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From separation anxiety to noise phobias, pet anxiety can be just as stressful for the owners as it is for the dogs.
Many anxious dogs will become destructive, tremble uncontrollably, pace, howl for hours, have accidents all over the floors, or even run away.
You love your dog – so it’s natural to feel a little on-the-fence about how to best treat your dog’s anxiety. Your pet’s safety and wellbeing is your top priority.
History of Abandonment
For dogs with separation anxiety, they often have a history of rehoming, neglect and multiple owners.
New Pack Members
A baby joining the family or a death in the family (human or canine) can trigger anxiety in pets.
It’s important with young puppies (up to the time they’re 14 weeks old) to expose them to a variety of social situations and environments. Puppies who don’t get this have a higher likelihood of anxiety and fear.
Age & Illness
Separation anxiety is one of the most common behavioral problems seen in older dogs. And, though you’d think the opposite is true, many dogs become fearful of noises in their senior years. Cognitive dysfunction, decreased mobility to get to a “safe zone,” and a lessened ability to adapt to stress can all contribute to noise phobias.
This means giving your dog a positive association with the anxiety trigger. Let’s use separation anxiety as an example. (Owner leaves = good things happen.
Every time you leave, give your dog a puzzle-type treat toy, such as a KONG® stuffed with high-value treats. (These are treats your pet can’t resist.) Getting the yumminess out will take your dog a while, which will take his mind off your absence.
Note: Remove the treat toy as soon as you get home. The toy and its high-value treats should ONLY be given to your dog when he’s going to be alone.
2. 30 Minutes of Exercise
Carve out 30 minutes a day to exercise your dog. A worn out dog is a calmer, less destructive dog. And just like in humans, exercise releases feel-good endorphins in dogs when they exercise.
Take different routes on your walk so that your dog can experience new sights and smells. This will mentally stimulate your dog, which also helps dispel nervous energy. Rainy day? Here are some indoor activities to wear your dog out.
In the case of storm phobia, play sounds of thunder at a low volume when it isn’t storm season. Treat your dog and praise him when he’s calm. When the first storm hits, you’ll know if it’s the noise that truly bothers your dog. If your dog is still anxious, it could be the drop in barometric pressure or static electricity that triggers the anxiety.
4. Air Your Dirty Laundry
When your pet’s anxiety causes destructive behavior and you won’t be home to help the situation, it’s a good idea to confine your pet to a “safe place.” If a crate makes the anxiety worse, you can try containing your dog to a room with a window and toys … somewhere your pet won’t feel isolated but can do minimal damage.
Wherever you confine your pet, leave him with some of your dirty laundry, such as a nightshirt, so that your pet is calmed by your scent.
5. Keep Calm
Try not to make a big production of things when your pet is anxious. Consoling and coddling a fearful dog just encourages the anxious behavior.
If your dog has separation anxiety, don't bust out your baby talk and do your happy dance the minute you walk through the door. When you come home, ignore your dog for the first several minutes. Calmly pet him when he’s relaxed.
6. Wrap It Up
This tip is specific for noise phobias. For this you’ll want to wrap something around your dog to provide him with soothing pressure. Try an old sweatshirt or beach towel, something large enough to cover the neck and chest. Note: just like how some babies don’t like to be swaddled, neither will some pets.
Benzodiazepines (“benzos”) are a class of drugs used for treating anxiety. Dogs can be prescribed a lot of the same benzos that humans are prescribed: alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), and diazepam (Valium).
Many owners are not comfortable giving their dogs anti-anxiety medications due to safety concerns and side effects ranging from loss of coordination to fatigue. Dogs can also become dependent on these medications, just like humans.
Benzos should be used with caution in fear-aggressive dogs, as they may increase the likelihood of the dog biting.
Your vet is a great ally in helping you figure out if an anti-anxiety medication is right for your dog.
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