Just like humans, dogs can be prone to anxiety and it can show up in many different ways, and each dog will react differently.
Separation anxiety is one of the most common problems and causes immense stress for the owner because everyone has to leave their dogs sometimes. It’s hard to know the size of the problem when it only happens when we are not around.
Travel anxiety is another common problem, we all need to be able to transport our dogs safely , even if it is just a trip to the vets.
Many dogs are terrified of fireworks and as Guy Fawkes night approaches, here in the UK, it is a worrying time for owners of nervous dogs.
Rescue dogs come with a whole host of anxieties. Ask the rescue centre what they know of the dogs background and how they react to people, children and other dogs. As time goes by you will learn the triggers and hopefully find solutions to some of their problems.
So how do you recognise the signs that your dog is stressed?
Aggression towards people or other animals.
Panting, pacing, crying, howling.
Scratching at doors.
However many of these symptoms also indicate boredom or lack of exercise.
My own experience of living with a highly anxious rescue dog.
Darcy was around two years old when he came to us, long enough to have gained some serious mental health problems. He was terrified of anyone leaving him and would guard the front door to stop people going through it. When the visitor had left he would be in an extremely heightened state of anxiety. He would cry, pace and pant for hours. I could literally feel his heart pounding against his chest.
Another thing that bothered him greatly were reflections, something else you just can’t avoid. He was obsessive about birds in the garden and still chases even the smallest ones. A squirrel can turn him completely hyperactive, eyes focused and panting hard.
Darcy would attack whenever he felt threatened which resulted in some near misses when I innocently made a swift hand movement close to him. He is still terrified of mops, brooms , vacuum cleaners and hair dryers and given the chance he will attack any that come into close proximity.
I have spoken earlier about our trip to the vets to get his toenails clipped. Not only does he have to wear his Thundershirt, he has to take a light sedative and be muzzled. A simple task such as toenail clipping can become a huge problem when the dog is anxious.
Despite being here for over two years, in a secure atmosphere and cherished deeply, he still has many of the problems he came with.
Training has helped in some ways. Regarding his separation anxiety, we made a point of not making any sort of fuss when we left the house and no fuss whatsoever when we returned. Any visitors were told to do the same. This sounds harsh but we wanted Darcy to think that people leaving, then returning, is the most natural thing in the world, and it has worked.
Regarding his other issues, his anxieties are so ingrained that I just have to avoid triggers as much as possible and be aware at all times that he will react if in fear.
I try to keep him in a quiet, relaxed atmosphere with a familiar routine. Exercise is very important for keeping him calm and expelling nervous energy. I also use hand massage on Darcy. which he loves. Quiet reassurance also helps, I say ‘everything’s fine’ and Darcy seems to take that as a signal that he can start to relax.
Some people recommend a DAP ( Dog Appeasing Pheromone) diffuser or spray. The synthetic chemical resembles the mothers smell and calms down puppies. I haven’t used this because Darcy wasn’t a puppy when we adopted him. Quiet reassurance also helps, I say ‘everything’s fine’ and he seems to take that as a signal that he can start to relax.
Classical music has been shown to help calm down anxiety in very much the same way that it soothes people.
A Thundershirt is a coat which is attached firmly around the dog’s torso in a very similar way to swaddling a baby. The theory is that the tightly secured coat makes the dog feel safe. I bought one for Darcy and he is always happy for me to put it on him. He wears it for trips to the vets, on bonfire night and if we sway from our normal routine (eg Christmas or holidays) There was no miraculous cure, unfortunately. I would say that the Thundershirt is very good for bringing levels of anxiety down but not diminishing it. The fabric is not as thick as I expected but the velcro fasteners are good quality and the range of sizes is very good. If you wait until your dog is fully grown, measure carefully and the coat should last a lifetime. It would be good for an anxious and reactive dog on walks where traffic noise, and other dogs, can be unpredictable.
I also tried Bach Rescue Remedy (they do a pet variety )which is made from flowers and believed to help with anxiety in a natural way. I was advised to put four drops in the dogs drinking water by a lady who runs a dog rescue, she recommended it to help foster dogs settle in. I definitely think there was a change to Darcy when I gave him the drops directly from a treat.
Medication can be supplied by a vet but it can only be given in extreme cases.
Here are links to earlier posts which may be helpful.