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

Most Recommended
4 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

Effective
0 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

Effective
0 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?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Kanati
Pit bull
1 Year
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Kanati
Pit bull
1 Year

im trying to train him as my p.t.s.d service dog but he is so stubborn. i need to train him before 8th grade starts. what commands does he need to know?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainier
30 Dog owners recommended

Hello Alura, Kanati will need to know basic obedience to make him safe and non-disruptive in public locations. This includes "Down Stay" for very long periods of time, "Sit Stay", and "Heel". He will also need to be calm and quiet when he is with you at school, and he cannot have any aggressive tendencies towards other people or dogs. To be considered a Service Dog he will need to learn at least one action that directly helps your P.T.S.D. That action can be alerting you when you are anxious. You can teach him to nudge you, lean against you, or paw at you whenever you do the things that indicate that you are nervous such as rubbing your arms, picking at yourself, wiggling your leg, chewing on your hair, hanging your head, or something else. Pay attention to what you specifically tend to do when anxious and teach him to alert you when you do those things. Another task you can teach him is to provide Pressure Therapy by leaning against you on cue, or climbing into your lap and standing still while you hug him. Another thing that you can teach him is to lead you to exits during panic attacks. Although not a P.T.S.D task teaching him to lay underneath your chair can also be helpful because it will get him out of people's way and also can provide comfort to you. The minimum commands that he needs to know are: "Heel", "Down Stay", "Sit Stay", and one specialized PTSD related action such as Pressure Therapy, Interrupting your anxious behavior, or leading you to exits during panic attacks, as well as having no major behavior issues that will cause disruptions or endanger anyone while in public, such as barking or aggression. Joining a Canine Good Citizen Class can help with all of the basic manners and obedience that he will need, and then you can teach him at least one P.T.S.D specific task as well. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Sonny
Dashand
4 Years
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Question
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Sonny
Dashand
4 Years

How much would it be to train an autism service dog and what tasks do they need to know to qualify as a service dog and how long would it take any ideas thanks 😊

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainier
30 Dog owners recommended

Hello Maya, That would depend very largely on the level of training that your dog already has and the type of training that you pursue. If you complete all of your dog's general obedience, manners, socialization, and behavior problem resolution, if needed, on your own, and only need help with the Service Dog specific tasks, then the price will be considerably less. If your dog has no prior training, then expect the price to be at least twice to three times as expensive, due to general obedience training, behavior problem training, and socialization. The three basic routes that you can go if you only need Service Dog task training are: Group classes, Private Training, and Board and Train at a facility that specializes in Service Dog Training. Group classes tend to cost between $150-$300 for six to eight weeks worth of training. You would be expected to work with your pup on your own at home after being shown what to do during the class each week. This type of training will only work if you have the time to commit to it at home, and possibly if you can take your dog places during the week to practice in public places also, but many of the tasks are not too difficult to train yourself once you know how. If your pup is already well socialized and knows basic obedience, but is not calm enough or quite ready to be out in public, then you will need to go through a Canine Good Citizen class with him also, to prepare him for the distractions that he will need to handle. That type of class typically costs around $150-$300 as well. So $350-$600, with $400-$450 being the average for both classes combined, is what you can expect. Prices vary wildly by area though. Private training usually costs about $80-$150 per session. These sessions are usually held in your home or at public locations to practice around distractions. This training is much more geared toward your specific needs and can often accommodate multiple needs, such as obedience and task training, at once. Expect to need at least six sessions for task specific training only. So $480-$900 if the trainer is close to you. Possibly more if the trainer lives further away from you. Double that cost if your pup is well socialized, has general obedience, but is not quite ready to be out in public and be calm all of the time. With that additional cost expect: $960-$1,800 total for task specific training and to prepare your pup for going places with the person that he is assisting. The cost will go up again if your dog has no prior training or has behavior problems that need to be resolved first. Board and Train usually costs between $2,000-$4,000 depending on where you go, the level of training that your dog needs, and what area you live in. Successful Board and Train programs will usually involve multiple weeks of your dog being at their facility training, and then several follow up sessions with you and your dog after he goes home, to make sure that your dog will perform the training for you as well. All of these prices can vary though if your dog needs more or less training in a particular area. The more of the training that you are willing to do yourself, even under the guidance of a trainer, the less expensive the training will be. To qualify as a Service Dog your dog must know at least one task that specifically relates to Autism. If he knows more than one that is even better. The person that the dog is working for must also have a medical diagnoses from a doctor for the condition that the dog is helping with. Autism specific tasks might include: pressure therapy, where the dog climbs into the persons lap, stands in front of him if the dog is tall enough, or leans against him, when the person is anxious. The dog also can facilitate social interactions through the use of a tethering system, as emotional support, by pulling or nudging the person towards the social situation, or by initiating social interactions first. The dog also might perform interrupting behaviors if the person is self-destructive, anxious, or does repetitive behaviors. The dog would be trained to automatically nudge, block, or interrupt the person in another way whenever the person starts to do the behavior. That behavior could be rocking, head banging, picking at sores, wiggling a leg anxiously, rubbing arms, or anything else that falls under one those categories and is specific to that person. Training for basic task training typically takes about two months. If your dog needs training for being out in public, general obedience, socialization, or behavior problems than the training time can vary wildly between two months and two years. I would recommend contacting a few different trainers in your area who offer various forms of Service Dog training. Discuss your specific training needs with that person and see if they can give you a general quote. The person will probably not be able to give you a guaranteed amount quote because other needs might arise during training that you previously were not aware of, and the speed of training and thus number of sessions for training will depend on how often you practice if you are training yourself, and on the speed of your dog's own learning, but the quote number will definitely give you a general idea of what to expect, and can help you decide what form of training you would like to pursue and with what training group. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Emmi Lou
Australian Shepherd
11 Years
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Question
0 found helpful
Emmi Lou
Australian Shepherd
11 Years

Hello:) I just finished school and would like to start study veterinary medicine in the next 1-2 years. But i have a lot of problems with anxiety, depressive episodes and i am stressed very easily and use to tend to destructive behavior. I thought about owner train a new dog ( because Emmi is quite old) to a sd or asd but i live in Germany and the whole service dog situation is not very common here. And i don't find someone to ask all my questions so i try my luck here:)
1. What breeds are best for anxiety service dogs?
2. How can i train a dog to alert to my breathing pattern (it sounds really difficult to me as long as i am not hyperventilating...)
3. Would my dog still be a service dog if i could take him anywhere i go? Because dogs aren't allowed in anatomy/ pathology lessons because of toxic fumes:(
4. Can you recommend any good books/ sites/ videos for training?

I also struggle with the decision if i "deserve" a service dog because i could also manage my life without one. it is not that i can't leave my house on my own or something like that but i think tasks like dpt,blocking,anxiety/distress alerts could really help me..

I'm sorry for this long question(s) but i have so many and i don't know who to ask.
Thank you for reading this and i hope you can help me:)

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainier
30 Dog owners recommended

Hello Emilia, Congratulations on graduating school. There are many breeds that make wonderful Service Dogs. Golden Retrievers are probably the most popular breed because of their friendly nature, intelligence, desire to please, and well rounded temperaments. Other popular breeds are: Labrador Retrievers, Poodles, and German Shepherds. There are many other breeds, such as Australian Shepherds that make good service dogs for certain tasks, but some of those breeds are too sensitive for emotional support roles or are not large enough for pressure therapy. Learning how to assess the individual temperament of a puppy and look at the puppy's parents' temperaments are just as important though. A service dog needs to have a balanced temperament. To be at least moderately intelligent, desire to please, be confident but not overly pushy or dominant, not be fearful or timid, and have enough social skills to handle being around lots of people and animals and be in different environments. Your dog should not be excluded as a Service Dog just because there are some places that he cannot go for safety reasons. I do not know about Germany, but in the United States you do not have to take your Service Dog with you everywhere for that dog to still be considered a Service Dog and admitted into places where you need him. Check out these websites for further educational resources: http://servicedogtraininginstitute.ca/nanaimo https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbClNYe2z7nRwPNU9y3fDzQ YouTube is also a great resource for free training videos, but you have to be selective about who you listen to since anyone can post there. I cannot speak to the attitude in Germany about Service Dogs, but I will say that if you lived in the United States, assuming that your struggles have been medically documented, then you would absolutely qualify for a Service Dog. Service Dog's are designed to help individuals who struggle to cope with everyday activities like social interactions, physical tasks, getting places, and generally contributing to society. There are certain medically diagnosed conditions, including PTDS, Autism, Anxiety, Depression, and other psychiatric conditions, that hinder individuals from doing that. Having a Service Dog simply because you enjoy your dog's company is unacceptable because that can make it harder for others who need them to receive them, but having a Service Dog who can actively help prevent anxiety attacks, social withdrawal, self-destructive behaviors, and generally things that hinder ones quality of life is not only acceptable but it is a gift that you should never feel guilty about receiving. If you are in better health, including mental health, because of your Service Dog, then that dog's help is one hundred percent worthwhile and valuable and should be received, no matter what anyone thinks. It is extremely important to well socialize your dog and teach him general manners so that he is safe and non-disruptive and non-destructive in public however. If the breathing alerts seem confusing, then you can also pay attention to other body language cues that you tend to do when anxious, such as rubbing your arms, wiggling your leg, picking at your skin, shaking, twirling your hair, or anything else that you notice that you tend to do when you are anxious. Once you know those cues, then you can do them during training and teach your dog to alert you or provide other assistance, such as pressure therapy, whenever you do those things. When he alerts you or does whatever else you would like for him to do, then you praise him and reward him. If he alerts you when you are not doing those things, then do not reward him. For the breathing, pay attention to your breathing when you are anxious at some point though. If you wish to use that as a signal, then simply notice how you are breathing while anxious. Is it shallow? Large breaths? Fast? Holding your breath periodically? For the training, you do not have to exaggerate your breathing, simply mimic your breathing during an anxious episode, and teach him to alert you when you breath like that, and then practice breathing like that and rewarding him when he alerts, and breathing normally and not rewarding him if he alerts. Overtime he should learn to tell the difference. The difference can be subtle, but the more you train, the better a dog will tend to become at reading you. Since you want your dog to alert you when you are anxious, then you will want to teach him your own individual signs of anxiety. Those signs can be whatever you tend to do when anxious. To find out what those signs are simply pay attention to yourself when you are anxious, or have another person watch you carefully and write down what you tend to do. For better accuracy, have that person observe you multiple times and pick out the things that seem to be consistent expressions of your anxiety. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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