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Anxiety in Dogs: What Causes It and How You Can Ease It

Most dog owners would readily agree that their ideal canine companion is loving, brave, comfortable and confident–not only around their family but around others as well. However, even in cases where an individual raises their dog from birth with gentleness and kindness, the dog can still experience anxiety in certain situations. Some of the more typical sources of anxiety include loud noises like thunderstorms or fireworks, but dogs can also experience anxiety when around young children, men, motor vehicles, stairs and even butterflies or flickering shadows. The good news is that if an individual can recognize the signs of anxiety in their dog, they can also help to ease it.

About Canine Anxiety

Experts believe that some dogs may be born with a genetic predisposition toward fearful and anxious behavior, but many of the anxieties that dogs encounter are related to upsetting experiences they have had during their lifetime or important experiences they have not had during their lifetime, like socialization.

A dog that is experiencing any sort of anxiety will normally exhibit very obvious physical signs. This can include flattened ears, tail tucked between the legs, cowering, slinking, yawning, raised hackles, trembling, drooling, panting, clinging to their owner, whining, whimpering, dribbling urine, pacing, destructive chewing, growling and even snapping at the source of their fear. A dog that experiences extreme fear or anxiety may even growl, snap at or bite their owner, which is understandably quite upsetting to both of them.

One of the key ways to prevent or resolve canine anxiety is through early socialization. Socialization allows a dog to experience many different people, places and situations while they are still young and can accept these experiences as normal and natural. The best time to socialize a dog is before they are eight weeks of age (after which they tend to become more shy and reluctant to approach unfamiliar people and situations), as well as when they are between five and eight months of age (a period during which they tend to become fearful of strangers and may even single out a certain group of people–like children–to be fearful of). It is an unfortunate fact that a dog who is not properly socialized at a young age can be fearful and anxious enough in life that they become aggressive, and so stressed by fear and anxiety that they are essentially useless as a working, competition, protection or companion dog. That said, such a dog can sometimes be recovered to the point where they are not quite as fearful and anxious–but it will take a lot of time and patience.

Canine Socialization

Canine socialization in a young dog is a fairly easy and pleasant experience. The entire purpose is to expose a puppy to all sorts of different people, including strangers, children, people wearing glasses, smokers, elderly and infirm individuals, handicapped individuals, people with bags and packages, as well as different places, rooms, streets, parking lots, public buildings, gas stations, and any other place that is available. They should receive many rewards along the way, including treats, petting, happy talk and interactions with friendly people. The dog should continue to be socialized regularly through the age of nine months in order to set in a pattern of friendly, comfortable, confident behavior toward anyone in any situation and environment.

When a properly socialized dog encounters a frightening or traumatic situation, the best way to resolve it is not in the same way one would help a child who encounters a frightening or traumatic situation–through comfort–because this actually rewards and reinforces the behavior. Instead, one should proceed normally, as though their dog is not acting anxious or fearful at all, and ignore their dog’s behavior altogether. One may even take advantage of their dog’s training patterns and put them through a basic training routine, like having them sit down, lie down and stay, to help assure their dog that things are normal. Proper behavior during a training session should be highly rewarded with treats, petting or praise, which can help the dog to forget about the anxious situation and focus on the positive situation instead.

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