Understanding The Anxious Dog
How to help a dog who is experiencing Anxiety
Our dogs experience many types of anxiety but today we'll talk specifically about Separation Anxiety and understanding the anxious dog.
Anxiety isn't necessarily as obvious as shown with our little friend here - sometimes the signals can be as subtle as our dog having wet or stained paws (licking of paws is much like a baby sucking their thumb) or not eating until we're home again. Separation is difficult for them, therefore we have an anxious dog. What's most important is that we recognise our role in creating or exacerbating that separation anxiety. Our dog didn't choose to have us, we chose to have our dog - this means that we must put their emotional well-being over our own. We may get a dog because we don't like to come home to an empty house - we like the company. Yet we then leave our dog in the empty house, forgetting that he's just as social as we are. So our first, rather painful assessment has to be around whether we have a dog for our own emotional fulfillment - and if we do, then we need to put a little more work into ourselves so that our dog is that lovely friend that we can have in our life rather than a crutch. And when we, at Mutts with Manners, work with people, we really want them to start thinking about their dog as a friend - not as a child, nor as a servant. We like to help people to have healthy relationships with their dogs where there is no co-dependency - that simply creates anxiety.
So - firstly assess what your dog's role is, in your world, and work toward having that healthy friendship.
Secondly - given that our dogs are social, have we actually taught them how to be on their own? Have we taught them how to 'self-soothe' or are we responding to every demand that comes our way? If our dog follows us from room to room, are we looking at that as "aww, he loves me and wants to be with me"? Or are we recognising that if he must be in the same room as us, how can be possibly be content when left alone - whether at home, in the car or outside of the shop? If your friend were staying with you, or your have children, how would you interpret that same behaviour? I doubt that we would see a child following us from room to room in quite the same light.
Next - are we teaching our dogs that separation is actually GOOD? If we're not practicing separating from our dog when we're at home, how can we possibly expect them to not suffer separation anxiety when we're not there? What positives are you associating with separation? Does your dog get a treat when you leave? Or when you come back? When is he getting more? For separation? Or for your return? Therefore what is it that you're actually reinforcing? Just because we make separation a positive experience doesn't mean that our dog doesn't still love us or want to be with us, simply that he suffers less anxiety when he cannot be with us.
Finally - and we all know this, really - we just don't like doing it - what happens when you come home? Are we waiting for him to calm down before we say hello? This can be really hard, but your beautiful dogga won't feel rejected by you taking as long as is needed for him to calm himself before you go to him for some nice, calming strokes. Again, what behaviour are you actually reinforcing? How would other dogs behave when they come together and how much are we replicating that with our own dog? We can't treat our dogs as we would treat a young, highly-dependent child. Not if we don't want a highly-dependent dog!
You can learn more about resolving separation anxiety and developing a healthy relationship with your dog via our