Does your dog suffer from anxiety?
It’s something I see constantly. The root of MANY unwanted behaviors starts with an anxious dog. What do I mean by anxiety? Well, there are many ways to spot anxiety, but for the sake of this article, I’m going to hit on some key specific points and what you can do about it to see a potentially quick change if you are committed (and everyone in the home is committed!).
Some ways to spot anxiety:
-whining when you leave the room
-excessive drooling in specific situations like car rides or when you leave for work
-heavy stress panting when someone comes to the house
-following you around everywhere to an obsessive level and always underfoot
-being in a different room from you is stressful for them.
-whining, heavy breathing, hard pulling outside around dogs, people, vehicles, etc.
If you are having these issues with your dog, or maybe you aren’t sure, but your dog is reactive (barking at other dogs), barking a lot in the house, demanding attention a lot of times and you’d really like to see if you can have a more calming effect on your dog and help them with these issues, below is a CHALLENGE! :)
I’m going to outline a few key things for you to do in two scenarios. First is if your dog is crated while you are away and the other is if your dog is not crated. Then I am going to give you a long-term exercise you can work on if you are inspired by your dogs progress with the first set of tips.
Key things to do (and everyone in the home must do) for 4 days. I’ll unpack why these things work below.
- Don’t talk to your dog. Do not say one word to your dog unless it’s a release word (like “break” to eat food) or a basic command. Even with basic commands, try not to say anything if you don’t have to (hand motions instead if needed). You don’t even praise your dog when they do something good. Sounds crazy right!? You don’t speak to your dog or give them any emotional attention. No snuggling on the couch, though they can jump up and lay on the edge if they want, etc. You are playing hard to get!
- Every time you walk your dog or take them out to go potty, even in the yard, your dog is on leash. This could be anything but a harness really. (some small dog exceptions) The dog will calm down quickest with collar, slip leash, something with control of the dogs head. For the sake of this exercise I’m going to suggest slip leash for most dogs. When you walk up to the front door for a walk you say nothing. You just apply leash pressure up, you can get your dogs attention with a hand signal and have the dog sit. This can be done with most dogs without a verbal command. The dog waits in a sit before walking outside. You do the same thing when the dog comes back in the house.
- You must also do this with the back door. Call your dog over to the back door. Put slip leash on. Open the door and have the dog sit. Say “let’s go” or whatever command you like to move outside and have your dog potty on leash. Once that is done, if you want your dog to have free yard time, have the dog sit in the same way, hand signal/leash pressure, wait a few seconds, neutral face/energy, take leash off and release dog. You come back inside.
- If your dog is crated, when you get home from work you open the crate just a little, just enough to get in there and put the slip leash on. Stand up holding the leash with the door shut. Have the dog wait a few beats and when you go to open the door, if your dog tries to get out, shut the door again. Wait until your dog can settle a bit before inviting your dog to come out. This sets a tone for what you want, helps the dog relax faster and you can control any jumping, etc., easier. It’s about setting the dog up to succeed and help them regulate their emotions associated with your help.
- When going back IN the crate, you walk your pup up on leash, have dog sit, look at an open crate door, then tell them to go in. Don’t let them just rush in. Take the leash off and close door.
- If your dog is not crated, when you walk in ignore your dog until they settle some. Then grab the leash and wait again for them to settle. Just sit down and face away from them in some way. Then give the hand motion for sit, if you can without saying it and put leash on. Then calmly walk over to the door to let them out to potty in the same way mentioned above.
If you do this for a few days you will see a big turn around in their attention on you, valuing what you start to say and do. Then their listening skills will sharpen just with doing the above tweaks.
When dogs live in the home with us and our family, they get used to so much attention and much of it is asked for by the dog. We talk to our dogs a lot and it’s fun for us and the dog, but doesn’t help with the dogs ability to be without that attention or to just simply respect our requests in certain situations, like coming to us from the yard, etc. When you play hard to get for a few days, your importance of where you put your attention becomes meaningful and your dog will take notice.
If you do this challenge successfully and are surprised at the calmer and more attentive side you see in your dog, I hope it encourages you to find more ways to tap into that calmer side and inspire you to find a balance in the home of earning some attention and regulating excitement around key areas like thresholds in order to find more balance.
Why four days and not 1, 3 or 7?!
Many people will notice a difference in 24 hours, but it won’t have any affect on how the dog behaves outside and 4 days of this might.
Not three days because with this challenge I often see dogs get pushy and MORE demanding on day 2 and 3 wondering what is going on. They will even briefly challenge their owners more. 4 days the dog tends to move through that.
7 days I’m afraid people would find it too much work and you should see results quicker then that anyway.
A long term exercise to master in the home is place command. There are countless videos on how to teach place command with different training tools on YouTube, including my channel at Ruff Beginnings Rehab, but it’s simple and I encourage you to watch 4-5 different trainers teach it and start yourself. Work up to your dog being able to stay on a dog bed (that is place command) while you leave the room. This is a great tool to teach calm on command.