You may have noticed that your dog is suddenly having issues with anxiety and he had never before. Perhaps he always had a little anxiety and it has gotten worse and you don’t know why or what triggers it because he’s never been abused or treated badly.
On the other hand, maybe this is a rescue dog and you truly don’t know how he’s been treated in his past life?
There are many things that can trigger anxiety — some of which you’d never have guessed without someone pointing them out. The good news is that there is help available, and plenty of useful resources on the web like from Petblogish.
How Common Triggers Can Cause Anxiety
The biggest issue is that dogs learn patterns quite readily. In other words, they take their cues from your behavior and remember patterns in the things you do that precede events and outcomes that they don’t like — like being left home alone.
You get up, get dressed, and put your shoes on before you go to work. Many dogs will start losing their grip when you reach for your shoes. This is because they have learned that your shoes are the indication, you’re leaving your house.
If you put on shoes in the evening prior to taking them for a walk, then they can learn that this is a time to get excited. If this isn’t your routine, perhaps they’ve learned that it means you are leaving, and they are about to go in a kennel or crate?
Grabbing your car keys can trigger your dog into a panic because it means you are leaving them, and they’re pack animals. They don’t like being left alone at all. Like children, they need to be taught how to calm themselves down and be okay alone.
As a puppy, you should begin working them into short periods of time being left alone and returning after a few minutes and providing them with a biscuit upon your arrival. This will help them and if you leave them with a safe toy, such as dog dental chews which can be tasty and last longer than most other dog treats.
It’s important to understand that you are inadvertently training your dog to react poorly to you getting ready to leave, just by the simple act of putting on your shoes. How do you solve that?
Try grabbing your keys and putting them in your pocket for absolutely no reason at all. Do it all the time until your dog begins to ignore this pattern in your behavior.
Hidden Messages in Your Body Language
Dogs don’t have verbal communication, despite using some vocalizations. They, instead, communicate with each using body language which is far more intricate and advanced than we had ever really known until the recent decade.
While those who worked with dogs, such as trainers and veterinarians, always knew that dogs understand body language, it wasn’t clearly understood that it was an actual language for canines. Because this is how they speak with each other, they are adept at seeing and understanding repeated behaviors in others, especially in humans.
Remember that your actions are being observed. If an action always leads to the same outcome, such as keys mean you’re getting in your car, and that means you are leaving, dogs catch on quickly.
They even understand that when they do certain things, that you will react in the same ways. They sit pretty and you give them a dog treat. They go to the door and you let them outside.
When they get into the garbage, you put your hands on your hips and yell, then they get put into their crate. How many of you have dogs that do something naughty and then just go into their crate now?
This is cause and effect. If you want to help your dog overcome anxiety issues, stop and think about what happened in the few minutes before observing their anxiety. What had you been doing? Work on narrowing down what they are observing and reacting to.
Once you think you’ve got it figured out, work on ways to change their mindset. Put your shoes on for no reason at all. Pick up your keys and walk around for a while and then put them back down. Change your routines when you can. Switch the sequence of events. Add treats and make the outcome different sometimes.
Training and Medication for Anxiety
Sometimes dogs are simply so full of anxiety that it can be dangerous. They can become nippy and unnerved to the point that they lash out. In these severe cases, getting a behaviorist to come and work with you is a great idea. Some trainers are trained in animal behavior but not all of them so be careful who you choose.
Veterinarians can also prescribe medication that can help to curb anxiety. Though this isn’t the ideal solution. Work with your dog to help them learn, once you’ve got them under control. With time and proper dog training, you may ultimately never need to give them medications in the first place!
It is possible that anxiety is genetic but more often it is a product of the environment. A dog that has been beaten will be overly reactive when you raise your hand, even if you’re only going to scratch your head. They may lunge at your arm. They may run and shake in a corner. Their genetic personality will dictate their reactions, but they are reacting to the same thing.
Teaching them a better way to react is possible but it takes the involvement of a trainer or behaviorist to help ensure safety and show you how to ‘counter-condition’ them. This is a type of training that is specific to teach different reactions to situations. It is sometimes best when done with something to help ease their anxiety at the same time until they develop some self-confidence and new behaviors become a habit.
Also on a final note don’t forget to check our article on how to effectively treat separation anxiety in your dog.