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What Are the Root Causes of Fear and Anxiety in Pets?

So many factors contribute to our pets’ ability to cope with stress and how sensitive they might be! Any of the following can effect your dog or cat’s responses to the world:

  • Genetics: DNA can exert a lot of influence on behavior, and there’s some evidence that fear and anxiety are heritable. Whether their parents were fearful/anxious themselves, or not, your dog’s genetics can make them more or less prone to being fearful themselves.
  • Early puppyhood: Your dog’s experiences before and during their very early puppyhood can have lasting impacts on their ability to cope with stress as adults. Puppies who had healthy, attentive mothers are likely to be better able to cope well with stress as adults. Puppies whose mothers were stressed or sick themselves, or whose mothers had a difficult time licking/nursing the pups, or who were separated early, may be less resilient to stress as adults. The socialization period in dogs begins at about 3 weeks old, and lasts until about 12-14 weeks. Even experiences they had that early can have lasting impacts!

  • Past experiences: This is the “nurture” part of “nature and nurture”. Your pet may have become anxious or fearful after just one traumatic event, or multiple stressful events.

  • Physical health: Pain and health conditions can make some behaviors worse or even cause them. (If you’re in pain, you’re already stressed!) Even once a dog is healthy again, and the pain is gone, they can still be anxious because of the past pain. (For example, a dog with a terrible ear infection experiences pain when their person rubs their ear. Weeks later when they are healed, they still get upset about someone reaching for their ear because their brain remembers the pain associated with that action!)

 

What Does a Behavior Plan for Fear and Anxiety Look Like?

  1. Manage your dog’s world to prevent or reduce practice of the unwanted feelings and behaviors. Most often, this means avoiding trigger situations whenever possible, or using a gate/leash/door/crate/visual barrier to safely separate your pet from whatever they are afraid of.
  2. Teach your dog their Training and Behavior Games (Like the 123 Game and Mat Game) at home, away from triggers. Most dogs need 2 to 3 weeks of practice doing these without triggers before we go to the next step.
  3. Practice Set Ups for Success around your dog’s triggers. You’ll be using your Management and Behavior Games, which is why you both need to get good at them first, before doing them around triggers.

While you’re training, it’s also important to:

  • Address any health concerns that might be affecting your dog’s behaviors.
  • Talk to your vet about behavior medications or supplements if you think that your dog might benefit from these.
  • Meet your dogs’ daily needs through enrichment and exercise.
  • Remember, your dog needs to go to Middle and High School before he can do College level work. (Check out our short article on Training Steps!)

 

What Does Success Look Like?

Clear improvement in your dog’s anxiety and fear, and way less stress for you both! This can mean:

  • Your dog is able to be around their triggers and stay calm much more often. (Reactions become the exception, rather than the usual!)
  • Your dog can get noticeably closer to their triggers without a negative reaction.
  • Your dog recovers faster and easier after they experience a trigger.
  • You feel more confident about reading your dog’s body language and what to do when things go right, as well as how to help when it’s too much for your pup.

If you haven’t already, please check out these two short articles that can help you better understand what to expect:

Behavior Program Expectations

How much will my dog improve?

 

What Do I Need to Do?

We’ll give you the tools and know-how to help your dog. Your role for your dog is:
  1. To carry out the behavior plan. While we wish we could wave a magic wand and help your dog just within our sessions, behavior change takes time and practice. Your dog’s behaviors won’t change unless your behaviors do. And they won’t be consistent unless you are. We’ll help you find ways to maximize your success and fit training into your lifestyle.
  2. To let us know if you have questions, concerns, or struggles. We want more joy and less stress for both you and your dog! Email us so we can help you both out ASAP 🙂 Timely, honest communication helps us do our best for you.
We’re here to help you succeed, and we’re always rooting for you and your dog!