Many people are completely unaware of the signs of anxiety in dogs. Since anxiety is often the reason for many behavioral problems, it’s important to be able to recognize these signs. Abnormal behaviors are the number one reason that dogs are surrendered to shelters, and many are subsequently euthanized.
Many people have experienced their lovable pooch’s destructive behavior, such as coming home to trash scattered all around the kitchen, a chewed door frame, missing socks/shoes, broken window blinds, etc. These can all be signs of separation anxiety. Many rescue dogs are prone to this problem, but even dogs that have been raised in a loving home since puppyhood can experience some degree of separation anxiety at any point in their lives. Also, if your dog is like Velcro and follows you from room to room, starts to stress as you get ready to leave the house, destroys things while you’re away, inappropriately eliminates in the house, or gets overly excited to see you when you get home (vocalizing, yawning, whining, jumping, pacing, etc.) there may be some work to be done.
So, what can we do?
You may be surprised to learn that we as owners inadvertently cause many of these behaviors by helping our pets become overly dependent on us. Training is the number one treatment to help your pet develop more independence.
- For instance, coming and going from the home should be as boring as possible. We shouldn’t baby talk, give treats, or dawdle when leaving because these can all become cues which start to increase anxiety over time. Coming and going in short bursts will often increase stress and anxiety as well.
- If keys are a trigger for nervous behavior, owners can make a habit of carrying keys around the house regardless of whether or not they are going anywhere which will desensitize the dog to car keys.
- If dogs are overly excited when the owners come home, the pet should be ignored for the first ten minutes or so until they are calm, collected, and all four feet are on the ground. Only then should you pay attention to them, which in effect praises the calm behavior.
It is important to note that small dogs are still dogs and should be treated as such. They should be allowed to walk and not be carried everywhere (creating more dependence on their owners) and biting, growling, food/toy guarding, and other behaviors not tolerated in big dogs should not be tolerated in small dogs either. This will also help with decreasing their overall stress level which is important because small dogs are more prone to stomach upset (stress colitis, pancreatitis, etc.) which is often precipitated by stressful events.
Exercise in general is extremely important (especially prior to an owner leaving) for any dog with anxiety because it:
- Rids them of the pent-up energy they would otherwise spend destroying things around the house,
- Releases endorphins to make them feel happier and more secure, and
- Makes them more likely to rest while the owner is gone.
Crating can be a very useful tool as long as the dog always views the crate as a happy, secure place. It should never be a bad experience going into a crate, because this can cause animals to panic. As a result, some dogs will urinate or defecate in the crate, break teeth or toenails trying to escape, or find other ways to hurt themselves. Often times, owners will come home to this and scold the animal which is actually counterproductive to the training. A dog should only be scolded if they are caught in the act as it is occurring. Some animals will actually consume their urine/feces to “hide the evidence” because they do not want to be scolded when the owners return.
The Take Home Message
If anxiety is causing problems with destructive behaviors, the first thing to do is work on training. However, some dogs need a little help to focus on what they are being taught. Sometimes training aides like Adaptil (a pheromone that calms stressed dogs) or Thundershirts (have an effect similar to swaddling a baby) can help. If severe problems exist, a veterinarian can locate trainers and prescribe medications (both short and long term) that can alleviate anxieties leading to destructive behaviors.