ANXIETY & FEAR RELATED BEHAVIORS IN DOGS
Dogs suffer from fear and anxiety for much of the same reasons we do. They also can struggle with phobias – sound phobias. The latter is when a fear develops beyond a reasonable response to a perceived threat. They may be genetically predisposed to any of the above. Their mother may have been reared under stressful conditions in a challenging environment. They may have had a tough start in life being abused, neglected or abandoned. Dogs go through critical growth periods just like people. One minor incident that may have occurred and corresponded during a highly impacting critical period can have major long term effects. Many dogs are never even given a chance to learn how to socialize with people or dogs. Whatever the reasons may be, dogs didn’t ask for it nor are they able to help themselves. We owe it to them to help. They must be saved from a life of anxiety, fear and sadness. Humane positive based behavior training is the only way to approach this delicate area.
- Look at everything from their point of view. This is critical. How are they perceiving the world?
- Set your dog up for success – not failure. This means always thinking ahead ¬ allowing your dog to go in situations that you know will trigger the exact response you are trying to modify.
- The slower you work the better for your dog. Note what your dog’s pace is. (not yours).
- Figure out what your dog’s top 5 motivators. Food, toys, etc. Use them throughout the training. Use them generously & vary them. This will be one of the most important keys to modifying.
- The nature of the “treat” – There are several key components with dealing with a fearful / anxious dog. Food/treats play a critical role here. No, you are not bribing your dog, and no, you will not teach your dog to beg. It’s scientifically proven to increase the rate at which an animal learns while creating a more solid learning experience. Dog treats simply don’t work in these cases. (not to mention in any case) J Give your dog a Species Appropriate diet!!
- High value food – Real food as rewards wherever they need assistance.
- Consider changing your dog to a high quality food. Ie: Answer’s Raw, Steve’s Raw, Stella & Chewy’s, etc. Like any living being, the healthier the diet, the healthier the mind. The gut/brain axis is incredible.
- Identify the triggers that set your dog off. In other words, carefully observe what your dog is having a difficult time coping with. Ie: people, maybe just men, other dogs, children, bikes, sounds, etc. Whatever the triggers are you will need to be vigilant and always be fully aware that you need to be prepared (ALWAYS) to desensitize your dog. What is the trigger spectrum with associative cues?
- Management – You will need to teach your dog, slowly how to accept stimuli which is currently scary. The early stages in particular of training you will need to manage your dog and or the situation. Ie: if your dog is scared of people then don’t have a dinner party w/ your dog. Remove your dog and provide him/her with effective calming tools. Such as: stuffed, frozen kongs w/ super high value foods, Tranquility drops, etc. Ie: if your dog is fearful of other dogs, don’t bring them around the other dogs. You will need to begin at a comfortable distance along w/ food, etc. (See additional notes here).
- Be prepared – ALWAYS. Regardless of what the trigger(s) is, it you will handle the behavior modification the same way. So, since food is a golden tool here, you should always, always, always have it on you. Each and every time a dog is exposed to a trigger and it is not handled appropriately, you and your dog will be that much further away from your goal of helping your dog overcome fears.
- Eliminate any yelling for behavior. That will simply create MORE fear! Everything can be handled more effectively with a redirection of obedience.
- Reward good behavior!!! Ie: Even when your dog is just “hanging out“…praise him/her! In other words, catch her doing something “right”.
- Read body language – look at your dog’s mouth, ear & tail carriage and eyes. Develop an eye for this.
- Desensitization and Counter conditioning – You will be relying on food, your voice, and physical praise with your dog, especially when he/she is around triggers. You will gradually expose your dog to the triggers that are currently causing fear or anxiety, etc while pairing up a positive. Ie: super high value food with what she “perceives” as a negative. Desensitization must be done first followed by cnter con.
- When you are desensitizing, work very slowly and your goal is to NOT elicit a response from your dog. When applying counter-conditioning, you’ll be redirecting him/her to do something else – ie: sit … or simply be calm. One of your many responsibilities is to mark every millisecond of your dog’s calm behavior. That way THAT is the behavior which will be repeated.
- Distance – always find what your dog’s safety zone is. If he/she can deal with someone 15’ away from a trigger, then work 20’ away. Setting them up to succeed. Determine what a polite social distance for your dog is.
- Use yourself as a bridge w/ high value food. Rotisserie chicken, beef, salmon. WHATEVER tickles your dog’s fancy you need to use. Use that food very generously. Your voice can be a bridge also.
- Watch body language. Develop an eye for what he/she looks like prior to getting stressed. Ie: ears back, mouth turned down, etc. Redirect her before, that way, you are teaching her a new response right from the get go.
- Massage your dog!!! It’s a wonderful way to bond and relax your dog.
- Tranquility Blend Herbs – http://www.AnimalEssentials.com
- TheraCalm – chewable treats w/ whole food supplements. http://www.biostarus.com.
- CBD Oil – Source Naturals available at http://www.dogsnaturallymarket.com
- A.P – dog appeasing pheromone. Calms. ADAPTIL. It mimics a mother’s pheromones during nursing.
- The Thundershirt is WONDERFUL for any type of anxiety/fear.
- Calming signals – watch for them and help your dog through stressful periods. Some example is: yawning, lip licking, sniffing, etc.
- Sound desensitization CDs– available @ dogwise.com “Sounds Good” / Terry Ryan also Soundcloud
- Treat and retreat – Never let anyone approach a fearful dog. Everyone and anyone should be instructed to ignore the dog entirely or stand sideways, avert eyes and for the men, to squat down and offer a HIGH value food. Allow dog to approach on his/her terms. No petting at this point. Once you or someone that your dog is comfortable with is on your dog’s radar, have the person (or yourself) toss a treat in your dog’s direction then immediately step back away from your dog. What this does is to desensitize a dog while allowing them to feel comfortable in the presence of the person. Begin w/ women first then gradually go to men.
- Integrate on leash walks for your dog. A well exercised dog is a calmer dog. Just be sure that you are not inadvertently exposing your dog to triggers.
- When a dog is scared / anxious it is alright to reassure them. Contrary to years ago trainers and behaviorists believed that by telling a dog “it’s alright” would reinforce their fear. Current studies have shown otherwise. Be a calm leader, that is in control of the situation. Console a fragile dog by using a soothing voice and perhaps a gentle caress. Gently and compassionately walk them away or through the difficult situation. Remember to always move them away from the trigger. (or move the trigger away from them). Adding distance is a valuable training tool in behavior modification.
We asked to have the dogs in our lives. Never, ever give up on your dog. May you offer your dog patience and every possible healthy and safe remedy. We bring the power to teach – dogs bring the eagerness to learn. May you see that all dogs have a loving heart and an endearing soul.