How to Reduce Anxiety in Dogs
Regardless of breed or age, dogs can become anxious to intimidating situations. Though dogs may express anxiety differently, anxiety can lead to destructive, harmful behavior. Common anxious behaviors include panting, drooling, excessive barking, or hiding. At TCAP, we want to share with you our tips to help respond to your dog when they are experiencing anxiety and desensitize them to stressful stimuli.
Responding to Your Dog’s Anxiety
Dog’s are amazing companions because they pay close attention to their masters. However, this can result in your dog picking up on your anxiety. If your dog is feeling anxious, it is important to remain calm and avoid from reinforcing your dog’s anxious behaviors by petting them or hugging them. This may feel counter-intuitive, but your dog is looking to you for guidance. Rather than encouraging anxious behavior, you need to remain calm yourself and speak to your pet in a firm but kind voice that communicates you disapprove of his behavior. Dogs will gain confidence if you display that you are still in control. Focus his attention on you and do a simple training session to keep his attention on his calm and confident master rather than his stressful surroundings. If your environment allows it, offer him a safe haven or crate preferably with a blanket over it. This will create a calm atmosphere for your dog to stabilize his anxiety levels. Anxiety is caused by hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that your dog’s body produces in stressful situations. These hormones create physical changes in your dog that facilitate their body to fight or flee. These changes include making their heart pump harder, supplying their muscles with extra blood, and increasing their lungs’ capacity for oxygen. This means that your dog can become anxious out of habit, so that whenever your dog gets cues that he should be anxious, hormones are released causing the anxiety episode.
Desensitizing Your Dog
Desensitization begins with exposing your dog to a very mild level of a fearful situation. Do this to show and reinforce that nothing bad happens as a result of being around their fearful stimuli. For example, if your dog is afraid of the vet, walk your dog past the vet’s office and get him used to sitting by the entrance. Reward good behavior with a treat and lots of attention before continuing on a fun walk. This way, your dog has positive associations with a previously stressful place. Once your dog becomes more comfortable with a low-level stimulus, move on to a higher dose. If she behaves normally, reward her with treats. Do this a few times before adding another step in the routine. You can either steadily increase the amount of time you spend around the stimulus or you can increase its intensity (increase proximity, or volume to/of the source of stress). The final step requires you to expose your dog directly to her fear. For example, if your dog is afraid of fireworks, play a recording of firework noise very quietly and reward your dog for good behavior. Gradually increase the volume over a length of time. If your dog seems distressed, go back a few levels and start again.
Hopefully, with enough patience and time, you will be able to bring your companion to the point where he can calmly face his fears or stressors.