“Anxiety was born in the very samemoment as mankind. And since we will never be able to master it, we will haveto learn to live with it— just as we have learned to live with storms.” —Paulo Coelho
We all feel anxious sometimes. Perhaps before a big event or during a big life change (such as a global pandemic, right?). And sometimes for no apparent reason at all.
Psychology tells us that feeling anxious is a normal reaction. We might have anxious reactions when we feel uncertain, nervous, or overwhelmed.
Our dogs can also get anxious. Their anxiety can be triggered by being left alone, loud noises, or in social situations. Does any of this sound familiar for your pup?
Some dogs can cope better than others. This may involve playing on their own until you get back, shorter recovery times after hearing loud noises, or walking away from a social situation that makes them uncomfortable.
When your dog doesn't have the ability to cope with common situations, they may have an anxiety disorder. This can look like destroying furniture when you are gone, pacing, panting, and shaking, or reactive responses in social situations. Managing this behavior will require attention, compassion, and patience.
Here are some ways you can help your dog cope:
* Learn your dog's body language. Understanding your dog's body language will help you recognize triggers, avoid trigger stacking, and take action before your dog escalates further.
* Discuss with your vet. Once you suspect that you dog may have issues with anxiety, your vet should be your first step. They can help you identify triggers, rule out pain or other underlying conditions, and prescribe an appropriate treatment for your dog.
* Consult a behaviorist. Your vet may have recommendations for behaviorists or trainers who specialize in anxiety issues. Some will use desensitization/counterconditioning methods to reduce reactions from common triggers.
* Avoid and plan for stressful situations. Often we can avoid putting our dog in situations that cause them stress such as crowded and loud places. Other situations such as leaving them at home alone to go to work or bringing them to the vet's office cannot be avoided. In those scenarios, it is helpful to have a plan and techniques in place to make the situation as comforting as possible.
* Help your dog feel more comfortable. Natural methods such as scents, music, or pressure vests can be used to help calm your dog. Studies generally indicate that when these tools are used, dogs show a decrease in anxious behaviors, improved physiological responses (decreased heart rate, increased heart rate variability, decrease cortisol). That said, it is important to note that this area is under-researched and studies show various levels of success to no difference. So what works for one dog may not work for another.
Alternative or natural methods aren't meant to replace veterinary advice and counterconditioning or be used alone. Rather, they may help in addition to your dog's current treatment and management by helping them feel safe and relaxed in their space.
The goal of any anxiety-reducing plan is to help your dog feel more comfortable with the anxious situation and gain the skills they need to cope with it in the future. Managing anxiety often requires the use of a combination of methods. Every dog will have a unique plan that works for them.
Lindig, A. M., McGreevy, P. D., & Crean, A. J. (2020). Musical Dogs: A Review of the Influence of Auditory Enrichment on Canine Health and Behavior. Animals, 10(1), 127.
Riemer, S. (2020). Effectiveness of treatments for firework fears in dogs. Journal of veterinary behavior, 37, 61-70.