This blog was inspired by Dogs in Yellow Day, an initiative by My Anxious Dog that draws attention to the need for stressed dogs to be more understood and be given the space to get on with their lives.
It first appeared on the Hedgerow Hounds website and our thanks go to the author Caroline Hearn for permission to publish it here.
If you share your life with an anxious dog, you will know that there are many challenges to overcome and situations in everyday life that can act as a trigger resulting in fearful, frantic behaviour, reactivity towards dogs and people, excessive barking and gut issues to name a few. It can seem like a lonely road to travel and that you take two steps forward one day followed by three steps back the next.
So here are a few hints, tips and links for further advice that I hope will help you and your anxious dog.
It’s not just our dog’s stress levels that we should be mindful of!
Dogs can read us like a book and are extremely sensitive to our emotions and the environment they are living in. It is important for our own health to manage stress levels and take some time to unwind from the stresses and strains of everyday life. As our stress levels come down so will those of our dog.
Dogs love to sniff, lick and chew
Giving your dog something suitable to chew has huge psychological benefits as chewing releases serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin which are all calming and feel-good hormones. If raw bones aren`t suitable for your dog then there are lots of healthy, natural chews available as well as providing Kongs and tracheas stuffed with tasty ingredients.
Allowing your dog to sniff when out on a walk or perhaps setting up an area in the garden where they can freely explore is incredibly beneficial to anxious dogs (see our Enrichment Gardens for Dogs blog). Dogs are natural seekers of food so both the house and garden provide lots of opportunities to introduce scent games and play hide and seek with their favourite treats.
Snuffle and Lick-it mats, and interactive toys can be used in the house and are handy to have when the weather limits time outside or when your dog is particularly stressed and needs some time away from the triggers of being outside.
Appropriate herbs such as Chamomile, Lemon Balm and Calendula1 can also help, plus concentrating on easing any 2gut discomfort which undoubtedly goes hand in hand with a stressed, anxious mind.
3Pet Remedy spray and wipes can be very calming and soothing and help to settle an anxious dog at night, in the car or while training.
Massage and Tellington Touch
Gentle massage and bodywork such as Tellington Touch can be really helpful but do be mindful that for some dogs, touch is not a positive experience. If they are fearful of hands they may be happy with a soft brush or cloth initially.
Body wraps and pressure vests such as the Thundershirt can be very useful for comforting an anxious and stressed dog. The blog 4Body Wraps and Pressure Vests covers this in detail.
Time to chill
Having time out or chill-out days can be very beneficial to anxious, reactive (or even very active dogs), to bring them back into some sort of balance and down from their constantly stimulated state of mind.
A dog that is in a heightened state of fear, stress, panic and self preservation will not physically be able to process and learn what is being asked of them. So by bringing down their stress levels they will be in a better frame of mind to learn new skills, cope with their stress and grow in confidence to make better decisions that are not fuelled by fear.
Fight or flight
When dogs are over-excited, anxious or constantly alert to potential dangers their autonomic nervous system releases the fight or flight chemical adrenaline into the bloodstream. Over time this becomes very damaging to the whole body and the gut in particular. The other subdivision of the autonomic nervous system is the parasympathetic which is sometimes called the “rest and digest system” and creates calm, relaxation and a happy gut. This is what we are hoping to nurture on these quiet, restful days.
Find expert help if needed
Finding a trainer or behaviourist that has experience with nervous dogs is invaluable. They will help you and your dog to learn skills at home which will help them cope with stressful situations when they arise in the future.
The old advice of just keep talking to your dog when you’re out and they will get used to it, just doesn`t work and you will find that each outing will top up the stress levels, adding fuel to the situation. Having as many chill-out days as the dog needs, where there are no triggers or unnecessary demands made on the dog, is often a necessary step forward.
If you are looking for a private enclosed field to exercise or train in then there is a 5website where you can search for one in your area.
There is a particularly good Facebook group that offers support, set up by Niki French called 6Pup Talk and she has recently released a book called Stop Walking Your Dog which has invaluable advice to help with anxious dogs.
Adult dogs require 16-18 hours of sleep a day, so it is important that your anxious dog gets enough rest and has a quiet space where they feel safe. This could be a crate with the door left open, a comfortable bed in an area where they are not disturbed by other dogs or people passing or simply observe where they always choose to sleep and make a cosy bed there.
How to spot if your dog is anxious
Anxiety can present itself in many ways, here are a few to look out for:
• Digestion problems – IBS, diarrhoea
• Over excitability
• Reactive behaviour (aggression)
• Excessive barking
• Noise sensitivities
• Resource guarding
• Chewing or scratching the body
• Inappropriate toileting in the house
• Excessive licking
• Ball obsession
Walking anxious and reactive dogs
Walking anxious, fearful and reactive dogs can be incredibly difficult and stressful for both dog and owner. I can clearly remember a daily walk at 5am for many months on the arrival of a particularly reactive rescue dog and having to drive to areas which were very quiet in order to keep his stress levels down.
Rehabilitating an anxious dog can be a long process. As well as getting support from a compassionate trainer I would suggest joining a group on Facebook which supports anxious dogs and their owners. Also, look up Sarah Jones who started her business 7My Anxious Dog after her Spaniel Bella (in our feature picture) became very stressed and reactive around other dogs. She discovered just how difficult it was to inform others that her dog wasn’t nasty but just frightened and it would help if they just gave her space.
Dogs in Yellow Day
Sarah from My Anxious Dog has created a national #dogsinyellow day on the 20th March 2022 to raise awareness and to really educate others to understand the meaning of dogs wearing yellow. So please spread the word!
“Yellow warning or yellow space awareness products are used when walking an anxious, nervous or reactive dog. Walking reactive or anxious dogs in public is challenging, especially when strangers and dogs walk over to say “Hi” to your fearful dog. Sometimes avoiding scary triggers is impossible, so we use yellow dog warning products or yellow space awareness products to let people know that our dogs need space or to be ignored”.
You can download your free awareness pack, shop for the fantastic products and make contact with Sarah via her 7website.
Blogs about anxiety including Enrichment Gardens for Dogs
Other blogs by Caroline Hearn
Anna Webb is a canine trainer, behaviourist and nutritionist. She shares A Dog’s Life podcasting duties with Mr Binks seen above
Scruffy Little Terrier has a range of eco-friendly and ethically sourced gifts for dog lovers plus doggy blogs
Caroline Hearn, MICHT, Dip. ICAT
Caroline is a Member of IAAT, the International Association of Animal Therapists. She is a sports, remedial and holistic massage therapist qualified to treat canine, equine, and human patients. Caroline has a lifelong obsession with dogs, a passion for holistic healthcare and natural nutrition, and a love for foraging in the countryside; all of which lead her to form the company Hedgerow Hounds which makes veterinary-approved nutritive herbal blends for dogs and other natural healthcare products. She has recently developed Hedgerow Horse.
Caroline also writes regularly for the holistic magazine Edition Dog and covers subjects such as raw feeding, canine therapies and the progress of the herbal sensory garden she created for her dogs.
Links for more information:
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