Max's Story - Dealing with Anxiety in My Pet
by Melissa Gabor, Wagging Tails Dog Services
For a dog with separation anxiety, being left alone, even for short periods of time creates high levels of stress. My dog Max suffers from this condition. I had not realized that this was not a normal response until I got my second dog, who happily curls up in his chair when I am leaving the house. Max, on the other hand, tries to escape and join me in my departure. For Max, anxiety with being left alone escalated and became much more generalized. He became anxious out in the backyard. He would race frantically to the door, unable to stay outside by himself, whimpering, with his tail between his legs. No amount of reassurance would sooth him. Out of desperation, Max was put on an anti-anxiety medication by the vet, which lessoned the anxiety, but did not stop the problem.
My vet suggested taking him to a canine behavourist, who found that there were two issues. Max had been taken away from his mother at too early of an age (a reputable breeder begins the socialization process with a focus on creating a socially and psychologically sound dog.
And second, Max was confused about his role in the pack hierarchy. This caused further anxiety. I was inconsistent with Max. Sometimes I would enforce rules, such as no jumping or biting, and other times I would permit Max to engage in these behaviours. For any dog, inconsistency is very confusing. Along with this, I would fuss over Max before leaving and when coming home. This led Max to associate being left as a big event, which was stressful for him. In obtaining treatment for Max's behaviour, I needed to learn how to become the pack leader. By being consistent and setting realistic expectations, Max began to feel safe and secure.
I also learned that every dog needs a job, which increased his level of self-confidence. Even when feeding Max, giving him a treat or letting him outside, I always use training commands, such as having him sit, shake a paw or lie down (a side benefit: I ended up with a well-mannered dog!). I also researched into his breed, in order to understand my dog and his interests. Max is a Terrier. Terriers were historically used to hunt vermin. For Max, fetching is his great joy in life. When playing fetch, I always praise him for getting the stick and bringing it back. As such, Max has developed great confidence. He now feels like an important member of my pack.
In summary, by providing structure and consistency for Max, I was able to lesson his anxiety. I learned that there are no quick and easy solutions to anxiety. Patience, understanding and a change in my own behaviour have led my dog down the road to recovery.