Oftentimes, we have dogs stay with us that suffer from Anxiety in one form or another. In lieu of this, we get asked what our protocol is for helping these animals overcome their anxiety when they’re staying with us so we thought we would address this question and let you know what steps we take to create a calm, balanced environment for them.
First, it’s important to note that each and every dog is different; they don’t all respond to the exact same protocol for establishing a calm, secure state but majority of them do. And, in some severe cases, our methods only substantially ease the anxiety (referring to cases where the dog is more than likely “clinically” anxious), not completely remove it.
Secondly, this article refers to dogs that are not “red” cases; they do not have a bite history as we do not board or provide daycare for dogs suffering from Dog or Fear Aggression.
Quick tip: It doesn’t matter if you know the background of the dog (referring to rescues predominantly here in this statement) or not. You treat the symptoms and what you do know—always moving forward.
The following is a pretty standard set of principles that we follow for the first 24-hours that a dog is with us who is suffering from severe anxiety (Separation Anxiety or otherwise). Usually in these cases, there are elements of fear also mixed in with the anxiety symptoms, i.e., trying to back out of their collar, sitting by the front door while shaking, and running in the backyard while looking for a way out.
Always establish trust and leadership
The dog is tethered to one of us for the majority of the 24-hours. Where the person goes, the dog goes. However, the dog never leads the person. The person is always in charge of the dog and leading the dog as its leader, correcting any anxious body language (before it has the chance to escalate to a more noticeable level such as whining, pacing, etc.).
An emphasis is put on plenty of exercise from the structured leash walk that meets the energy level and physical condition of the dog to breed exercises (before and/or after the walk). Draining the physical energy greatly enables the dog to psychologically calm down and ultimately hear you; they no longer have so much pent-up energy which causes frustration for them (think of how you get when you get “cabin fever”…same analogy here 😉
Establish Rules and Boundaries
This must be done immediately (while they’re tethered with us) and consistently enforced. For example, the dog is given a job and is always working on some physical and psychological level. This is one of the “rules”. You will earn play time, or you will earn food…everything is earned, i.e., the dogs sit calmly before their food dish is put down.
Power of the Pack
Dogs are the best teachers! Having other balanced dogs around, helps achieve balance for the unbalanced ones. As a pack, we give them commands to follow such as “sit”, “down”, “stay”, etc. Just reinforcing these simple commands keeps their attention on us as their leader, further establishes leadership with them, and aids in draining energy or negative feelings (anxiety, frustration, fear).
These few steps are involved and require a lot of patience and time. However, this area is usually where we shine and exactly why people choose to bring their dog to us for our style of boarding or daycare. It’s also important to note that due to the amount of one-on-one attention some dogs may need, we only take one “hard case” at a time.