Anxiety is a thorn in the side of dog training. It runs rampant through our pet dogs. It is a peculiar and curious thing caused by anything or nothing at all. It is my biggest challenge in breaking through barriers when teaching dogs or their humans. I would wager one out of every ten dogs I train struggles with specific or general anxiety. Anxiety limits their life and their world. It can negatively impact any aspect of a dog’s life from riding in a car, walking down the street or experiencing a social life of any kind. There are three aspects to anxiety. There are the known reasons, the unknown reasons and the human influence.
Bear is a Golden Retriever who was getting through life swimmingly for the first year until he was attacked at a training class (not mine) by another dog. This event has set him up for a life of isolation. He is no longer participating in any of his group activities such as agility. He can’t walk the streets of his neighborhood without causing conflict when confronted with strange dogs. Overall, he has become agitated and uncomfortable whenever he is not inside his house. All of these problems are caused by anxiety set into motion by one event. In Bear’s case I know what caused his anxiety and having this knowledge helps me to troubleshoot his issue.
Chubs is a 1 year old chocolate Labrador bred by a caring and responsible breeder and raised by loving people. Regardless of Chubs’ gentle and careful upbringing he displays anxiety through his fear of almost anything. In a case like Chubs’, I’m able to work with his anxiety in a general sense which is easier for me because I can take Chubs anywhere at any time to help him acclimate to our world. While taking his supplement designed to help relieve anxiety I can take him to a dining patio, for instance, to help him become more comfortable in his skin.
In both of these cases the human’s behavior factors in, making both situations worse. In the case of Bear, the attacked Golden Retriever, his owner has become so anxious about her dog starting a fight that she aids in expediting a negative reaction in the way she handles her dog during an inevitable interaction. In the case of Chubs, his owner mindlessly pets him as he demands this repeatedly when he is nervous (which is all the time), never requiring him to find a way to cope with his anxiety. The anxi
ety of the owners will grow until, as in most cases, these people begin to avoid their dog’s triggers isolating their dog more and more, never challenging them to deal with what haunts them.
In any case of anxiety three things are needed. First, it should be considered whether or not a dog will benefit from a supplement designed to assist in opening the dog’s mind for learning. Second, great care must be taken to help the dog grow passed his issues through participating in challenging situations that allow him to learn without being pushed too far. Third, the handler must consider her role in the dog’s outlook. Sometimes a soothing voice and soft touch go much further than a sharp correction when a dog is worried. And sometimes it’s better to not interact with the dog at all during an anxious moment. An owner can also consider whether or not a
supplement may benefit her as well when she is faced with situations in which she must be a source of calm for her dog. A dog shouldn’t have to live his life always looking over his shoulder. There is a lot of help out there in dealing with anxiety. You can start today by being a calm emotional surrogate for your dog to help him overcome this nagging affliction.