There seems to be a lot more anxious dogs these days or do I just notice it a bit more. Either way I’m no psychologist but now I like with a anxious dog I certainly understand it better, mix that with all the other dogs I have encountered and worked with there is a definitely a way to work and help them. There is also definitely unhelpful ways in which people try to teach them.
Having a dog that over thinks, overreacts, and has big emotions can be very impactful on their and your day to day life. So, patience is one trait at will serve you well.
Where does all this angst come from?
Well it can be genetic, a nervous mother passes it down the line, not always but sometimes.
It can be part of that dog’s personality (their nature), I for example am quite different to at least one of my two brothers.
It can be nurtured so a trigger or incident can send a dog’s confidence backwards. This can escalate very quickly sometimes, and you can end up with a dog that appears fine one second an
Whatever the reason, can we change it?
Mostly I would say yes, we can improve lives, make things less scary, we can give the owner the skills to read the signs better and help the dogs out. Anxiety management doesn’t just happen in the moment they are reacting it happens as every part of every day. Not just in the walks, the feeding the cuddle time but in the down time and the time you can’t be with them. As sniffing round the garden on their own might be enough for an anxious mind. As my gran used to say “devil makes work f
or idle hands” meaning a bored dog will find something to do whether that’s helpful to you or not.
The way in which we manage their day to they can cope or even better relax is the best way to foresee the bigger picture.
What does that look like:
Well it varies per dog but generally we want to keep your dog under threshold, which means keep them from over reacting if we can help it. We start from ground zero before building them up to more and more stress tolerance and resilient.
Especially if we find our dogs have topped out, as in its all getting a bit much (over trigger stacked). We need to drop the stress chemicals enough for the dog to chill and / or attempt anything new.
Then we build them slowly up again. This comes in a few different forms:
*Training: Teaching them what we would like them to do in that situation instead of reaching. Give them a job to do in the moment when its hard. This is done away from the stressors to start. Build on your 4 D’s of training from this.
*Play: Essential for your dog to be able to mess about and be playful this after all is one the reasons we want and love dogs. We can create play independently and with us as that also helps strengthen your bond with your dog.
*Safety: They must feel safe. Safe that another dog isn’t going to get them, safe that the stranger isn’t going to touch them if they don’t like that, and importantly safe that you as their soul provider and care giver is not going to inflict harm. Physically or mentally.
*Confidence: With Anxiety comes hand in hand with low confidence so we must build them up. Teach in a way that let them feel like they are clever and its worth trying. Set small tasks that they understand and can easily achieve as this will make them want to try more. I know dogs who are too scared to stand feet first on a rock, so encourage small victories make for the bigger picture.
*Rest: Being stressed out is tiring. Every dog should sleep in the day (unless a working dog). Good quality sleep heals so many ills. If you are rested, you are more likely to manage difficult things than when you are over tired. Regular sleep patterns are important and can fit into your routine.
But also most importantly All of those key components need to happen for the owner of the dog too. As the owner of a reactive dog, especially long term they can be scared for their dog and a whole roller coaster of emotions go with that.
We can create the skills to train the right thing for that dog.
We can learn to play in a way that is easy for us and the dog and both find it enjoyable. Play kills fear.
We get the right equipment and set ourselves up to feel more in control. Know our limits and understand what approach will be most beneficial in that day or moment.
We can build our confidence to work with our dogs and in a way we can achieve with them, with gentle encouragement and reinforcement.
We can know when not to push it. Too not walk the dog or when to go back to that super quiet walk. Learn how to settle the dog so you can rest too.
Because sometimes the anxiety comes directly from the owner and then the dog is trying to protect you.
Owning a dog is a relationship that works best on trust, teamwork, and love.
We can help them if we know how.