Woman’s Day (New Zealand)
HOW TO DEAL WITH DOGGY ANGST
Getting on top of the problem early will help your pup feel and behave better
Dealing with anxiety is tough if you’re a human, but when you’ve got four legs and a tail, it becomes somewhat trickier. Since dogs can’t tell us when they’re experiencing anxiety, we need to watch for the telltale (or tell-tail!) signs that they’re struggling emotionally.
Vet Dr Claire Stevens, author of Dr Claire’s Love Your Dog (available at bookstores and online), says anxiety is common in dogs, but spotting it isn’t always easy. In fact, you could easily mistake signs of anxiety for misbehaviour – especially if your dog is barking excessively, being aggressive, chewing, digging destructively, or going to the toilet inside. These can all be signs of anxiety, along with pacing, panting, drooling, shivering, cowering, depression and running away.
“Separation anxiety is the most common form of anxiety and we see it daily,” says Dr Stevens. “Thunder and firework phobias are also extremely common.”
Anxiety can also be triggered by loud noises, the outdoors, strangers or people of a specific gender.
“Less commonly, some dogs chronically exhibit signs of anxiety regardless of their situation,” Dr Stevens adds. “These pets may have generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), which is more likely in neglected shelter dogs.”
What to do
Getting on top of anxiety early means you’ll be more likely to help your dog manage it successfully.
“It’s important the owner makes changes to support an anxious dog,” says Dr Stevens. “Not doing anything is likely to exacerbate unwanted behaviours.”
When your dog is showing signs of anxiety, you can try
calming them with touch and cuddles, playing calming music (try “calming dog” playlists on YouTube or Spotify) and giving them a quiet, dark space where they can go to hide, such as a dog crate covered in blankets. Some people find calming coats (called ThunderShirts), room sprays and herbal drops help. Dr Stevens recommends working closely with a vet, as well as a professional dog trainer or animal behaviourist. They might suggest strategies such as counterconditioning, which teaches your dog to have a more pleasant response to the anxiety source. For example, if your dog has separation anxiety, give them food when you’re leaving the house.
Densensitisation can also be helpful. “The owner slowly introduces the dog to the source of anxiety, in small doses and at a decreased intensity,” explains Dr Stevens. “Repeated exposure and rewarding positive behaviour can go a long way.”
In some cases, a vet will prescribe medication such as antidepressants.
On the prevention side, making sure your pup gets loads of regular exercise means they’ll get a constant hit of feel-good brain chemicals and use up a lot of energy, making them more likely to relax later.
It might take time, but with patience and love, you can help your pooch feel calm and safe.