In the UK, nearly 80% of pets are reported to suffer with anxiety (The PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) report 2018). It is therefore unsurprising that we deal with a lot of anxious and insecure dogs, and the unwanted behaviours that can stem from this.
Whilst it is comforting to know that you are not alone in your troubles as an anxious dog owner, it can also be incredibly difficult to live with and manage. It can be tricky to resolve because it requires you to not only change the dog's behaviour, but also their underlying emotions that drive this behaviour. It also requires a lot of patience, emotional control and guidance as their owner in order for us to help our dogs through their anxiety and become better, more well rounded dogs.
The term "anxiety" can be defined as an emotion characterised by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased heart rate and blood pressure. Its root cause can be anything from genetics to poor relationships, and can be triggered by a whole host of things such as certain noises, cars and being separated from someone (known as separation anxiety).
Just like with humans, anxiety can also have really strange effects on the body like causing aggressive outbursts and obsessive behaviour as well as the more general behaviours like shaking, hiding and shutting down. Just like us, prolonged anxiety can be really damaging to the dog's body and it needs to be managed and dealt with as soon as possible in order to lessen the effects on the body and ensure there is no further damage caused further down the line. The question is, how do we do that?
If you have ever had anxiety yourself, you will know that it is not as simple as being told that there is no need to be anxious and to get on with it, and it does not get better by avoiding the situations that trigger your anxiety. The key to resolving anxiety is to teach the dog that they CAN cope in the "scary" situation, and this is done by careful counterconditioning and teaching the dog to regulate their emotions.
Because anxiety is such a complex emotion, it is important to get the help of a professional behaviourist as soon as possible. Getting help early on means you can start the process of combatting the issues you are facing and lessen the impact of any long-term effects that may occur. A good behaviourist will be able to come up with a training plan, offer support and advice throughout the journey and have lots of different options you and your dog can try. Every dog is different and every anxiety case is vastly different so it's important to find a behaviourist who can offer different training methods so you can find something that works for you and your dog.
The main thing to understand about anxiety is that more often than not, it is not a quick fix. Dogs soon get used to living in a constant state of anxiety, which can make it even harder to resolve and us humans need to be careful that we are not reinforcing their anxieties by comforting them or allowing them to escape from the trigger. It can be frustrating and exhausting as owners and us professionals too but it is important to understand that no training is linear and you're going to have ups and downs throughout the process no matter what the issue. Anxiety is just one of those things that can go up and down a lot more than others and it's important to bear that in mind and try not to feel disheartened.
As a holistic company, we also work with a bunch of professionals to recommend other products or services that, when partnered with a training plan, can really help to lessen anxiety and the effects and help your dog to be in the best possible mindset for learning. Things like osteopathy treatments, acupuncture, herbal remedies and floral remedies can all have a positive effect on your dogs mind and body and help with anxiety issues. For us, generally our first port of call for anxiety is scullcap and valerian tablets and/or valerian compound liquid. We get ours from Dorwest herbs and we sell both of these products on our online shop as we use and recommend them so often. These products are herbal remedies that have been proven to help lessen anxiety without causing the dog to feel drowsy which is essential for helping your dog to best process training. We also generally recommend that the dog been seen by an animal osteopath as osteopathy treatments can really help to 'reset' the body and help the dog to start feeling less anxious. We use Tony Nevin from Zoo Ost Ltd and regularly hold osteopathy days with him and our clients as we've seen such great progress with dogs who have seen him alongside training plans.
Above, Odin the Dachshund receiving acupuncture and osteopathy, on separate occasions, to help with his anxiety issues.
I will put the details of the products mentioned and also Tony's information below if you'd like to find out more about either of them and how they can help.
One question we get asked a lot in anxiety cases is whether medication prescribed by a vet can help. The problem with such medication is that they do not change your dog's emotional response to their triggers, they merely sedate the dog so that it physically cannot express its anxiety as physical symptoms or behaviours. It looks a lot nicer to humans but the dog feels exactly the same as it does when it is displaying these behaviours. In some cases these medications can help but it's not something we jump to without trying other options because of the negative side effects that they can cause. That's not to say some dogs can't or won't benefit from them, just that personally, we prefer to try other methods before heading to prescription medication.
Last of all, never be afraid to ask for help and support. Dealing with dogs with anxiety can be stressful as well as physically and mentally exhausting. However, you aren't alone and there are people out there who can help you and your dog and are more than willing to. It can be really hard when you are with your dog every day to see the small changes that are happening and having someone else to point out how far you've come and how well you're doing can be the confidence boost you need to push on! You don't have to go it alone, you've got this and things will get better! Even if you just need a chat, our team are always happy to be there for you and your dog no matter what.
Stay strong - things do get better!
Mentioned products and companies:
Dorwest herbs valerian compound: https://www.holistichounds.uk/product-page/valerian-compound
Dorwest herbs scullcap and valerian tablets: https://www.holistichounds.uk/product-page/scullcap-valerian-tablets
Zoo Ost Ltd: https://www.zooost.com/