Helping Your Dog Cope Through Their Anxiety
Updated: Jan 8, 2021
One of the most common concerns new guests at our resort tell us about is their dog's (or cat's) separation anxiety. For pets, anxiety is much more common than you may guess. According to research at University of Illinois, up to 40% of dogs present symptoms of separation anxiety. How can you better prepare your dog to be confident and self-assured when away from you?
Know the Signs of Anxiety
Just like people, dogs may display their anxiety in a variety of individual ways. Learn your dog's body language to have a better sense of what they're trying to tell you. Communication is key! Some common traits of an anxious dog are:
Aggression (this can be very dangerous)
Urinating or defecating in the house (ugh)
Loss of appetite
Destructive behavior (destroying furniture, toys, doorways... sometimes hurting themselves in this destructive process)
Repetitive or compulsive behaviors
How to Help
There are several ways to help a dog who suffers from anxiety. Try a few of these techniques out! Just because one method doesn't work, doesn't mean another method won't. Don't give up on making your dog feel such a basic comfort like security.
There are many different training techniques designed to help dogs through anxiety. One is exposure. Slowly introduce their anxiety trigger repeatedly. This may help your dog become desensitized to what's making them anxious. For example, we have a very nervous doggy that's a regular for daycare. When she first started coming, she would yelped at drop-off and pace in the yard all day. Months later, this dog is doing so much better! She will play and enjoy her time at daycare. Sometimes, separation just takes some getting used to.
Another method is through rewards. For example, my dog is scared of other dogs when he is on a walk. He's great with new dogs and people in situations off-leash, but the tension and frustration of being on-leash makes him bark and lunge. In response to his leash-aggression, I give him treats to distract him from the other dog. Now, whenever we see another dog on a walk, he turns to me expecting a treat instead of barking incessantly at the other dog. Yay! Similarly, you can use treats to distract your dog from whatever is causing their anxiety to change their association with that trigger. It's basically a replica of Pavlov's conditioning... dog's anxiety trigger = treat!
2. Make an Appointment with your Vet
Sometimes, a dog acts anxious in response to a medical issue. Dogs can't talk, so their anxiety may be their signal to you that something is wrong.
Another reason to visit your vet is that your dog's anxiety might be best solved with medication. When taken in the correct dosage, prescribed anxiety meds (or even CBD oil) should help your dog relax.
3. Distract with toys or other things to do!
4. Make Departures and Arrivals Uneventful
Saying goodbye to your dog should always be low-key. When you act calm and matter-of-fact at departure, your dog will likely mimic the relaxed attitude. Similarly, make returning home no big deal. If you greet your dog by mooning over them, they will associate your return with being the best part of the day. While your gone, all they will think about is your return and become frustrated that it hasn't happened yet. This is especially hard for me to follow. The first thing I want to do when I'm home from college is scoop my dog up and shower him with affection!
A tired dog is a happy dog! If your dog isn't getting enough exercise every day, a highly stimulated dog may take out this pent up energy through anxious and unwanted tendencies. That's why they may destroy property and go potty in the house.
6. Create Routine
Dogs are creatures of habit. Building a routine helps your dog anticipate their day to make them less nervous.
7. Invest in a Compression Vest
Compression vests are the dog version of swaddling. The pressure of the vest is designed to provide comfort and ease to a nervous dog. Use our Amazon link for a portion of the proceeds to go to our nonprofit programs!
8. Physical Touch
You know the five love languages, right? Well, apparently, it's not that different for dogs. When your dog is wound up, trying giving them a massage to help calm them down in stressful or uncomfortable situations.
In the End
We know what it feels like to be anxious or nervous. Now, imagine feeling that way when there's no one who can tell you, "everything is alright." That's how it feels for some anxious pups who are overwhelmed with nervousness. At the resort, we host several anxious doggies. Fortunately, they are able to acclimate to our environment quickly and enjoy their stay! As you can see, there's no shortage of ways to help ease your dogs anxiety!