Anxiety, is the anticipation of unknown or imagined future dangers. This results in bodily reactions (known as physiologic reactions) that are normally associated with fear.
Separation anxiety is estimated to affect around 14 percent of dogs. Dogs with separation anxiety are unable to find comfort when they are left alone or separated from their family members. This anxiety often manifests itself in undesirable behaviours, such as urinating and defecating in the house, destroying furniture and furnishings, and barking.
Some of these symptoms may be the result of occasional anxiety-causing events, but any of these can become recurrent and therefore, result in more serious issues.
Destructive behaviour is a common occurrence with separation anxiety. The damage is usually to another object such as kids toys, clothing and furniture. Dogs in a state of heightened anxiety are also at risk of harming themselves. Attempts to break out of dog crates, windows, and even doors can result in painful injuries and expensive veterinary bills.
The best way to treat anxiety is to talk with a veterinarian as they can help you come up with a treatment plan. Since excessive anxiety is often caused by a variety of factors, the best way to treat it is usually through a combination of training, preventive strategies, and in some cases, medications. Additionally, veterinarians can also rule out any other medical conditions that could be causing your dog’s symptoms.
There are several training strategies owners can use to treat dog anxiety. One way is counterconditioning. The purpose of counterconditioning is to change your dog’s response to the stimuli responsible for anxiety, usually by replacing the anxious or aggressive behaviour with a more desirable behaviour, like sitting or focusing on the owner.
Another training strategy is desensitization. The owner slowly introduces the dog to the source of anxiety, preferably in small doses and at a decreased intensity. Repeated exposure and rewarding positive behaviour can go a long way toward managing anxiety.
You might want to contact a professional dog trainer to help you choose the best approach for your dog, as training an anxious dog is not always easy.
If your dog develops a serious anxiety disorder, your veterinarian may recommend medications or natural therapies. For predictable anxiety-producing events like thunderstorms, fireworks, or car rides, your veterinarian might prescribe a medication to help your dog temporarily cope with the stress. Natural products can also be used as they use pheromones and aromatherapy to reduce anxiety.
It can be difficult to predict exactly what will make your dog anxious, and even more difficult to determine if your dog’s anxiety will develop into a more serious disorder. However, there are ways to help a dog or puppy avoid anxiety-related problems:
One of the best things you can do is learn to read dog body language. Knowing when your dog is uncomfortable or scared can help you avoid negative experiences or use them as a positive training moment.
Obedience and Socialization
Obedience training is an essential tool for preventing and managing dog anxiety. It lays the foundation of a healthy relationship and establishes trust. The two go hand in hand, proper socialization can prevent the development of anxiety and a well-trained dog is easier to socialize than a dog without training. Obedience classes can also be a great place for dogs to meet other dogs in a controlled environment.
Regular exercise and stimulation are crucial for a dog’s development, physical, and mental well-being. A stimulated dog is less likely to pick up destructive behaviours. Making sure you take care of your dog’s physical and mental needs can help you prevent any behaviour problems that may occur from anxiety.
If your dog seems to suffer with anxiety issues, you can try to avoid or prevent situations that trigger their anxiety. Avoidance can help reduce some of the stress on you and your dog.
Although not all dogs will have anxiety that leads to a diagnosable anxiety disorder, it’s important to know the causes, symptoms, and treatment options involved with dog anxiety as many dogs will experience anxiety at some point throughout their lives. Understanding these important facets can help you, as an owner, know the best ways to help your dog in anxiety-inducing situations. If you think that your dog might have an issue with anxiety, it’s best to consult us right away — a veterinarian can diagnose your dog, rule out any other health issues, and help you develop a treatment plan that best fits your dog, and your lifestyle.
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