27 Sep How to Introduce a Nervous Dog to People and Other Dogs
Just as we humans are susceptible to anxiety, our pets are too. Dogs, for instance, are just as prone to anxiety as we are. Feeling anxious occasionally is normal and to be expected. However, if such high levels of anxiety are not kept in check, they can lead to behavioural issues and anxiety disorders further down the line. The question then is, how to identify a nervous dog? Once identified, what can be done to alleviate their stress? How can we help them be less anxious & nervous in daily life?
Causes of Anxiety in Dogs Causes of Anxiety in Dogs
While it is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of anxiety in a dog, there are typically a few common causes for the same:
Anxiety triggered by fear can be caused by a variety of stressors. Unfamiliar people, unfamiliar environments (i.e., a vet’s office or in a crate), loud noises, new surfaces/textures can all trigger anxiety in a dog. Some dogs might not react to such occurrences, whereas other, more anxious dogs are affected
Being suddenly deprived of a familiar area or group of people can trigger anxiety in dogs. Dogs affected by separation cannot be consoled when parted from their parents or guardians, and the anxiety they feel in such a situation manifests itself as odd or unfavourable behaviour. Barking, urinating, defecating, and destroying possessions are all examples of behaviour which presents itself when a dog is suffering from separation anxiety.
This is a factor for senior dogs. With the passage of time, the brain function of every living organism slows down, leading to issues with awareness, memory, and learning. Dogs are no different; in elderly pooches, a natural slowdown in brain function caused them to be anxious and confused.
Symptoms of Anxiety in Dogs
There are a few symptoms to keep an eye out for, if you suspect your dog has anxiety:
- Urination/Defecation indoors
- Excessive and continuous barking
In order to introduce a nervous dog to other people and animals, it is necessary to make sure that their anxiety does not cause them to lash out or behave unpredictably in a social situation. An aggressive reaction by a nervous dog may be one made from fear, but others may not know that, which can lead to further issues. There are certain methods to help alleviate your pup’s anxieties, which in turn will help them be less nervous and more comfortable in daily situations & while interacting with other people/pets.
How to Reduce Anxiety in a Dog
Regardless of whether your dog is afraid due to prior trauma, or due to incomplete or incorrect socialization processes when they were a pup, the first step towards introducing a nervous dog to someone is confronting their fears. While a dog’s personality and general disposition will not change overnight, a socially anxious pup can eventually become comfortable around other people and dogs.
Obedience training is a good place to start with a nervous pup. To start with, familiarize them with a fixed routine with specific times for actions (eating, walking). Then, train them to obey basic commands. For example, tell them to ‘sit’ before you give them their dinner, or to ‘stay’ before heading out for a walk. Treat them for following your commands; over time, they will develop a positive association with such behaviour, which will help them feel composed and in control of their environment.
This is a particularly effective, tried-and-tested method, albeit one which a bit more time consuming. A nervous pup can be taught to be confident in certain stressful situations through positive associations and reinforcement. As an example, your dog is afraid of the vacuum cleaner. It’s noise acts as a trigger for them. Your dog may become aggressive in its presence, or perhaps refuse to play or eat. The simple solution is to expose them to this trigger, at a level which does not bother them. For instance, being in the same room as the vacuum cleaner when its off, or running at a lower noise. Once you figure out what level of exposure to the trigger is acceptable to your pup, treat them for it. over time, you can gradually increase the intensity of the stimuli fractionally, until your pup is at a point where the vacuum does not bother them anymore. While a time heavy process, it is one of the most effective ways to reduce anxiety in a pt and help them interact with the outside world.
Tips for training an Anxious Dog
- Use positive reinforcement only. While it can be a frustrating process at times, it is far better to ignore the negative behaviour and work on reinforcing the positive.
- Use rewards to help your dog become accustomed to the process, and over time, they should be positive about it naturally.
- Patience is key for every part of this process. Fear will not do your pup any good, so go about it at a gradual pace. Un-learning previous conditioning and being conditioned again takes time.
- Be aware of their body language. Identifying the early signs of anxiety and nervousness can help you stop a situation before it escalates too far, and once you understand what your pups’ stressors are, you can work on them.