Loud parks. Crowded, noisy beaches. Fireworks. Summer is filled with activities that can make some dogs fearful and anxious.
Imagine how you feel when being startled by a loud noise. Now consider your dog – who has heightened hearing and other senses.
Feeling uneasy about new experiences is a normal reaction for a dog, but those who demonstrate extreme reactions to noises or certain situations may be exhibiting signs of a developing phobia or anxiety. Left untreated, this anxiety could impact family life.
Certified veterinary behaviorists offer the following three steps for treating anxiety in dogs who are showing signs of distress:
- Never punish a dog for a negative reaction. Pet parents must learn to understand their pet’s body language to know what an anxious dog looks like:
- Aggression is frequently grounded in anxiety, and signs can include barking and/or growling.
- Anxious dogs may also attempt to flee from open doors, jump fences, or dig vigorously to escape. Flight reactions can also involve simply moving from one side of a room to another to avoid being touched.
- Freezing is an act of learned helplessness and occurs when a dog is too scared to move.
- Fidgeting – such as pacing, or the inability to sit or lie down – is a sign of low-level anxiety.
Punishing a dog for any of the aforementioned behaviors can cause dogs to become more fearful and increase anxiety. Yelling at a dog for getting into the garbage or chewing furniture, too, can backfire – as the dog does not associate this delayed punishment with the initial anxiety that triggered the behavior.
- Remove your dog from stressful situations. Hoping to desensitize your dog with repeated exposure to a stressor? Not a great idea. Ongoing exposure and punishment as a result of a negative reaction is a recipe for failure.
Some anxious situations, such as fireworks, thunderstorms, or car trips to the vet, are unavoidable but temporary. Pressure wraps like Thundershirts® and/or snug blankets may help in certain situations.
During storms or fireworks displays, you might attempt securing your dog in an interior room of the home and playing soft music or ambient noise. This can help your dog feel more comfortable.
- Seek veterinary help. It’s important not to go solo when treating anxiety in dogs. A trained veterinarian should be called upon to rule out medical conditions and discuss ways to treat your dog’s anxiety.
Additionally, be sure to see your veterinarian first before attempting to manage your dog’s reactions to OTC products. While there is no magic pill that can make a dog’s anxiety go away instantaneously, there are circumstances when medications can be beneficial.
But medication should never be the only tool in treating anxiety in dogs. Behavior modification plans can help when paired with the right, experienced trainer. Regardless, a veterinarian should always be the first resource for a proper diagnosis.
Green Acres Pet Resort is veterinarian-owned and operated. We understand how important it is for pets to have a safe, secure home away from home – or simply a place to spend the day – when their owners are busy or out of town. We have decades of experience treating anxiety in dogs, and our passionate and highly trained team will put your pets at ease, while custom activity packages keep them exercised, engaged, and mentally stimulated throughout their stay.