Dog anxiety is such a huge issue and needs the support and treatment of a qualified team that includes a behaviour vet and behavioural trainer. This article is just a taster of what you can do to help your dog in the moment if they are experiencing fear or anxiety.
If you have ever had a panic attack yourself or been around someone who has, you can get a sense of how terrifying the feeling is. As human beings, we can at least attempt to rationalise what we are experiencing. Unfortunately for our dogs this is not the case. They have no way of knowing or understanding the discomfort and physiological responses happening to them. This means it is our responsibility to comfort them and help them through it. Most importantly, to get the help you need to treat the underlying issues.
What does dog anxiety look like?
Firstly, let me clarify that I am not talking about a diagnosable anxiety disorder that should be treated and diagnosed by a behavioural vet. I am talking about the emotional and physical response a dog can have to a known or unknown trigger. This can be any of the following: panting, vocalising, barking, lunging, growling, howling or showing any signs of stress. If we see any of these signs, we should respond in a way that is kind, comforting and supportive. Even if we do not understand what they are feeling. Remember, dogs are not like humans. They are not motivated by the same things; they do not have the ability to plot revenge, or have any evil or sinister thoughts or plans. Their behaviour is simply a response to how they are feeling in the moment.
What can you do to help in the moment?
Do whatever will decrease your dog’s fear or anxiety. This can be different for every single dog, but generally speaking giving them distance from what is making them uncomfortable is a good first step and re-direct them to an activity that promotes a zen like state. This includes long lasting chews, Kongs, Lickimats etc.
Before you jump to asking if this will reinforce their fear, let’s go back to the human panic attack analogy. Imagine you are a good friend of mine and you are with me when I am having a panic attack. You are probably going to get me a warm cup of tea and share comforting words and perhaps rub my back. You do this because you want to lessen my symptoms and help me through it. A cup of tea and some kindness is certainly not going to cause me to have more panic attacks. It is no different with our dogs: you can not reinforce fear or anxiety.
What to do next
Contact a qualified behavioural trainer that has been certified by the Pet Professional Guild of Australia. Please don’t delay getting help. Not only is fear and anxiety an awful thing to live with, but the longer you leave it the harder it may be to treat. Having said that, it is never too late to seek help. You should also avoid triggering this anxiety or fear response again until you get help. Repeatedly exposing them to what makes them uncomfortable will not mean they will “get used” to it. All you are doing is filling the bucket further with negative experiences that will be harder to undo later on.
If you need help with your dog, we offer Behavioural Consults that can be face to face across Brisbane or via video anywhere in Australia.