Pet Anxiety – Why Your Dog Experiences Anxiety

wonder wallet brown on dog
(These are some observations I’ve made from my interactions with animals regarding pet anxiety) Emotions initiate behaviors. For example, if you break out in a sweat, instantly scream and your heart races when you see a spider you have realized these very intense reactions.  You would have difficulty holding the spider no matter how many times you’ve been told this spider will not hurt you.  It would be impossible for you to overcome the fear that swells up inside you. Emotion overrides logic and creates a behavior.  It is similar for pet anxiety. If your dog is uncomfortable when you turn on the hose, trying to get your dog to “stay” while your reach for the hose will not stop your dog from creating the emotion of fear or anxiety or aggression by talking him through it. The dog may be convinced that the hose is going to cause him harm or worse. He can’t rationalize that you have whispered to him, yelled at him, shown him the hose isn’t going to “get him”.   Emotions are not affect by reinforcement and punishment in the same way behaviors are. Reprimanding your dog will be just as ineffective as trying to give him a treat. The treat may make it worse as he may interpret the treat as a positive reinforcement of an undesired and scared behavior.  In the human, it would be like yelling at my daughter for screaming at the sight of the hairy 8 legged spider. Or worse, giving her a ten-dollar bill for screaming. But what would happen if I hugged my daughter as she is in a state of panic? What if I talked quietly and reassuring?  Can you see how this would help to calm and comfort my daughter? What would be the effect of her seeing I was not afraid and she could come to me for comfort?  This is true with dogs also. They can not only hear and see how we are reacting to them, but they use their senses to feel our calming assurances. They will, with time, learn they can trust your senses. If you are calm and never give up, in most cases they will learn your behavior.  Sometimes this takes a really long time, sometimes a very short period of time.   Remember:
  • Identify what is causing the behavior (environment, people, other animals, noise, etc)
  • Identify the behavior that needs to be modified (anxiety, shyness, etc…)
  • How would you like to be treated that would help you overcome the behavior?  Remember, your dog understands your behavior, calmness, anxiety, but not your words. Don’t try to reason with your dog. Comfort, soothing and a calm demeanor will be most effective in most cases.
  • Patience: You’ll need lots of this.
Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that if aggression is the behavior you are trying to help your dog overcome, I highly recommend you seek the advice of a qualified dog behaviorist. This can be a tricky and dangerous behavior and should not be taken lightly. These techniques are not recommended to be used with aggressive dog behavior.   What can I do? Educating yourself is of utmost importance and applying appropriate environmental conditions will help.