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Training an Anxious Dog: A Step-by-Step Guide

What Makes a Dog Anxious?

Before we can get to the actual training portion of this anxious dog training guide, first let’s take a look at what makes dogs anxious in the first place.

Dogs can experience anxiety due to various factors. A few of the most common reasons include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Genetics
  • Past traumatic experiences
  • Lack of socialization (around fellow canines and/or other humans)
  • Fear of specific stimuli (such as loud noises or unfamiliar environments)
  • Separation anxiety, or
  • Frequent and/or or sudden changes in routine or environment (i.e. traveling or moving)

It’s important to note however, each dog is unique, and what triggers anxiety in one dog may not affect another. Understanding the specific causes of your dog's anxiety is crucial in tailoring effective training strategies to help them overcome their fears and worries.

Are You Able to Get Rid of Your Dog's Anxiety?

While it may not be possible to completely eliminate your dog's anxiety completely, you can significantly reduce its impact and help your furry friend lead a more balanced and comfortable life. Through implementing appropriate training techniques, providing a secure and supportive environment, and working closely with a professional such as a veterinarian or dog behaviorist, you can help your dog manage their anxiety and build their confidence.

Since we can’t necessarily curb the anxiety altogether, the goal is to improve your pet’s well-being and provide them with the tools to cope with anxiety. That said, as you move forward, patience, consistency, and understanding are key as you work on addressing your dog's anxiety.

Now that you know what makes a dog anxious, and the common factors that can lead to anxiety, let’s get to what you really came here for - the three steps to train an anxious dog.

Step 1: Establish a Safe and Calm Environment

Creating a secure and peaceful environment is crucial for training an anxious dog. Start by designating a quiet and comfortable space where your dog can retreat when feeling overwhelmed. Provide them with a cozy bed, toys, and a sense of security. Minimize exposure to triggers that cause anxiety, such as loud noises or unfamiliar people, until your dog becomes more comfortable and confident. This safe haven will become their sanctuary during the training process.

For example, you can make their crate their safe space. Using a comfortable crate such as the Revol Dog Crate combined with a comfortable dog bed, and a lickable training aid (perfect for calming an anxious dog!), creates a sanctuary for your pet that they will actually want to stay in. And, if you have any upcoming travel, the Enventur Travel Kennel and the Passenger Travel Carrier can be a great way to provide your furry companion a safe and comfortable environment on the go!

Step 2: Gradual Exposure and Desensitization

To help your anxious dog overcome specific fears and triggers, it's important to gradually expose them to these stimuli in a controlled manner. Begin with very low-intensity exposure, such as playing an audio recording of the sound that causes anxiety at a barely audible level. Reward your dog with treats, praise, and reassurance for calm behavior. As your dog becomes more relaxed, gradually increase the intensity of exposure over time. This systematic desensitization technique helps your dog build resilience and associate positive experiences with previously anxiety-inducing stimuli.

Related: Read our post “Puppy Fear Periods: How To Get Through Them

Step 3: Positive Reinforcement Training

Positive reinforcement training is an effective approach for anxious dogs. Reward your dog with treats, praise, or play whenever they exhibit calm and confident behavior. Focus on encouraging desired behaviors and redirecting attention away from anxious reactions. Use treats or favorite toys as motivation during training sessions to reinforce positive associations. Consistency, patience, and repetition are key to helping your dog understand what is expected of them and build confidence.

The training process may take time, but it's essential to remain patient, empathetic, and seek professional guidance if needed. With dedication and the right training techniques, you can help your anxious dog overcome their fears and live a happier, more fulfilling life.

Commonly Asked Questions About Anxious Dog Training

To close things out, we’re answering the most frequently asked questions we see related to training anxious dogs.

What are 5 calming signals in dogs?

Dogs communicate through various calming signals to convey their stress or discomfort. Five common calming signals in dogs include:

  1. Yawning
  2. Lip licking
  3. Turning their head away
  4. Sniffing the ground, and
  5. Slowly blinking their eyes

These signals are their way of trying to diffuse tension or communicate a need for space.

What sounds calm a stressed dog?

Different sounds can have a calming effect on dogs, as they can help drown out or distract from stressful stimuli. Gentle classical music, specifically designed calming music for dogs, or nature sounds like rainfall or waves can help create a soothing atmosphere. Some dogs may also find white noise machines or specifically designed calming soundtracks beneficial in reducing stress.

How long does it take to desensitize a dog?

The time it takes to desensitize a dog can vary depending on several factors, including the severity of the dog's anxiety, their individual temperament, and the specific desensitization program being implemented. Desensitization is a gradual process, and it can take weeks or even months to see significant progress. Consistency, patience, and working at your dog's pace are key elements of successful desensitization training.

Are there any warning signs that indicate my dog's anxiety is escalating?

Warning signs of escalating anxiety can include increased aggression, persistent or prolonged fear responses, excessive self-grooming or licking, decreased appetite, or withdrawal from usual activities. You might want to consider seeing professional help if you notice these signs.

Do anxious dogs calm down with age?

There is no guarantee that all anxious dogs will automatically calm down with age. However, many dogs do experience a reduction in anxiety as they mature. With proper training, socialization, and a stable environment, anxious dogs often learn coping mechanisms and develop confidence over time. That said, it's important to address anxiety proactively rather than solely relying on age to resolve the issue.

Can a change in diet or exercise routine help manage my dog's anxiety?

A balanced diet and regular exercise can contribute to overall well-being and may indirectly help manage anxiety. Make sure to consult with a veterinarian before making any dietary or exercise changes specific to your dog's needs.

What age are dogs the calmest?

Dogs' energy levels and behavior can vary greatly depending on their breed, individual personality, and overall health. Generally, as dogs enter their senior years, typically around 7 to 10 years old, they tend to become calmer and less energetic. This can vary though, and some breeds may naturally be more laid-back from a young age. It's important to remember that each dog is unique, and individual personalities and circumstances will play a significant role in their overall calmness.

Pawsitive Steps Towards Calming an Anxious Dog

Providing a safe space, gradually introducing triggers, and using positive reinforcement can help your dog overcome anxiety. While complete resolution may not be achievable, remember the aim is to equip your dog with coping skills for a more peaceful life. The time it takes to see progress will vary. However, with dedication and love, you can create a sanctuary of tranquility and understanding for your anxious companion.

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