Dogs and Anxiety

Are you unable to leave your dog alone at home because he suffers from separation anxiety? Are friends unable to pet him when they come over for fear of submissive urination? Is he unable to play with other dogs because he is afraid? Does he get nervous when you put him in the car because of his fear of going to the vet, the groomer or the kennel? Does he hide under the bed during thunderstorms? If so, your dog suffers from a form of anxiety.

Your dog’s anxiety may range from mild to severe. Some dogs may only suffer from anxiety when there are out of their comfort zones, while some may display it even in their regular environment. Anxiety is not a stand-alone problem; it is a symptom of a common problem–low confidence.

When a dog suffers from confidence issues, he is unable to handle stressful situations. Confidence issues occur because dogs are not allowed to build their communication skills, or just don’t know how to use them.
Dogs need to have interaction with other dogs, a consistent leader, problem-solving skills, self-control, and set of expectations from their leader(s).

Interaction with other dogs will help your dog learn appropriate dog communication skills. Using dog language helps dogs avoid conflict and to calm situations and themselves.

Dogs need rules and a consistent leader so they know what is expected of them. When dogs do not know what is expected of them, they become confused which lowers their confidence. As humans, we sometimes do this inadvertently. For instance, if you sometimes reward your dog from jumping (by petting, talking to, etc.), but punish him from doing so other times, your dog does not understand what you expect from him. Therefore, the inconsistency causes confusion and a lack of confidence. To be a consistent leader, begin to reward the behavior you like and ignore the behavior you don’t like.

By constantly telling your dog what to do through the use of commands, your dog is not able to think for himself or develop problem-solving skills. Again, when your dog tries something you don’t appreciate, ignore the behavior or interrupt in a non-confrontational way. The consequence of inappropriate behavior is simply that behavior does not produce rewards. The consequence does not have to be scary to your dog. Self-control allows your dog to display the appropriate behavior even when stressed.

If your dog is scared, nervous or timid, do not baby and coddle him. Doing this will only reinforce he has something to fear. Being confident yourself will help build his confidence. Practice hand-feeding to start building problem-solving skills.