Top tips for anxious dogs
One of the best things about dogs is how much they love to be around us hoomans... but sometimes this means that they can’t bear to be apart from us either! New dogs, puppies and rescue dogs can all suffer from anxiety, we're here to show you how to help them through it.
Meet Tas. Tas is a rescue dog who is part Kelpie, part Staffy and part Cattle dog — a bundle of energy and eager to learn. Tas was 8 months old when he was adopted into his furever home, but found it almost impawssible to let his new parents out of his sight! When they went out for a few hours, he scratched the doors and barked out the window, desperate to get to them until they came home.
Every dog is different and there are different levels of separation anxiety, but these five training tips should be helpful to almost any dog.
Tip #1 - Exercise
The more tired your pooch is, the less anxious they will be! And I don’t just mean a walk, but a fast run, a chase with a doggy friend, a game of fetch or some tug-o-war. Even mental stimulation and practising basic commands will help tire out your pup.
We taught Tas how to play Tug-o-war — including how to ‘let go’, and to wait until told to ‘take it’. Then, it was soo much easier to teach him fetch, and these games are some of the best way to tire out even the most energetic of dogs. Now, his parents never leave him alone in the house until Tas has had a play or a walkies, and used up all of his excess energy first.
Tip #2 - Keep them busy.
Tas loves to chew on deer antlers, bones filled with marrow and tough toys with tasty bits of food hidden inside. The soccer treat ball is his favourite and he pushes it around the house until the very last treat is out.
Tip #3 - Desensitise your dog to your leaving routine.
Dogs are super smart and they pick up on all the little things we do as we’re about to leave the house. Randomly start putting on your shoes or coat and picking up your keys, even when you’re not going anywhere.
Tas’ anxiety kicked in when his parents went to the front door, so we asked him to ‘lie down’ on the rug and ‘stay’ while they kept going to the front door and back.
Next, they went outside the front door for a second, then 2 seconds, then 5 seconds, increasing the time gradually. Tas quickly learnt that just because his hoomans have gone out the front door it doesn’t mean they’re not coming back! He was rewarded pieces of chicken if he kept his position on the rug.
Tip #4 - Get your dog used to being on his own, even when you’re home.
If your dog can stay in a room on his own when you are home, he will be much more prepared for when you are not.
Tas was following his new mum everywhere, and even kept an eye on her in her study while she worked! We asked Tas to stay on his bed in the living room with a chew treat while she went in the study with the door shut. If Tas was still on his bed when his mum opened the door, he got scratches behind the ear, another tasty treat and told him what a good boy he is.
Tip #5 - Remain calm.
Sometimes we reward our dogs’ anxiety without meaning to! It’s best to stay calm whenever we leave or arrive home, so that our dog doesn’t see it as a big deal.
Tas used to get soo excited when his parents came back in the room, even after a few minutes, that he would jump up at them. Now, they walk past him and ignore him until he is completely calm, then they stroke him gently and tell him he’s a good boy… once all four paws are on the floor.
Tas is now getting really good at being in a room on his own, settling himself with his favourite chew toys, and he has even started taking himself into the garden for a good ol' sniff and dig. Using these top tips has really helped him to feel calmer, understand his environment, and most importantly, we're seeing more and more of his happy pawsonality. Keep that tail wagging Tas!
If you're lucky enough to live near beautiful Bondi and are looking for an excellent dog walker, you can get in touch with Karen (the lovely author of this article) here.