I had recently started a new job and the days dragged on like a bad movie in desperate need of a dramatic end just to make it worth the time spent watching it. I was ready to crash as soon as the door flung open and the over-sized sweatpants were pulled on. I was in for a big surprise.
The door swung open, I saw what was waiting for me, backed up and slowly closed the door again. I sat on the porch and waited for the shock and anger to pass. Several minutes went by and I could hear the crate rattling and knew I had to go in and let him out, clean up the mess and figure out a way to hide the damage from my husband…at least for the time being, he was enviably going to see the hole in the floor and the crate that looked like it survived a category five tornado.
Popper was a sweet and gentle soul unless you tried to leave him alone or confine him to a small space. His history leading up to transport from North Carolina to Buffalo was a mystery as they often are when dealing with rescue dogs. He craved attention and was sadly and very apparently, suffering from an extreme case of anxiety.
Anxiety in dogs can be caused by a wide variety of reasons and treatment will vary depending on severity and the specific dog. Some of the most common reasons for anxiety are:
Dogs suffering from anxiety will show one ore more of the following symptoms:
For mild anxiety you want to countercondition your dog. Counterconditioning is the act of changing the fearful or anxiety ridden situation into one of relaxation or enjoyment. You will want to make sure your dog is trained in basic commands, specifically ‘sit’ and ‘stay.’ This will make reconditioning a bit easier.
You want to start by exposing your dog to ques that would normally indicate you are going to be leaving, grabbing your coat or putting your shoes on for example. While you are doing these things give your pup a treat. The idea is to teach your dog that the act of putting your shoes is a good thing and will not always result in you leaving.
Once your dog has become desensitized to the things they use to associate with you leaving start performing out-of-sight stays. Put your shoes on, give them a treat and have them perform a sit and stay in a room with a door. Leave the room and close the door. Depending on their reaction, you want to increase the amount of time between you closing the door and coming back into the room. If your pup runs to the door as soon as you try to leave give them a toy or chew as a distraction. Kongs with peanut butter that have been tossed in the freezer work great or treat trappers that require a little persistence from your pup are good too.
It's important to remove the toy or chew immediately after re-entering the room. They should only have access to that specific toy or treat during times when they are left alone. If all goes well they will associate alone time with a positive experience and toy or chew.
Some dogs with anxiety appreciate a TV or Radio being left on. The voice will help to sooth and calm and make it feels as though someone is with them. Make sure to leave the TV or Radio on a station that has only calming shows or music. Elevated voices such as in a daytime talk show or loud noises like an action packed movie will be counterproductive.
This type of training is designed to take place over time so it's important you come up with a temporary solution to Fido's anxiety issue like a dog sitter or doggy daycare. In fact, dogs that do not get enough physical or mental stimulation can often start to present with anxiety symptoms. Keeping your dog active both physically and mentally is important to their overall health and well-being...and possibly to your sanity and your carpets life!
Some additional tips & tricks to help Anxious dogs
Sadly, there are some dogs that no amount of training or reconditioning is going to help. For these dogs there are daily medications they can be given to help manage their anxiety. If you feel this is the case for your pooch please seek a consultation with your veterinarian.
Some of you have asked about what happened to Mr. Popper. Popper was adopted by a wonderful women who lives in PA and runs a campground. She works from home and takes Popper with her on her daily rounds through the property. Her home is surrounded by a giant kennel so Popper is never confined to just the house or just the outside. He is doing wonderfully and stories like his just cement my belief that there is an adopter and furever home for each and every dog no matter their needs!
With over 10 years of experience through ownership and rescue work, I hope to share my knowledge and insight to happier, healthier fur kids. Have a question, feel free to ask!