We humans tend to think of our dogs in such simplistic terms. We get a dog for companionship with a lot of high expectations and are often disappointed in what we believe to be our pet’s “inappropriate habits” as we recite our well rehearsed litany of complaints. The usual list is compiled of things like: jumping, barking, pulling, digging, chewing, etc.
Having been a trainer for decades, I have learned to stand back and analyze rather than simply react. You can become quite the expert after your first hundred dogs if you really practice patience and continue to study dog behavior!
I must admit that as a parent I was not as cool and confident. (After all, God only gave me five children to practice on!) My point is that when it is your child or your dog, you frantically seek a “fix” because you are too close to the situation to be objective. Also, you have another occupation other than reading behavior studies on animals and experimenting with counter-conditioning techniques!
When I look at a dog with disturbing or annoying issues, I try to put myself in the mind of my four legged student. Why is this animal acting the way it does? What is it feeling when it is eating the molding off of the doorway, screeching like it has has become trapped or soiling it’s crate? What I have found to be at the root in many if not most cases is true anxiety that has been mis-labelled as unmannerly behavior. It’s the cry for help that so often gets punished or ultimately sends the dog off to the shelter.
One may ask how a dog expert recognizes that anxiety is the responsible culprit. After all, isn’t jumping on guests just deplorable doggie etiquette that demands correction? Isn’t incessant barking simply a dog that needs to learn to be quiet? Actually, there are sign of stress that are evident. Even the manner in which a dog jumps, barks, chews, or digs can lend immediate clues to an experienced trainer.
Distress signals may include flailing, salivating, drooling, pacing, panting, frantic demeanor, inability to be alone out in the yard or in a crate without loud barking, etc. The flailing may be a tense body jump. The dog throws itself at his victim with an over abundance of uncontrollable negative excitement. This differs from the light footed “hello” jump that you would usually observe. There may be nipping or mouthing accompanying the body slamming while a person yelling repeatedly to “get down” only escalates the level of stimulation.
Where does this anxiety originate? It can be a hard thing to pinpoint because dogs can’t talk and share like a person would confide to another. There could be a genetic factor which predisposes the dog to emotional instability. That can be a wild card unless you know the family history of the dog who had parents, grandparents or siblings with a similar problem.
Of course, if your dog was a rescue then you are truly in the dark. This dog could have a genetic weakness combined with a tumultuous “childhood”. It is so unfortunate that dogs such as these often get returned to the shelter which only serves to intensify to nightmare that is their life.
If you got your dog as a puppy you may critique any and all mistakes you may have made such as failing to socialize adequately or train early on.
Regardless of its source, dog anxiety is an extremely common occurrence and deserves understanding and loving intervention. It is so important that you dismiss the notion of using any negative measures to force the dog to obey. For example, instead of using a shock collar to silence the already terrorized dog left alone in the back yard, you need to make the yard a fun and enjoyable place to be and slowly desensitize.
You should make yourself aware of the triggers and associations that prompt the unwanted behavior and prepare and practice a strategy. If your dog is one that flattens everyone who walks through your front door, then provide an alternate skill such as “sit” or “get on your bed” when guests enter and praise lavishly.
If your dog has a severe case of generalized anxiety, your veterinarian may discuss medication. However, there are other options to attempt first such as homeopathic remedies, Thunder Shirts, pheromones, and desensitization. Compassion is key!
Certainly, there are many trainers and behaviorists who are available and will set you on the right path complete with a recommendation for a positive agenda to move things forward. By all means, totally discount the free advice you receive from someone’s co-worker from the office who, by the way, has never had the pleasure of being greeting by your overly anxious pet!!