This is Muffin, a gorgeous cattle dog. I have been lucky enough to care for Muffin for the last 2 months. Muffin is a loving, happy dog. She is LOVES her food and she’s super intelligent and knows so many tricks! Unfortunately, she can be quite anxious and fearful at times. As she is a rescue dog, we don't know her background, but it is likely that she has been through some trauma as a puppy, which has influenced this behaviour.
Signs that your dog is anxious may be obvious such as shaking or crying. However, some dogs will display more subtle signs of anxiety:
• A 'crouching' posture
• Refusal or reluctance to make eye contact
• Pacing or other repetitive behaviours (eg. chewing or licking)
• Licking their lips
• Incessant barking or constantly barking after stimulus (eg. a knock at the door)
It is important to differentiate anxious behaviour from bad behaviour. Many pet-owners mistake anxious behaviour such as barking when someone is at the door, for bad behaviour. In cases where your dog may have anxiety, punishment-based training is unhelpful and may, in fact, increase anxious behaviours.
If you suspect that your dog may be suffering from anxiety, a consultation with your veterinarian and other professionals such as behavioural trainers, are a great starting point to reducing the severity and frequency of anxiety related behaviours in your pet.
There are many over-the-counter products that may be helpful in reducing the severity of anxiety
Adaptil is a synthetic pheromone, based on the pheromones released by a mother to her new puppies, which has been scientifically proven to help calm dogs. The Adaptil comes in several forms:
• A spray, which can be used as required.
• A diffuser which runs constantly and ensures levels of calming pheromones are present in your dog's environment constantly.
• An Adaptil collar onto which you can apply a spray, to accompany your dog throughout all their explorations.
As Muffin has experienced severe anxiety, she requires daily medications to improve her quality of life. However, there are many environmental and behavioural things we can do to help her as well. As Muffin is such an intelligent dog, environmental enrichment is extremely important. Her parents don't feed her through the conventional way, instead, hiding her food in toys, slow feeders and snuffle mats to keep her entertained. KONG has many options like these available which can help to distract your nervous pooch in your absence, aiding in reducing separation anxiety. We can even visit for a KONG Konsult to help you understand the range and get you the right toys for your pets behaviours.
Part of my job is to help Muffin get used to new people and experiences through exposure-therapy. We started my visits off really slowly. It was important to take things at Muffin's pace so that she did not get overwhelmed. There are lots of things you can do to make a nervous dog comfortable. Only approach a nervous dog when it is safe. If the dog would like distance or to hide away, let them hide! They may need some time to get used to you. This may happen quickly for some dogs and may take longer for others. The important thing is to be patient.
Below are a few hints to help:
• Get down on their level. I sat on the floor with Muffin as she got used to me. This meant that I wasn't seen as large and intimidating.
• Let them come to you. Don't try to pat a dog that is backing away from you! Hold out your hand for the dog to sniff. If they push their head towards your hand for a scratch, that’s great! If they are not comfortable, that's ok!
• Make sure they know where you are and what you’re doing so there are no surprises. Stand up slowly and try not to make any sudden movements.
• Each dog will have individual triggers which may frighten them. Even after Muffin was comfortable around me, I was careful not to step over her or raise objects above her and when playing fetch. Instead, I threw the ball in an underhand motion to be less threatening.
• Most importantly, be patient. Earning an anxious dog's trust can take a lot of time, but its worth it! Unfortunately, there is no easy solution to anxiety in dogs and every dog will have different requirements. There are lots of products out there which can aid your nervous dog. If you are concerned, book a consultation with your vet or behavioural trainer. Your pooch will thank you!
I have really enjoyed working with Muffin. Managing her anxiety will be an ongoing exercise, but Mum and Dad are working really hard and have endless patience and love for her. I will continue to visit and care for Muffin and I look forward to watching her grow.
*photo credit @team_muffinqf - give her a follow.