Many dogs have anxiety that their humans are not aware of. People often think an excited (aroused) dog is a happy dog, but if excited dogs can’t regulate easily and quickly back to relaxation, that’s a problem.
Dogs that get stuck in over-excitement (an aroused state) are only one step away from developing full blown anxiety issues. They will tend to slowly become more aroused, even at rest, and trigger to extreme arousal more and more easily.
Too much high impact/high arousal play can be a bad thing for dogs who tend to be higher on the arousal spectrum. The more the nervous system is in an aroused, hyped-up state, the more your dog’s resting state becomes less and less relaxed.
Of course, most cases of moderate to severe anxiety are usually easy to pick up, because the behaviour of the dog when they get triggered is obvious. But not always!
Separation anxiety, in particular, can ‘fly under the radar’, because your dogs may seem fine when you leave, but then spend the whole time you are away in distress, panting, and pacing.
They can then seem ok as soon as you get back, because your presence helps them regulate back to a relaxed state. (The only way to know for sure if your dogs have separation anxiety is to set up a camera whilst you are away, so you can see how they behave when you’re not there.)
So what is anxiety?
Anxiety is a chronic state of arousal. You could define anxiety of any kind as arousal with nowhere to go. Arousal happens when the body is in fight/flight mode, with the Sympathetic nervous system switched on and dominant.
Adrenaline levels are high, heart rate is high, the blood flow is directed away from the gut and to the muscles, and the whole sensory system is on high alert. The opposite of anxiety (an unhealthy form of arousal) is relaxation.
Signs of anxiety include:
- Unable to switch off and relax
- Obsessive-compulsive behaviours (ball/toy addictions, fence running, chasing birds, cars, bikes etc)
- Poor response to training
- Over-excitement with any kind of stimulus
- Out of control – jumping, mouthing, non-responsive to commands
- Fear of noises or other stimuli
- Panting, shaking, drooling, pacing
- Barking or howling when left alone (or when triggered)
- Bolting and running away
- Escaping when left alone
- Trying to hide (in cupboards, under beds etc.)
- Destructive when left alone
- Don’t ever sleep deeply
- Reactivity and aggression if/when triggered
- Self-harm (licking, chewing)
- Not eating
- Unable to settle and relax
- Peeing or pooing in the house
- Dilated pupils, showing the whites of the eyes
- Licking and yawning a lot
- Cowering, cringing or extreme tension in the body
- Switching off completely (freezing), or flipping out and becoming ‘crazy’
- Increased shedding of hair
- Avoidance or displacement behaviour
- Ears pinned back, tail tucked
Types of anxiety
We can divide anxiety into four main types:
- Separation anxiety is when your dog becomes anxious when separated from their humans, or sometimes in strange places
- Generalised anxiety seems to come out of the blue, but there is nearly always an underlying reason for it.
- Environmental anxiety is triggered by certain places (a classic one is the vet clinic) or by environmental factors like sounds. Thunder and fireworks are common triggers.
- Social anxiety is triggered by being around other people or animals. This can be due to past trauma or poor socialisation.
Anxiety can be difficult to treat
Anxiety is awful and can be a real devil to treat. Anxiety not only makes your dog’s life a misery, but it also has severe effects on health. Stress of any kind is a slow poison for your dog’s immune system. And it’s hard to treat.
Yes, there are prescription medications that can help a lot, but I feel they should be a last resort (unless there are severe issues). And they don’t always work. Training using positive reinforcement can help, but again doesn’t always.
I got taught at university to expect dogs with noise and thunder phobias to slowly get worse, no matter what treatment was used. And that was my experience, too, until I developed the Whole Energy Body Balance (WEBB) Method and started treating anxious dogs with specialised bodywork techniques. (And teaching pet parents how to as well!)
I have found that WEBB can treat anxiety at the cause of the problem because WEBB causes a strong somatic (or body level) relaxation response in animals. When you practice WEBB with anxious pets over time. you train their body and nervous system how to relax.
I have seen so many anxious dogs show amazing improvement with WEBB, and one of them is my own whippet, Pearl. Eight or nine years ago, if there was a thunderstorm, Pearl would be a shivering, panting, dribbling mess. She would pace or even run away and wouldn’t settle no matter what I did. Fireworks wore even worse. And now, if there is a thunderstorm, while she doesn’t like them, I let her up on the bed and she will lie down beside me. Yes, head up and shivering a bit, but ten times better than she used to be – and WEBB is what helped Pearl.
If you want to learn how to help your dogs with WEBB, check out our online trainings here.
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