can help people allow pup into places more easily though. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Mercedes
Great Pyrenees
1 Month
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Mercedes
Great Pyrenees
1 Month

I understand she cant start her training yet but she will be trained to be an anxiety service dog. Can you help with that?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1106 Dog owners recommended

Hello Amber, First, pup needs to be allowed public places - this means working on pups general obedience, socialization, and manners, so that pup can go places, get along well with everyone, and be well mannered enough not to disturb others. I would start by joining a puppy kindergarten class that has time for off-leash puppy play and emphasizes socialization and handling. Once pup is a little older, joining a Canine Good Citizen or Intermediate obedience class is a good way to continue working on things like manners and calmness. You will want to pay attention to how pup is around kids, various ages, races, and personalities of people, new objects, noises, different surfaces, and other animals. Check out the free PDF e-book After You Get Your Puppy, which you can download at the link below. Pay special attention to the sections on socialization. Socialization will be the biggest priority during the first year of pup's life, manners and calmness the second, then task training for the detection itself the third priority. Task training can be taught close to a year and still be successful for many dogs, but socialization is age dependent while young, and manners can be taught later but are much easier to teach while young. www.lifedogtraining.com/freedownloads For the public access par to service dog training, pup needs to be able to be calm and not distracted by things like people, noises, and animals. Pup should be able to handle a child or adult suddenly running up and hugging or petting them (although someone should never do that to a service dog - it probably will happen at some point when in public with pup so often). Pup will encounter other less well behaved dogs while in public so pup needs to be so desensitized to that that pup can ignore them - with positive associations with dogs and social skills from play and interacting preceding that obedience while a puppy. The socialization and manners part of Service Dog training is actually the hardest part many times. Without it a dog can be asked to leave places by restaurant and building owners for causing a disruption and they won't qualify as a service dog. Pup will always be a dog still, so will never be perfect at all times but should do very well! To qualify as a Service Dog a dog needs to be well mannered in public as mentioned above, and be able to perform at least one specialized task that directly assists with the medical or psychological condition they are trained to help with. The person also has to have a doctor approved medical or psychological condition that qualifies - anxiety attacks, social anxiety, depression, PTSD, ect.. should all qualify. Some dogs are able to detect anxiety based on scent. This is done using saliva samples taken during times of high anxiety. The dog is taught an alert, such as Sit, paw, bark, or nose. You then practice having the dog sniff the sample, give their alert, and you reward with a treat. Practice this until you don't have to tell the dog to alert but they will simply alert when they smell the sample, then you reward. Once pup can alert really well on the sample, then Saliva samples taken during anxious times and saliva samples taken during normal times are practiced together - with the dog only being praised and rewarded for alerting to the anxious sample, and not the normal sample. Ignore incorrect alerts and don't reward them. Practice this until pup can reliably alert to the correct sample only. Once pup alerts consistently, you plant the sample on yourself and practice with the scent somewhere like your pocket - rewarding alerts. You then plant the scent on yourself at random times during your day and in different environments to help pup do the alert when they aren't in "training mode" to teach them to pay attention to you in various environments and be ready to alert at all times. You can also teach pup to alert to your anxious "cues", finding things you tend to do while anxious, like bite nails, rub arms, wiggle a leg, ect...Those cues will be unique to you and probably subtle. Pay attention to what yours are. Once you know them, teach pup to alert you whenever you do those things so that pup will also alert when you do them subconsciously while anxious. This requires some acting on your part during training. Typically that's the initial anxiety alert task trained to qualify pup. You can also teach additional things that benefit you, such as pup doing pressure therapy - like pup laying on to calm your body - like a weighted blanket. Leading to exits during times of high anxiety. Helping initiate social interactions for those with social anxiety. Laying under your legs and chair to provide a comforting presence and stay out of the way in public places, as a few examples. Social media, such as instagram and facebook is actually a good resource to connect and follow other owner-trainers who are teaching their own pups tasks too. It can be a good place to meet others in your city doing the same thing to connect for practicing things with people doing similar training with their dogs. There are trainers who offer remote and in person service dog training assistance - whose role is not to take the dog and train it entirely themselves (which is great but much pricier), but who can guide you in training your own dog as needed for a lower price. Youtube is also a resource to find service dog trainers who share some how to videos on teaching specific tasks to help you trouble shoot as you go. For now, I suggest starting with pup's public access - with socialization, manners, and obedience. You can work on task training at the same time if you have time, but obedience and socialization is often more time sensitive. While doing that, you can certainly reward pup's natural alerts right now to further encourage them. In the United States there is no official certification required for a dog to pass as a Service Dog. A qualifying medical or psychological condition, great behavior while in public, and at least one task that directly helps with your condition is all that is required. Carrying a copy of ADA law regarding service dogs, pup's vet papers, a note from your doctor simply stating your need for a service dog (you don't have to disclose what condition you need help with to anyone), and a vest for pup letting people know pup is a working service dog can help people allow pup into places more easily though. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Lexi
Labrador Retriever
10 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Lexi
Labrador Retriever
10 Months

How do i start teaching my dog how to nudge

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1106 Dog owners recommended

Hello Tyler, I would start by rewarding pup for touching you somewhere like your leg. Often putting a little dab of something tasty and sticky like soft cheese, peanut butter, or liver paste in that spot can get pup to start the touch. Tell pup the cue you want to teach, like nudge or touch, and point to the area where the treat is on you. When pup touches it to eat, praise then offer an additional lick of treat off something like a spoon. Practice until pup is anticipating a treat there, then remove the treat there, but still point, and when pup touches that area expecting a dab of treat, praise and quickly give the spoon lick still. Once pup is good at doing this without the dab on you with practice, then you can use any treat as a reward not just the sticky treat. At this point, start rewarding only for more pressure, so pup barely touches you- give a small treat. Pup pushes harder when they nudge, three treats and enthusiastic praise! Once pup can consistently do the harder nudges, don't reward the ones you can't feel at all, and make the pressured ones receive one treat, and even harder, more persistent nudges three treats - moving toward nudges that are very noticeable as the normal. Once pup is at this point, then you can use the nudge command to start the alert training. If you look up videos on teaching touch, the nudge training is a similar process, with the exception that you want to start rewarding the harder touches, so they are felt nudges. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
shasta
Siberian Husky
4 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
shasta
Siberian Husky
4 Years

is there a way to train her?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1106 Dog owners recommended

Hello Haileyjo, Some dogs are able to detect anxiety based on scent. This is done using saliva samples taken during times of high anxiety. The dog is taught an alert, such as Sit, paw, bark, or nose - like pup is already doing. You then practice having the dog sniff the sample, give their alert, and you reward with a treat. Practice this until you don't have to tell the dog to alert but they will simply alert when they smell the sample, then you reward. Once pup can alert really well on the sample, then Saliva samples taken during anxious times and saliva samples taken during normal times are practiced together - with the dog only being praised and rewarded for alerting to the anxious sample, and not the normal sample. Ignore incorrect alerts and don't reward them. Practice this until pup can reliably alert to the correct sample only. Once pup alerts consistently, you plant the sample on yourself and practice with the scent somewhere like your pocket - rewarding alerts. You then plant the scent on yourself at random times during your day and in different environments to help pup do the alert when they aren't in "training mode" to teach them to pay attention to you in various environments and be ready to alert at all times. You can also teach pup to alert to your anxious "cues", finding things you tend to do while anxious, like bite nails, rub arms, wiggle a leg, ect...Those cues will be unique to you and probably subtle. Pay attention to what yours are. Once you know them, teach pup to alert you whenever you do those things so that pup will also alert when you do them subconsciously while anxious. Typically that's the initial anxiety alert task trained to qualify pup. You can also teach additional things that benefit you, such as pup doing pressure therapy - like pup laying on you now. Leading to exits during times of high anxiety. Helping initiate social interactions for those with social anxiety. Laying under your legs and chair to provide a comforting presence and stay out of the way in public places, as a few examples. Social media, such as instagram and facebook is actually a good resource to connect and follow other owner-trainers who are teaching their own pups tasks too. It can be a good place to meet others in your city doing the same thing to connect for practicing things with people doing similar training with their dogs. There are trainers who offer remote and in person service dog training assistance - whose role is not to take the dog and train it entirely themselves (which is great but much pricier), but who can guide you in training your own dog as needed for a lower price. Youtube is also a resource to find service dog trainers who share some how to videos on teaching specific tasks to help you trouble shoot as you go. The part of training that actually tends to take the longest for a service dog is the public access portion though. For now, I suggest starting with pup's public access - with socialization, manners, and obedience. You can work on task training at the same time if you have time, but obedience and socialization is often more time sensitive. While doing that, you can certainly reward pup's natural alerts right now to further encourage them. To qualify as a Service Dog a dog needs to be well mannered in public, and be able to perform at least one specialized task that directly assists with the medical or psychological condition they are trained to help with. The person also has to have a doctor approved medical or psychological condition that qualifies - anxiety attacks, depression, PTSD, ect.. should qualify. Pup needing public access means working on pups general obedience, socialization, and manners, so that pup can go places, get along well with everyone, and be well mannered enough not to disturb others. Joining a Canine Good Citizen or Intermediate obedience class is a good way to work on those things. How is pup around kids, various ages, races, and personalities of people, new objects, noises, other animals? Pup needs to be able to be calm and not distracted by those things. Pup should be able to handle a child or adult suddenly running up and hugging or petting them (although someone should never do that to a service dog - it probably will happen at some point when in public with pup so often). In the United States there is no official certification required for a dog to pass as a Service Dog. A qualifying medical or psychological condition, great behavior while in public, and at least one task that directly helps with your condition is all that is required. Carrying a copy of ADA law regarding service dogs, pup's vet papers, a note from your doctor simply stating your need for a service dog (you don't have to disclose what condition you need help with to anyone), and a vest for pup letting people know pup is a working service dog can help people allow pup into places more easily though. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
kenai
Siberian Husky
3 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
kenai
Siberian Husky
3 Years

she won't do the que or pick up on anything. what should I do?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1106 Dog owners recommended

Hello Delilah, I would back track on your training teach things in baby steps. For example, first teach your alert, like speak how you would any dog, and practice until pup can do it when you say the command "Speak". Once pup can do it on cue, you start acting out the anxious tendency while also telling pup "Speak". Practice this until pup knows to expect both and is barking sometimes on her own, guessing what you are about to do, to get the treat. At that point, act out the anxious tendency, but wait seven seconds before saying speak, to give pup the opportunity to bark in response to the anxiety cue instead of just the word. If pup doesn't bark, then after seven seconds tell pup "Speak". Practice this until pup will bark before you give the command every time, just in response to your anxious cue. The specifics of how you do that will depend on what you are teaching pup to respond to and what your dog's cue will be. Often watching others online teach what you are trying to teach can help show the steps. Youtube can sometimes be a good resource for being able to visualizing it. Connecting with other owner trainers on social media can also be a good platform to trouble shoot things, on a platform where you can explain your process and goals and have a back and forth conversation. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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