Are you Unintentionally Creating Anxiety in Your Dog?

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by Peggy Swager

Does your dog whine a lot? Does he or she chew excessively, even though the puppy years are over? Your dog may be suffering from anxiety. Anxiety is a feeling of fear, worry, or unease. It often is a result of stress gone awry. Unfortunately, as dog owners, we can unintentionally become the one who generates stress which creates anxiety in our dogs. Here are two common ways dog owners sometimes create anxiety in their dogs.

People can create anxiety in a dog by using the wrong training techniques resulting in the dog fretting or becoming anxious. Stress is often a byproduct when you punish for behaviors you don’t want, instead of training for behaviors you do want. Confusing and stressing out the dog all the more is when people think that the dog knows exactly what he did wrong when being punished. In truth, often the dog doesn’t know what’s got you so uptight this time. Punishing after the fact is usually ineffective. Even if you are there and able to “swat” the dog when caught in the act, some dogs are sensitive to reprimands, leaving the dog upset about the punishment. This becomes twice the problem in that the dog might focus on the punishment rather than the crime, making it hard for the dog to come to the conclusion that stopping the behavior will stop the punishment. Owners often get into a no-win cycle when punishing a dog. Not only do they not change unwanted behaviors, but they end up with a pet who may show anxiety at their owner’s approach if the dog anticipates punishment.

The easy solution is for the owner to learn how to train the dog for the desired behaviors rather than punish for unwanted ones. House training is a good example. Instead of shoving a dog’s nose into a mess and swatting the dog’s behind, the owner can learn times the dog is likely to need to eliminate, and arrange to take the dog outside. After the dog eliminates outside, the dog is rewarded with a treat. That allows the dog to learn the right behavior.

Another way to stress out your dog is to ramp up a state of excitement when you are going to leave the house and when you first arrive home. This is one of the ways people unintentionally create separation anxiety in their dogs. They stress the dog out with too much excitement. If they then punish the dog for anxiety driven behaviors, such as such as chewing items, or soiling in the house while the owner is away, the dog becomes all the more anxious.

If you have a dog who displays separation anxiety, and you have the habit of talking in a higher pitched voice and gushing over the dog before you leave and when you come home, try changing your behavior. Be calm and relaxed before leaving the house, especially when you tell your dog goodbye. When you come home, don’t interact with the dog until you have time to settle down. Greeting a dog in calm tone of voice with a relaxed manner helps lower a dog’s stress. If after changing your behavior the dog still frets, whines, feels anxious, or shows other signs of separation anxiety, there is some specialized training that can help. One technique called the “I’ll be Back” teaches the dog to relax when alone in the house.

If you have a dog who is suffering from anxiety, the first step in changing the dog’s behavior may be to change your behavior. Be aware that a common way owners may create anxiety in their dog is by using punishment based training, or by stressing a dog out before you leave and when you come home. When you work to change your dog’s anxiety, expect your dog to need a few weeks of you being consistently calm for the dog to learn to relax. Our dogs are our devoted companions. We need to make sure we aren’t creating unnecessary anxiety in our dog’s lives.

Peggy Swager is a behaviorist and dog trainer. Her DVD on resolving separation anxiety is called “Separation Anxiety, a Weekend Technique. Her most recent book which received two award nominations is “Rescue Your Dog from Fear.” The book has help for fear issues in dogs and house training problems. Her website is www.peggyswager.com.