When we first rescued our dog Paisley, she sat in the corner of the kitchen for roughly two days, afraid to move and shaking like a leaf. After several days, the 23-pound Australian Kelpie relocated to the couch and still, for the most part, lounges there all day.
Though she has become more comfortable over the past two years and will even venture off the couch excitedly to eat her food or visit the basement when we go downstairs, her world is still largely dominated by fear. She is scared of balloons, going outside, walks, the vacuum, cars, new people and much, much more.
If you can relate, you may be caring for a dog that has an anxiety disorder. Helping an anxious dog can be a challenge and progress will most likely be slow, but witnessing that progress is extremely rewarding.
If you’re wondering how to help your anxious dog, stick along for the ride as we take a closer look at what you can do for your pet. If your dog has a more specific type of anxiety, like separation anxiety, check out our article How to Help Your Pet With Separation Anxiety.
Build Self-Esteem Through Exposure Therapy
According to Cesar Millan, a dog that is scared of everything lacks self-esteem. In order to build self-esteem, a dog must slowly gain confidence around the things that scare her. This is where exposure therapy comes in. Millan suggests challenging your dog by introducing her to obstacle courses, obedience training and busy places where she can watch other dogs complete tasks confidently and without fear. It’s okay if your dog struggles through the obstacle course. The important thing is that she is out there doing it.
Progress will be slow, and every achievement – no matter how small – should be praised. Hiring a trainer to help with this process is another option that might provide encouragement for both you and your dog.
Avoid Comforting Or Punishing Your Dog
Avoiding comforting your dog when she is scared may sound counterintuitive. As humans, our natural instinct is to comfort people when they are upset or fearful. However, dogs learn by positive reinforcement, and when a dog is terrified, the comfort and love we show them is seen as a reward, and it reinforces the fearful behavior.
Punishment, on the other hand, is just as detrimental as it can worsen the dog’s fear and even cause your precious pooch to fear you.
Instead, practice staying calm and assertive by showing your dog that you are not scared. Simply ignore the balloon or car or loud noise from the vacuum that is scaring your pet to show her that there is really nothing to be afraid of.
Be A Leader
Just above, we mentioned the importance of not allowing yourself to become scared. This is crucial, because your dog takes cues and directions from you. Millan points out that you are the Pack Leader, and if you start to fear, your dog may take over the Pack Leader position and respond in an aggressive way or become completely immobilized by fear.
If your dog senses you’re upset, it is likely she will become more fearful herself. Remember to act as the Pack Leader and exercise your authority in a calm way.
Get Some Exercise To Decrease Destructive Behavior
While exercise may not always help in a direct way, it can help with the effects of anxiety. Some canine responses to anxiety include things like licking, panting, pacing, barking and destructive behavior.
Giving your dog a decent amount of exercise each day may help her release energy and ultimately reduce any destructive behavior she exhibits.
When we took Paisley to the veterinarian, the vet suggested giving Paisley an anti-anxiety medicine. She explained Paisley’s disorder as being very much like an anxiety disorder in humans, and the medication works the same way.
If none of the above methods seem to help, try talking with your vet about medication. There are a variety of medicines out there that can aid in calming your dog and helping her live a fuller life.
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