Anxious Fearful Dogs
Help Dogs With Anxiety and Fear
An anxious dog is apprehensive, of a perceived threat, or event with a negative association, through experience.
A dog could be anxious for a variety of reasons, or influenced by experiences unique to the individual. It may be related for example; to car journeys, being alone, other dogs on a walk, people, other stimuli, loud noises, places, adverse experience, major life events, lack of early experiences etc. The dog may, freeze, run away, or become aggressive. Repeated incidents will cause a dog to react faster, or hone its response.
A fearful dog may be aroused, tense, unsure, staring focused on the stimuli, perhaps hackles are raised, tail may be lower or down. Fear is an emotion that aids survival, by preparing for fight or flight. It activates the sympathetic nervous system. Heart rate breathing and secretion of nonadenaline, cortisol and adrenaline increases. When the threat occurs frequently, the dog begins to anticipate the threat and becomes aware of cues to the impending event. The dog feels anxious. Anxiety is more prolonged. A study by Tiira et al (2016) found that fearful dogs were more likely to be aggressive than non-fearful dogs. Fearful dogs and dogs suffering from separation anxiety tended also to be more noise sensitive. Tiira et al (2016).
In a study 14,000 dogs were evaluated for canine temperament. In the dogs within the study 72.5% exhibited one or more anxiety problem. The study found that roughly 30% of these dogs had sensitivity to sound. Some breed types were found to be more fearful or unsure of loud noises. Not all anxieties related to noise. Wu K ( 2018)
The anxiety level will relate to experience, frequency and intensity of the perceived threat. The dogs neurochemicals and sympathetic nervous system is ready for action. As repeated incidents may effect the dogs health, a vet should assess a dog that is anxious, or frequently fearful of an event, animate, or inanimate object, species, or other. The vet can medically diagnose and decide what and if clinical choices are appropriate adjunct to behaviour modification.
Treatment of fear and anxieties requires a thorough history analysis and a behaviour modification plan tailored to the individual dog. Triggers and all stimuli that evoke fear need to be identified. Management, safety and influencing the dogs behaviour in a non-confrontational way, with use of effective methods are part of the plan. Owners have an opportunity to learn what methods to avoid and what to do to influence their dogs behaviour. Changing the dogs behaviour will take owner dedication, consistency with the bespoke plan and progress in stages working at the dogs rate.
The dog behaviour anxiety, or fear problem is unlikely to go away if left. Indeed it can get worse. A clinical animal behaviourist can work with you and your dog to help.
Ref Wu K ( 2018) Most dogs show anxiety related behaviour, study shows. Smithsonian magazine. Available from smithsonianmag.org. Accessed 20/4/21.
Tiira et al (2016 )Prevalence, comorbidity and behavioural variation in canine anxiety. Journal of Veterinary Behaviour. Elsevier. Available from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1558787816300569. Accessed 20/4/21.