March is ‘Pet Anxiety Month’. Pet anxiety is something I’ve learned a lot about over the past few years with my own very nervous dog, and something I’m really passionate about supporting other owners with as it can be a really difficult experience.
Our dogs can be worried about a wide range of things, it could be other dogs, people they don’t know, loud noises, vehicles, travelling in the car, being left alone or going to the vets. Perhaps your dog is generally quite nervous in lots of situations, or their anxiety is related to something really specific.
Having an anxious dog can have a real impact on both their life and yours, and really limit what you can do and where you can go with your dog. The good news is there are lots of things we can do to help transform even the most nervous dog into a much happier and more confident dog.
When our dogs are worried about something, they normally cope either actively or passively. Dogs that cope actively might show behaviours like barking, lunging, pacing or chasing, whereas dogs that cope passively may freeze, try to hide or tremble. They may even show their anxiety through a subtle change in their body language such as yawning or licking their lips. While a dog that is barking and lunging on their lead may seem much more stressed than a dog that’s yawning, the way they behave doesn’t really tell us much about how stressed they are - the dog yawning may be far more stressed than the dog that’s lunging and barking.
It can help to observe your dog in lots of different situations so you can get to know what’s normal for them, and take note of any changes in their behaviour and what seems to affect them. How your dog reacts can change in different situations too, for example my dog Poppy will tend to hide away if she’s worried about something when we’re out for a walk, but is much more likely to bark and lunge if we’re near home.
Just like people, dogs can be optimists or pessimists. When they encounter anything new or unusual, an optimistic dog will see that as something exciting to explore, whereas a pessimist will see it as something negative that they need to be worried about. By providing our dogs with some simple activities we can help our pessimistic dogs to become optimists, and really build their confidence. Enrichment is a great way to start to build their confidence - take a look at our blog ‘How Enrichment Can Help Your Nervous Dog’ for some simple activities you can start trying straight away.
Confidence and optimism are concepts that spill into every part of our dogs lives, so rather than putting our dogs into situations they struggle with to help get them used to it, we can build these skills in other ways. For example, you might have a dog that’s frightened of fireworks. Rather than gradually exposing them to increasingly loud noises, we can play games like putting their food in a cardboard box with some crumpled up paper, or using a plastic bottle as a food dispenser. These activities are going to create noise when your dog engages with them, but the dog is completely in control of the noise, so we’re helping to build a positive association that noise equals a lot of fun!
We’d love to know more about your dog, the situations they worry about and how you’ve helped them overcome their fears. If you’re struggling with your dog’s anxiety then we’re always on hand to help - you can get in touch with us on Facebook, Instagram or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll do our best to help or put you in contact with someone who can.