How Can I Calm My Anxious Dog? (top tips for success!)

If you have a dog who is anxious, scared or has any kind of phobia or behavioural problem then it’s vital you get them help as soon as possible.

Here are some steps that will help them cope and set them on the road to recovery!

The anxious dog

My dog has developed really bad anxiety and severe phobias of noise, people and strange objects. It’s getting worse. What should I do?

So this owner re-homed a young large breed dog and one morning there was a vehicle accident that they witnessed. There was lots of noise, there were sirens and the dog became really traumatized by that event and ever since then the dog has just panicked when they've come near something that just really isn't a threat at all. It's a strange object or when there's been a strange noise and in one incidence this dog actually leapt over a bin. They dragged their owner into it and really injured them, and then they ran off home down the street, pulling their retractable lead behind them, which is banging on the ground and causing even more problems.

And ever since then the dog has just seemed to be hyper-vigilant, is always on edge, is massively anxious and the owners are terrified that it's going to happen again, that it's going to cause them a personal injury and also death of their dog potentially. If a dog panics and runs off like that, then running across the road is the last thing they're going to be worried about and that can definitely cause some really nasty problems.

So the owner has consulted some trainers and they've advised a prong collar, anti-anxiety medication, and of course a modified training program.

How to calm an anxious dog

Here are my thoughts!

Avoid punishment - it causes anxiety

So, the first thing that I would say is that I'm not a dog trainer, but I absolutely advise against a prong collar, a choker chain, a shock collar, or any other form of training that involves negative feedback or punishment. And that's in any dog, let alone a dog with severe anxiety and high stress levels.

Just imagine what being punished is going to do to that dog. They're going to actually develop a phobia and a fear of you I would have thought, or they're just going to be even more anxious. So that would be my first comment.

Consult a certified behaviorist

Now with problems as severe as you're describing, then to give you the best chance of a successful outcome, you really need to be thinking about working with a certified veterinary animal behaviorist if that's at all possible in the area that you are in. Now they are kind of quite few and far between, but they will travel in a lot of cases or it might be a case of you needing to travel to see them. But if it’s at all possible, seeing a certified veterinary animal behaviorist is definitely the best option for them coming up with a treatment plan that's suitable for your dog and your home situation.

That being said, some first aid steps that I think should be considered would be to not to walk him by yourself if you're not strong enough to control him, especially when he's panicking.

Enlist help

So he's a really big dog, really strong so you need to be really strong as well and to be honest, some of these really large breeds, if they want to go, they will go no matter who you are and no matter how strong you are. So really think twice about walking them by yourself. If necessary, walk them with a friend. Both of you have hold of the lead and that way you're more likely to be able to control him. Also, use a harness and a short lead.

Retractable leads are seldom a good idea. The mechanism might fail or you suddenly try and stop your dog when they're running out and they'll just yank it out of your hand. So I definitely don't recommend retractable leads. Harnesses also allow better control rather than just a collar around the neck and then use a short study lead with a really sturdy clip to make sure that nothing breaks.

Avoid anxiety triggers

You also want to avoid anything that acts as a trigger. So you really need to set your dog up for success rather than failure.

And when we've got phobia, when we've got an anxiety, for every negative experience, it makes that behavior more ingrained so we want to try and avoid that if at all possible and like I say, set your dog up for success.

Treatment: supplements and anti-anxiety drugs

And then lastly, definitely talk to your vet as soon as possible, especially if there's going to be any delay in seeing a veterinary behaviorist to see what suitable drugs are available for your dog in the short term.

Now there are supplements and some of those might be Calmex, Zylkene and also an Adaptil collar (Amazon links), so that's a pheromone collar and while they may help and they definitely do help in more mild anxieties, say sound and not necessarily phobias, but just sensitivities.

When you've got a really bad phobia and when you've got really severe behavioral problems, they may help a tiny bit but they're not going to be the be all and end all. So at least in the short term, you should definitely talk to your vets and see what other stronger pharmaceutical drugs are available and suitable for your pet.

Don’t ignore an anxious dog

And then finally with behavioral problems, and this goes for any behavioral problems, don't ignore it. Behavioral problems only get worse so great job for asking for help, follow that through. Unfortunately, there's seldom a quick fix, but if you get onto it sooner, then it's going to be easier to control and to potentially reverse so definitely get in touch with that behaviorist.

A word about fireworks and noise phobias

clearly the advise given is not applicable to all forms of anxiety. If your dog is scared of fireworks, thunder storms or any other noise then I have an article just for you: 16 steps to calm a dog with noise phobias + anxiety

The above is a transcript taken from “The Dr Alex Answers Show”.

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