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How to Treat Anxious Dogs

Updated on December 5, 2011
Anxious dogs are often on the alert.
Anxious dogs are often on the alert. | Source

The everyday hustle and bustle of modern day life has begun to affect many furry friends as well. While dogs do not go through stressful events such as filing for divorce or reporting bankruptcy, they still are prone to anxiety due to various factors. The culprit of anxiety in dogs could be just about anything that disrupts their life style: a recent move, a new pet or the fear of being left alone at home. Many times anxiety is treatable if owners try to solve it before it set roots in the dog's mind and become a loyal companion.

In some cases, the owners are a bit to blame for reinforcing anxiety in dogs. For instance, what do most owners do when their dog seems to fear thunder? They will hug, pet, baby talk, and do what they can in an attempt to reassure their dog. This of course is done in good faith to try to help the pet overcome their fears. This scenario is often seen in veterinary offices, where dogs shiver in fear, tail between their legs and are tenderly held by their owners.

What any owners do not know is that what this does is actually encourage dogs to act as fearful. Instead of interpreting the owner's hugs as a way to feel reassured they interpret the extra attention as a praise to continue the behavior. In a dog's mind the owner's actions may be interpreted as saying ''It's OK to be anxious, therefore I can continue this behavior every time something frightens me''.

So what to do in such a scenario? A neutral display may ultimately be much more helpful to the dog. The dog will notice on its own that the source of their fears is not that intimidating by realizing nothing harmful really has happened. As an alternative, if the dog is fearful of something like a vacuum cleaner he can be told ironically ''Silly dog, that's the vacuum it will not suck you up its hose!''. The dog should therefore left free to inspect on its own the source of its fears. The dog may be helped to realize the vacuum is non threatening by placing a few treats on it so the dog learns that not only it is not threatening but that actually it can be a treat dispenser!

A good way to teach a dog how to cope with anxiety is a process called desensitization. In this case, the dog is exposed to the source of its fears over and over until he or she ultimately learns to accept it as a normal part of life. For instance, some dogs that fear thunder may benefit to listening over and over during the day a recording of thunder. After the dog gets used to it and appears much more relaxed, the record may be played while the dog is fed, pet and engaged in games.

Treatment of Anxious Dogs

Particularly anxious dogs may benefit from natural remedies such as Rescue Remedy or Bach flowers. In some cases, pheromone dispensers may be plugged in the home to help the dog calm down. Much success has been associated with the use of thunder-shirt for anxious dogs, with success rates as high as 80%!

However, there are some severe cases of anxiety that may ultimately require medication. Medications should be therefore prescribed by a veterinarian only when all other methods have failed. Common prescribed medications in the veterinary field consist of Fluoxetine, Clomicalm and Amitryptaline.

Often medications are given temporarily along with behavior modification programs and the dog is slowly weaned off as he or she shows signs of improvement. Medications for anxiety should be always used as a last resort and with caution. Never try to self medicate your pet without the consultation of your veterinarian. Your pet will have to be carefully evaluated and given precise dosage instructions to prevent potential complications.

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