How to Deal with Your Dog’s Anxiety and Fear
I, first, wanted to write an article on how to avoid a fearful or anxious dog.
After all, avoiding it completely is a lot easier for you and for the mental stability of your dog.
I was going to combine the articles, but sometimes a long article can be a little overwhelming.
So if you haven’t read part one, I suggest you read the article on how to avoid dog anxiety and fear first.
It is important to realize why our society is seeing more dogs with these issues and how easy it is to give your dog the social skills to lead a normal life.
However, sometimes it is too late.
People have waited too long to socialize their own dog.
Or people adopt a dog with a fear or anxiety issue.
And, occasionally, there are dogs that are inherently born with fear and anxiety issues.
It is crucial to know how to deal and help a dog like this without making it worse.
How to Deal with Your Dog’s Anxiety and Fear
1. Do Not Ignore It
So many people think that ignoring the issue will help the dog.
My dog is terrified of “X” so I will avoid it completely.
The truth is that this doesn’t help anyone.
This would never be the advice a therapist would give to a human.
“Oh you’re afraid of spiders…. You should avoid those completely. Problem solved, that’ll be $500.”
Over coming fears, phobias, and anxieties just doesn’t work that way.
If you think you can avoid spiders for the rest of your life, please message me and let me in on your secret. I don’t like spiders either… but I realize I will be faced with them throughout my lifetime. Actually I saw a black widow crawling across my dog’s bed the other day!
I totally feel sorry for the dogs that people just “lock up” for fear that they might get scared about something.
I’ve had some anxiety issues in the past, and I can’t imagine just becoming agoraphobic (never going out side of the house again) and thinking that would solve my problems.
I am pretty sure that would add to my anxiety and just be a terribly sad life to live.
Even with anxiety, I wanted to live a normal life, go outside and be happy.
In some respects, I am glad I had panic attacks after a traumatic experience because it helped me to empathize with others, including our dogs.
2. Fears and Anxiety Must Be Tackled Head On
Fears and anxiety must be tackled head on if you want to make a difference.
That doesn’t mean you “flood” the dog.
Flooding means you expose the dog to an extreme amount of their fear, hoping that they will change their mind.
In terms of spiders, it would be like covering yourself with hundreds of spiders, hoping that this would desensitize you.
This tactic, often makes fears worse.
After all, who wants to be covered in spiders?
3. Avoid "Flooding"
Instead of flooding your dog with his fear, you add it at a low level and add pleasant things with it.
I once had a dog in training to be a Service Dog.
He had the ability to sense seizures, but he was also extremely over sensitive to a lot of things in his environment, loud noises being one of them.
He hated the clicker, he hated plastic bags, and he hated traffic noises.
He did, however, enjoy eating popcorn.
However, he hated the sound of the popcorn being popped.
I didn’t lock him in the kitchen and force him to get over it.
But I would feed him dinner at the other end of the house while I popped pop corn.
Slowly, I would move his meal closer to the popping corn.
Of course, the smell of the popping corn and the treats after his meal was eventually associated with the sound.
I must admit, it took a long time, he had some pretty severe phobias (and was never really able to be a service dog because of it) but eventually he liked the sound of popcorn.
He also acclimated to the clicker. And for a great video series that shows you how to do this, click here.
I think all dogs should be acclimated to the sound of a clicker because it is such a small and benign sound in the grand scheme of things.
So many people want to avoid a clicker, when the truth is it will be kinder to slowly acclimate the dog to the sound rather than ignoring it.
After all, sounds of jack hammers, trucks backing up, trucks backfiring, sirens, and the normal sounds of life is so much more overwhelming than the sound of a clicker.
4. A clicker is actually a great place to start.
I can wrap it in a cloth, put it in my pocket and simply click it all of the time and toss treats to desensitize my dog.
Certainly, I am not going to sneak it right under his ear and click like mad; but I can click while he is napping in another room and begin tossing him boiled chicken breast or some liver and pretty soon he will be happy to race into the room where the click is happening to get his reward.
It may not be that day, or that week but most dogs are very resilient and acclimate faster than most humans.
But it is important to make this fun and let the dog work at his pace.
Your therapist may want you to overcome your fear in a month or two; but it may take you 6 months to be comfortable around your fear.
Time doesn’t matter as much as success matters.
After all, does it matter to you 3 years from now that it took you 6 months instead of 1 month? Probably not.
Overcoming the fear and GAINING CONFIDENCE is the key.
So instead of seeing it as “getting over something”, sometimes it is easier to see it as gaining the confidence needed to let go of old behaviors and fears.
5. Teaching your dog to relax on command.
And use relaxation techniques.
Giving your dog something else that he can accomplish (obedience) and be successful near or in the face of his fear.
These can all help your dog happily face the things that bother him.
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.