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Anxiety in Dogs: Symptoms, Signs and Treatments

1 CommentTuesday, 27 November 2012  |  Kate

Anxiety in Dogs: Symptoms, Signs and Treatments – Oh My!


Loud noise anxiety is a problem that affects many dogs of varying ages especially at certain times of the year. Come November and it's the constant fireworks that may send your dog under the bomb shelter you think of as your bed.

Come Christmas and nervous dogs may become increasingly anxious around extended family members they don't know: Granddad's gin-fuelled dancing scares dogs too. A lot of dogs run from the vacuum cleaner but for some of them it's a real problem. Sometimes it is easy to forget that a dog's hearing is far more sensitive than ours; if it wasn't there'd be no such thing as dog whistles!

Common noises dogs fear

Some of the most common noises that trigger anxiety in dogs are: thunderstorms, fireworks, Bonfire Night, hoovering, sirens, construction noises, gunshots, new people or anything else that is loud, unknown and unfamiliar.

Anxious Dogs Treatment DogSymptoms the noise may be too much for your dog

The common signs and symptoms that a dog suffers from noise based anxiety are: barking, chewing, digging, dilated pupils, drooling, flatulence, hiding, pacing, panting, trembling, trying to escape, and urinating or defecating.

In some cases anxiety can even lead to aggression in dogs. It is important not leave your dog alone when they are likely to have an anxiety attack (such as Halloween, Bonfire Night and New Years Eve) as they may hurt themselves in their panic.

In an infamous case reported by Katherine A. Houpt, VMD, Ph.D., a dog managed to escape from their owner's house only to be hit by traffic.

Simple things you can do to ease your dog's anxiety
  1. Give them refuge: If your dog has a safe place they like to retreat to during times of distress (like under the bed) then let them. If they feel safe and secure don't try to move them or entice them out, it may only worsen their discomfort. Instead let them come out when they are ready and praise them when they do.
     
  2. Don't panic: When your dog has an anxiety attack it is important that you, as their owner remain calm, positive and happy. If your emotions are negative at this time your dog may end up feeding off your emotions and worsening their condition.
     
  3. It's not the dogs fault: To that end you should not punish your dog when it is anxious or upset; it will only work to make your dog more subservient in an effort to calm you down.
     
  4. Try not to 'over comfort': That being said nor should you overly comfort your dog at these times, the reason being that over time it may become a conditioned response to expect comfort during times of fear.
     
  5. Give veterinary strength herbal medicines a go: Dorwest Scullcap & Valerian Tablets which is a licensed herbal medicine that provides symptomatic relief from anxiety and nervousness. As a herbal combination it comes in a sugar-coated tablet which also helps excitability and travel sickness.
     
  6. Try a plug in solution – DAP or Feliway: Instead of training you may want another treatment such as Dog Appeasing Pheromones (DAPs for Feliway for cats) which are specifically designed to calm dogs that suffer from anxiety. Most forms of DAP products come in spray or plug-in spray form which douses your dog's environment with calming pheromones we can't smell.
     
  7. Steer clear of prescribed relaxants if you can: Your vet can prescribe a tranquiliser as a treatment for anxious dogs. Unfortunately most of these drugs aren't actually effective at treating anxiety but instead just sedate the dog.
     
  8. All it means is that your dog can still hear loud noises but is unable to physically react. Long term use could have side effects as well which can be detrimental to your dog's long term health so it's best steer clear if you can.

  9. Give anxiety training a go: It is possible to treat your dog's anxiety with the right training. There's a technique known as 'Habituation', which is widely used among nervous dog owners. Habituation is a process where you gradually train your dog to become used to their anxiety triggers through gentle exposure combined with positive reinforcement.
     
  10. Use positive reinforcement: The most common method is to use a CD recording of what triggers anxiety in your dog (e.g. a CD of fireworks going off). First you play the CD at the lowest possible sound so that your dog notices the noise but does not take another other action.

    Then you use positive reinforcement (a cuddle, or a good play) so they learn to associate the noise with something positive. Gradually you turn up the noise bit by bit while still using positive reinforcement until the noise no longer bothers them.

    If at any point your dog becomes upset by the noise turn it down to a comfortable level and try again.This method may require a weekly 'dose' of exposure for the rest of your dog's life for effective and lasting treatment, but what's five minutes on a CD compared to days of fear and anxiety.

Remember that each dog is different and what works for some dogs may not work for others.
Buy Scullcap & Valerian.


Michelle
Tuesday, 25 November 2014  |  11:50

But you can't condition a behaviour as its already there. Fear or anxiety cannot be taught or even learned by a dog. Its an emotion and while I agree that you shouldn't over react I do believe that comforting your dog will not make them worse.