Anxiety in dogs 

Article written by Schooling 4 Dogs 

Schooling 4 Dogs & Humans are a training and behaviour company with venues across Sussex and we are here to help you and your dogs build strong and successful relationships so you can always feel confident and competent when you are out together.

Anxiety is a feeling of nervous apprehension, which can vary from mild to severe. Anxious dogs are expecting something bad to happen. Anxiety in dogs can have many causes, including genetics, epigenetics, stressed mothers, illnesses at a young age, inappropriate or limited socialisation, negative experiences during fear periods, trauma as an adult. With anxious dogs, regardless of what, how and when, it is important to remember that there is never a quick fix for anxiety. It is always advisable to get professional help so that the problem doesn’t escalate over time. 

Think back to something you are scared of, or a bad experience you have had in the past. Did you just get over it quickly? Neither will your dog. Furthermore, a dog is an individual and, just like humans, you can only change their behaviour so far. They are constrained by their own personalities, experiences, development and genetics and certain behaviours will need management rather than modification. We need to respect the dogs we have and bear in mind that it generally takes a minimum of 3 months to successfully modify behaviour using positive and scientifically based methods. Anything that seems like a quick fix at the time will have merely suppressed the dog’s behaviour. Quick fixes work by producing enough of a punishment that the dog may stop the behaviour in the meantime, but this does nothing to change the underlying emotions. ‘Quick fixes’ rarely work in the long run and can damage your relationship with your dog. 

Rescue dogs are a great example of how we can create or escalate problems of anxiety. When we first bring a new dog home, the dog will likely be very stressed. Everything has changed in that dog’s world: new home, new people, new noises, smells, routine, etc. It can take a dog well over 3 months to fully decompress in a new home, but often much longer. We advise always taking things very slowly, otherwise we risk piling stress on top of stress and creating long term problems. We recommend not taking the dog out on walks for the first few weeks. Instead spend that time at home, building a trusting relationship and bond, so that when you face potentially frightening things out on your first walk, the dog has comfort and security being with you. There is nothing worse than being stuck in a terrifying situation with someone you do not know or trust, in an environment that is unfamiliar! Building a secure bond and making sure your new dog knows some basic commands, such as recall, how to walk on a lead and focus on you, can make all the difference on those first few walks together in the big wide world. 

Anxiety isn’t restricted to rescue dogs – any dog can suffer from anxiety. It is important to never force dogs into situations that cause them fear, as this will only escalate the problem. Instead, work with a professional who can show you how to use Counter Conditioning and Desensitisation to slowly help your dog gain confidence and overcome those anxieties at his or her own pace. 

If you have any concerns about your dog’s behaviour, no matter how small or minor they may seem at the time, you should contact a qualified professional sooner rather than later. It is much easier to change a behaviour in the early days, before it has become a habit.