Helping to treat anxiety and fear in dogs.

June 25, 2016

 

Systematic desensitisation and counter conditioning technique

 

I find that one of the best ways to help your dog deal with their anxiety issues is to slowly desensitising them to the problem stimulus.

 

Systematic desensitisation and counter conditioning are two common treatments of behaviour that involves arousal or emotional reaction, such as anxiety, fear, phobias and aggression.  When the issue is a reaction to the way a dog feels about something, it is not enough to teach him an alternative behaviour, such as lay down instead of lunge bearing teeth, you need to change the way they feel about the stimulus.  This will help to eliminate the underlying reason for the behaviour.

Desensitisation and counter conditioning are usually done at the same time and can help all animals, including humans to overcome anxiety, fears and phobias.  They are very effective but also complex and time consuming.  They consist of patient training several times a day, in very small, carefully planned increments.  It can take several months for the results to be seen.

Initially in the desensitisation process, you need to start with a weak version of the stimulus that is causing the anxiety.  It must be small enough so the dog can stay fairly calm in its presence.  Then, get them to focus on you, by doing eye-contact commands or any simple obedience skill they have.

 

If they are able to focus on you and stay in-control, reward them with a top quality treat.  Something really smelly that they love and are kept for just such purposes.  This will get them to focus on the smell and engage their nose and distract them from the source of anxiety.

When they are comfortable with this and keeping calm when the stimulus is there, up the goal slightly and increase the stimulus in small increments, if they become too agitated, drop back a stage, rushing will only lengthen the final goal.

 

You must keep calm throughout the exercise and keep your voice calm and soothing. The aim is keep the sessions short and rewarding to teach your dog to associate their stimulus with something positive.

 

Keep a calm and predictable environment.

 

Dogs value routine.  They like to know what is happening and this will help to create a calmer environment for them.  Set a fixed routine, where and when you feed, play, go to the toilet, they will all help the dog to understand what is happening and reduce their anxiety and stress in everyday life.  Dogs pick up on the energy of the people around them.  It is important to stay calm no matter what is happening.

 

Calming Equipment

 

There are many tools out there to help calm your dog.  The are good as they require very little work from you, but must be used together with desensitisation and conditioning as used alone, they will only have minimal impact and very little if any long term results.

  1. Bach rescue remedy for anxiety (Pet)

This is a natural remedy and can have almost immediate effect with very positive results.Lavendar and other essential oils have proven to have very positive results.

 

  2. Calming Collar

 

They are placed on like a normal collar and can produce pheromones for up to 30 days.

 

  3. Thundershirt

 

These work with pressure and can help to make them feel secure as the coat wraps around them with pressure, this is not effective for all dogs though, but I do know some that have had very positive results.

 

  4. Calming Treats for Anxiety

 

There are various treats on the market to help.

 

  5. Dog Calming Music

 

Classical music has proven to calm dogs down in a way that other music does not.

 

  6. Medication

 

Do not use human medications for your dog.  Only get prescribed medication from your veterinary surgeon.  They should only ever be a short term solution and some can have lasting side effects so I only like to use these as a last resort.

 

My personal opinion

 

I feel that a little music never harmed anyone, so always put on the music, it helps prevent disturbance and fear as it is a white noise as well as calming them down.  I always put on a free dog music channel when I go out that I found through my smart TV, it has music for many circumstances and I even leave it on at night.   Having calming herbs around while you work with your dog at desensitising and counter conditioning will only boost the speed of the process, so get hippie and get the oils going. I also like to have a crate up for the very nervous chaps, open so that they can go in as they please, with a cover over the top and a comfy bed inside, this is then a no go area for anyone else, never drag them out and let them have their safety.  They should not be locked in the crate if the aim is to help with their anxiety though.

 

 

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