How to Relax Anxious Dogs
Learn How to Relax Your Anxious Pooch
Recognizing and Treating Nervous Dogs
After working with animals for quite some years, I have learned to identify quickly dogs that are particularly tense by simply observing their body posture and facial expressions. Nervous dogs exhibit a series of signs that may not be promptly visible to the unexperienced eye, but it may be helpful to learn how to read into these particular hints so to react promptly.
Nervous dogs may be prone to biting as they are often in a "fight or flight" response mode and this is why when working with animals it is vital to identify the nervous dog so to restrain it properly. However, learning to distinguish the body cues of a nervous dog should not be limited only to people working with animals; rather, this may benefit just about anybody that owns a dog.
Dogs use primarily body language among themselves. Years ago, when still in the wild, dogs used to live in a pack and various emotions were continuously transmitted and perceived among one another. Dogs were able and still are able today, to represent a wide array of emotions by just using specific signals that were and still are readily understood by other dogs.
Today, as humans, we must try to understand what dogs are trying to tell us. This way, we can better communicate and cherish the relationship we have with them. When it comes to demonstrating nervousness, some dogs may display very subtle signs of being uneasy, and some instead manifest very prominent hints of such uneasiness.
Common signs to watch for are:
- Overall tense body
- Tail between legs
- Ears folded tightly back
- Pulled back lips
- Licking lips
- Eyes showing white part (whale eyes)
- Avoidance of eye contact
- Hiding behind owner
- Backing away
- Lowered body
- Excessive shedding
When the nervousness escalates then other more evident and concerning signs may be added:
- Lunging forward
As we can see, if we catch the early warning signs we may avoid big trouble. There is still a big debate today on the growling issue. Many people tend to punish a dog that is growling, but more and more dog behaviorists are re-evaluating the meaning of growling.
While growling was once seen as a negative warning of an upcoming bite, today a growl is perceived more on a more positive note. A growl may just be a way for the dog to manifest its uneasiness; try to take the growling away and very likely you will get a dog that will bite out of the blue without warning.
But why are some dogs more prone to being nervous? There are many different theories. The nature vs. nurture debate may be considered here. Some believe that some dogs are just plain and simple predisposed to nervous behaviors. For these believers, a dog's temperament is genetically linked, and there is not much that can be done to change it. They believe that it is in the dog's nature, genetically instilled deep in their core.
On the other hand, there are those that believe that the environment is what will shape a dog's temperament. Socialization, interaction with littermates and humans will bring out the dog's temperament. To learn more about this read: The nature versus nurture debate in dogs
While both theories will still be fully debated for a while, there are some pretty consistent theories of what may make a dog more prone to a nervous inclination, here are some examples:
- Dogs that were not properly socialized by the age of 12 weeks
- Dogs that were not properly trained
- Dogs that lacked guidance from their owners
- Lack of confidence
- Traumatic experiences
- Genetic predisposition
Treating Nervous Dogs
While some dogs prone to nervousness may be challenging to relax, most simply need lots of patience, time, and consistency. Many animal shelters work hard on training dogs that lack confidence, and a good percentage of them make great progress and are successfully re-homed.
Nervous dogs need guidance, they need to believe in their owner, which in their eyes is a leader. A lot can be done to help these dogs live a full life again.
For instance, dogs that are excessively shy and bark at every person or dog they encounter along the street may be gradually desensitized by making walks a routine.
Not only will a routine calm down a dog, but it may also turn into a pleasurable event. Passer-byers may toss a treat out for the dog, and the dog once shy, now will look forward to meeting new people. To learn more about behavior modification techniques read: Dog Behavior Modification
Relaxing a dog may take a lot of effort, here are some basic guidelines:
- Exercise your dog. A tired dog has less chance of feeding their fear.
- Study the sources of your dog nervousness and use positive reinforcement, counter-conditioning, and desensitization
- Show your dog your guidance and security.
- Put your dog to work, inquire about the training method learn to earn to create a routine
- At home, you can try a pheromone plug-in diffuser
- Invest in a Thundershirt when your dog must deal with frightening stimuli
- If you believe in holistic remedies, try Rescue remedy or Bach flowers
- Learn T-TOUCH
- As a last resort only, ask your vet about anti-anxiety meds
Nervousness does not necessarily mean that your dog is prone to behavioral issues, when caught early, an attentive owner may work on it in a timely matter. By recognizing the tell-tale signs of upcoming nervousness, a dog may be taught that the anxiety may be managed and even overcome
Using T-Touch in Dogs
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Our dog is now 11 years old. He has become nervous and very anxious. What can I do for him?
A vet visit is a good place to start. At 11, there may be underlying medical causes that may trigger a change in behavior. Your vet may also suggest calming medications to help your dog.Helpful 9
My four-year-old Lhasa Apso gets super jealous all the time, especially now that my daughter is coming home from college and I give her attention instead. It’s just him and me living in the house otherwise. He's crying and making all kinds of noises all night. What should I do?
It sounds like on top of perhaps being jealous; he's also quite anxious. When dogs live with one person most of the time, it's easy for them to fall into a routine and any disruptions cause anxiety.
It may help to provide him with more exercise and mental stimulation during the day to help tire him out. Going on walks with you and your daughter may also help. Make sure he receives his slice of attention each day and try to adhere to your regular routines with him (don't change his feeding time, sleeping places, etc.).
Try hand feeding him tasty treats every time you interact with your daughter so that he learns that great things happen when she's around.
Calming aids such as DAP collars/spray may also help. Usually, it's just a matter of time, and things get better as he adjusts to seeing your daughter.Helpful 6
Hello, my house is next to the soccer field of a school. During school hours, my dog runs around nervously with her tail between her legs, refuses to eat/drink, does not listen to me at all. How do I correct this?
The fact he doesn't listen to you is because he is over the threshold. It can be indeed stressful if the kids are screaming, running and playing during those hours and your dog is flooded by this stimuli. It is best to avoid exposing him to this during those hours. Keep him in the farthest room with no visual access, play some white noise (TV, radio, fan blowing) or turn on some calming music. You can also try to distract him and feed him some yummy food from a Kong and make it a ritual that he'll start looking forward to. Before the school hours, make sure his exercise needs are met. Walk him, play with him and do some training. You may need calming aids if he still exhibits stress.Helpful 4
© 2008 Adrienne Farricelli