Almost three-quarters of dogs experience anxiety to some degree - a problem that can decrease their quality of life - as found in a 2020 study published in the journal Scientific Reports. Noise sensitivity is the most prevalent of anxiety-related traits, though many dogs also experience separation anxiety. Yet others can have age-related anxiety which is associated with cognitive dysfunction syndrome in older dogs. Anxious animals can experience serious effects from chronic stress. Just a few symptoms of anxiety include excessive chewing of household items and furniture, lip licking, lifting of one paw, shivering, panting, urinating or defecating indoors, excessive barking, and even attempting an escape from the home (which is a particular worry during fireworks season) What approaches can help induce greater peace and calm in your dog?
Desensitization and Counterconditioning
The American Kennel Club recommends two strategies for owners with anxious dogs: desensitization and counterconditioning. The former focuses on breaking the link between your dog’s cause of anxiety and their worry. Desensitization training commences with you leaving the home and returning after a few seconds, then a few minutes, then hours, until your dog reacts more calmly to separation. Counterconditioning, meanwhile, involves replacing anxious behaviors with more desirable ones - including sitting, focusing on the owner, or performing a task. You can also try out anti-anxiety gear like the Thundershirt or the Happy Hoodie, both of which use compression to calm dogs down in the same way that swaddling is used to help babies relax.
They say that music can heal the soul and it seems that this applies to canines as much as it does to human souls. A study by D Wells and colleagues, published in Animal Welfare, showed that dogs spent more time resting and less time standing when classical music was played to them than when they were exposed to other types of stimuli (including heavy metal music, pop music, and human conversation). If you have always wanted to learn to play instruments like the piano or guitar, why not kill two birds with one stone and help your dog de-stress as well? There are a plethora of apps teaching the basics of guitar, piano, and other types of music that will help you learn pieces from a wide variety of musical genres. When selecting your app, make sure that the repertoire includes gentle and classical musical scores since heavy metal music actually prompts dogs to bark more.
Keeping Your Dog Physically Active
Dogs who are sedentary are more likely to display negative behaviors like chewing, barking, and pouncing. The average dog in good health will benefit greatly from at least two good walks a day. In addition to walking your pooch on a lead, ensure he has off-leash time in a safe dog park or similar area so he can practice skills like running, leaping, and climbing. Your dog will benefit mentally and physically - since daily exercise will help prevent cancer, boost cardiovascular health, stave off obesity and bone loss, and promote a healthy, long life for your pooch.
A majority of dogs experience some sort of anxiety, with many being afraid of loud noises (such as thunder and fireworks) and reacting negatively to separation. Invest in training, trying out desensitization, and counterconditioning. Try playing your dog some classical music and make sure to head into the Great Outdoors twice a day so your dog can expend all its excess energy.