How to help your dog
How do you know if your pup is just timid or has anxiety?
Where did you get your pup from? Was it a rescue? Was it a kennel? Was it a puppy mill? Or was it a breeder? No matter where you got him from, If he wasn’t socialized well before he was 4 months old, there’s a good chance he’ll be shy and timid. He may tuck his tail between his legs, avoid eye contact, hide in a corner or behind the sofa or even pee on the carpet. These are all signs that your dog is scared, nervous and submissive. If he was ignored or abused as a pup, it could lead him to have a fear of humans. He may not be shy in all situations — he may enjoy attention from you, but hide from other family members or the playful dog next door.
Dogs that experience anxiety may display their stress in very different ways. Some symptoms like panting or shaking, are subtle and can be easily missed or dismissed because they are normal in other circumstances. Other more noticeable symptoms include aggression and excessive barking. Pet owners may mistake such symptoms as their pet simply acting out due to boredom or other behavioral causes. But if these symptoms occur in common situations, like during a thunderstorm or when pet owners leave the house, it can indicate that the dog is responding to anxiousness and stressful feelings. If your dog acts like this around certain people this can also be anxiety. When my son had a studio in our basement, his band members would come in through the garage door and walk through my dog’s “space”. She would bark and the ridge on her back would go up. She was very anxious about all of these teenage boys invading her space.
Subtle symptoms of anxiety
Some of the less obvious symptoms of anxiety manifest as a slight change in behavior. These symptoms can go unnoticed by pet owners as they are not disruptive. We may just think that these symptoms are our pets personalities. It may be something deeper. These symptoms include:
- Hiding or solitude:
Some dogs want to be alone when they are experiencing anxiety. They may hide out of fear, or move away from people and other pets. Sydney will go into her cage. While her cage is her safe zone, there are days when she won’t come out. We do not lock her cage, so she can go in and out of it freely, but I’m still concerned she spends so much time in her cage.
- Seeking comfort:
Other anxious dogs will have the opposite reaction, and seek more attention or affection. They may jump in their pet parent’s lap or require more attention. When Sydney is anxious because my Cinnamon is visiting (Sydney is my daughter’s dog), Sydney will bolt up into my lap. It’s like a power move. She almost knocked me over one time! She lies on my chest in fear and will barely move her head back and forth to look around.
- Shaking and panting:
Dogs that shake or pant, or act generally nervous may be experiencing anxiety. While panting after exercise or in the heat is normal, panting during a loud fireworks display is likely not.
- Excessive licking or chewing:
Anxious dogs may compulsively lick or chew at their fur. Booper, another dog of my daughter’s, will lick a spot on his body clean of fur. It is by his hip. She put s a neck collar around him and that helps. It is called an E-komg (for Dogs and Cats). It really works! It’s like having a pillow collar around our necks when we travel.
Overt Symptoms of Anxiety
The more noticeable symptoms of anxiety are hard to miss. Depending on the cause of the anxiety, these behaviors may only appear when dogs are triggered by their phobia.
Excessive barking and howling:
One of the most obvious signs of anxiety is excessive noise. If a pet starts to bark because of a loud noise or interruption and cannot be easily calmed, even after the disruption stops, they may be feeling anxiety.
Anxious dogs may become suddenly aggressive, even to their pet parent. Anxious dogs may suddenly snap, growl, or show signs of aggression. They seem jumpy and agitated.
- Try to escape:
Dogs that feel trapped or enclosed may start digging or running. Enclosing dogs in crates may worsen their anxiety in these situations.
- Excessive energy:
Anxious dogs sometimes display a surge of energy and appear hyperactive. We had my nephew’s dog stay with us for 3 months. His name was Strider. Strider never sat down. He would pace and jump onto the couch and then off of the couch. My daughter has another rescue dog named Sonny. Sonny can walk down the stairs but not up the stairs. So, if he is down the stairs and we are up stairs, he will pace and pace and pace. Sydney will actually walk in circles.
House-trained dogs may suddenly defecate indoors when they are under duress. You see this happening with pups when they get over excited too. When we would leave my lab at home, he would jump knock the gate over, run into my son’s room and pee on his dresser. Same spot, every time. He was 110 pounds. That was a lot of urine.
A common symptom of anxiety is destruction of furniture or other objects that they normally do not chew or shred. It’s common to come home and the dog has gotten into the garbage. This is not what we are talking about. We are talking about ripping pillow apart, gnawing on furniture or even chewing on the gate.
- Panic attacks:
Dogs that experience any number of these symptoms may start to have panic attacks. Panic attacks can last from minutes to hours, and can involve any number of the above symptoms.
Symptoms of anxiety, like destruction of objects and high energy, can result in self-injury. The mental and physical stress that dogs endure while suffering from anxiety is also taxing, and should not go untreated.
Managing an anxious dog
Even for people the first answer to dealing with stress, anxiety or depression is to add exercise to your daily routine. In recent years lack of movement for people have contributed to not only weight gain but to the way we handle our stress.
The same is true for our dogs. Movement is the key ingredient to a happy healthy dog and the lack of it contributes to far greater behavior challenges than most dog owners are aware.
Exercise for a fearful or anxious dog is on the very top of the list when it comes to changing this behavior to confidence and the ability to deal with daily routines in a much more relaxed manner. Finding ways to get an anxious dog exercise can be challenging when the fear stems from other people, dogs or unexpected external noises.
Treadmill Dog Training
The treadmill for a fearful or anxious dog is a solution well worth looking into for a variety of reasons. First creating a safe environment for a dog suffering from fear starts everyone off on the right paw. Secondly it is a way to incorporate exercise as a stress reliever while creating a mind that can open to learning by taking the overanxious edge off through movement . Once a fearful dog gets the chance to burn off the nervous energy that stores itself only to come out as bad behavior the road to leaving the fear behind can begin.
Other benefits to training a fearful dog on a treadmill are really about gaining your own confidence as well. Many people suffer from feeling the judgment of others while trying to get a dog with issues “over it” out on a public trail or park. Dogs who are fearful, shy or overly anxious can look to others as though they have been “abused” or you aren’t being nice to the dog. In most cases this is far from the truth and stops the process of getting a dog out and moving as much as possible.
Exercise and movement take the edge off of anxiety for both people and dogs. Treadmill training for dogs not only gives a dog who needs to move through fear the chance to get enough exercise but it has in fact, gotten most dogs to a place where confidence and balance returns and a dog who wasn’t socially able to function well becomes happy and integrated into regular life activities.