a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.
By being part of the living world, all living, breathing beings will feel some stress at some point or another. It’s a natural part of existence. Some stress is normal. Feeling the physical ramifications of stress is normal. You can be loved, be having fun, and still experience stress.
Not all stress is bad, it just is. Travel is stressful. Excitement is stressful. I show my horses and get a nervous stomach every single time before I show. I don’t eat the morning of my show. And, showing horses is one of my most favorite things to do on this planet. And, I volunteer for it and pay good money to do it. And, I really love it too! Stress doesn’t necessarily mean unhappy.
Stress is just a physical & emotional response to change.
When under stress, a living, breathing being may experience:
- blood pressure can increase
- adrenaline increases
- heart rate may increase
- you may need to pace and move a bit during stress
- breathing may change
All these reactions when under stress are within the range of normal.
However, these feelings and reactions can become omni present in all things, become all-consuming, and interfere with the ability to live daily life. You know when anxiety and stress has moved to a new level when the mere act of waking up and eating breakfast creates the same response as if a lion was hunting you or you are competing at the World Championship. That’s when normal reactions to stress have pitched into a new category that is unhealthy and needs to be addressed on many fronts. We have to get to the root of the issue(s) and tackle extreme anxiety and nervousness on many fronts.
Fear-related anxiety can be caused by loud noises, strange people or animals, visual stimuli like hats or umbrellas, new or strange environments, specific situations — like the vet’s office or car rides — or surfaces like grass or wood floors. Although some dogs may only have brief reactions to these kind of stimuli, they may affect anxious dogs more consequentially.
Separation anxiety is estimated to affect around 14 percent of dogs. Dogs with separation anxiety are unable to find comfort when they are left alone or separated from their family members. This anxiety often manifests itself in undesirable behaviors, such as urinating and defecating in the house, destroying furniture and furnishings, and barking.
Age-related anxiety affects older dogs and can be associated with cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). In dogs with CDS, memory, learning, perception, and awareness start to decline, similar to the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease in humans. This understandably leads to confusion and anxiety in senior dogs.
Dog Anxiety: Symptoms
So how can you tell if your dog has anxiety? There are several important symptoms to look out for:
- Urinating or defecating in the house
- Destructive behavior
- Excessive barking
- Repetitive or compulsive behaviors
It is important to rule out any medical conditions that could be affecting your dog as well. Pain affects stress levels. Pain can cause anxiety. You do need to have a complete work up from your vet to help determine if there is any other reason for your dog to be feeling as he does. In extreme cases, a vet could also prescribe medication.
A good dog trainer will also be an important part of helping you create training strategies that help you and your dog learn new ways to cope with stress, anxiety and nervousness. Beneficial socialization, obedience, desensitization and behavior modification will all contribute to an action plan to help your anxious or nervous dog.
After training thousands of dogs and double that number of humans, No matter the impetus for your dog’s choices, do ask yourself these questions as well: Are they uncomfortable? Are they seeing, smelling or hearing something you are not seeing, smelling or hearing? Are they bored? Are they frustrated? Are they over-stressed? Are they under-exercised? Are they coddled? Are they hurting somewhere on their body? These are all factors that can contribute to a dog’s startle, shy, skittish, or vocal reaction at any moment. Once you’ve ruled out, evaluated and mitigated contributing elements to your dog’s reaction, you can begin all the strategies that help a dog handle new exposures to stimuli in a more calm and accepting way. There is no one road to Rome, but this we know; relationship, trust, time, maturity, consistent exposures in a calm way over time, structure, boundaries, respect of space, the ability to think and focus on human, purpose-driven exercise and calm, confident and clear handling on the human’s part, all help to reduce anxiety and nervousness in dogs.
Our super sensitive, hyper-aware dogs need help learning how to navigate this human world. They need to learn how to choose another prism to see our world through. And it can improve. Dramatically. We must do our part. We must rule out health and mental issues. We must learn new ways of dealing with our nervous and anxious dogs. We must change how we view our dogs. We must accept that dogs are dogs, and have a different set of needs than humans. How and what we do as humans can play a huge part in a dog’s perception of their world. My Pillars of Pack Leadership foundation is exactly what helps to lower stress, grow confidence, ease anxiety and nervousness in dogs. We see it daily in our IN PERSON training and hear about it from our online course participants. There is hope for your anxious and nervous dog. It can and does improve with the right balance of love, work, and play.
If you are ready to get started on improving the balance with your anxious or nervous dog, sign up HERE for updates on our Pillars of Pack Leadership Academy Workshop we have coming up later this month. Aly will personally walk you through her training philosophy and focus it with all her knowledge on creating calm and confident dogs.