anxiety help

  • Guest Blogger: Sandy Robins & Dealing with Home Related Anxiety Issues

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    Take it away Sandy!

    There’s good reason why dogs are dubbed “man’s best friend”; they love and thrive on companionship and especially enjoy the company of their favorite people.

    That’s why there is always a sad look when you go out the door in the morning, leaving them home alone for a large part of their day.

    To this end, behaviorists often recommend getting a pal for your pet so that they have each other for company. Getting a dog walker to come in will give some focus to your pooch’s day too and so will arranging for him to go to doggy daycare. But often such alternatives aren’t always feasible for a variety of reasons including financial considerations.

    Pets left on their own can get very lonely and bored. Some even suffer from separation anxiety and stress. All this leads to a variety of behavior issues such as excessive and continual barking and clawing -- the latter often being to the detriment of the front door!

    Chewing is another behavior, which can result from stress and anxiety as well as boredom. Often it’s not specific to that new chew toy you just purchased but directed at furniture such as the leg of the dining room table, with the dining chairs earmarked to be tackled next! Not to mention personal effects such as clothing, socks and shoes and even the iPad that may inadvertently have been left lying around.

    If you had a video cam set up, you would probably also see your dog also anxiously pacing up and down, and trembling while looking hopefully out of the window and, possibly, even eliminating on your favorite rug. And he could even start self-mutilating himself by pulling out chunks of fur and chewing himself raw in places.

    It’s really important for pet parents to understand that none of these behaviors are out of defiance or naughtiness. It all comes back to boredom, loneliness and stress.

    If you can’t change his environment, the answer to relieving stress and anxiety could a simple as getting him a ThunderShirt to wear while home alone.

    The ThunderShirt already has a proven record dealing with weather-related issues and loud noises that scare pets such as fireworks. And, the swaddling principle upon which it is based, works very well to relieve symptoms of stress and anxiety in the home environment too.

    The new ThunderSpray available for both dogs and cats also has a calming effect by mimicking a canine or feline mother’s natural pheromones and also contains lavender and chamomile, which are natural calming agents.  It’s a good idea to use in conjunction with the shirt by simply spraying a single burst on the neck of the shirt. It can also be used to spray inside a crate or on a dog bed (as well as in a car). The calming pheromones and fragrances will continue to release for an extended period and the liquid will dry stain-free.

    Very often stress and anxiety is exacerbated by loneliness and boredom. It's a great idea to take your dog for a really long walk in the mornings before you go off to work, so that when you do leave for the day, he’s been tired out and will be only too happy to snooze for part of the time he is home alone.  But it’s equally important to see that you ensure he has toys apart from just a chew toys to keep him engaged. He may like a nice comfort toy to carry around the house and sleep with too.

    There are wonderful dog puzzles available in different degrees of difficulty. It's a really good idea to use them as a feeder instead of leaving food in a regular bowl. This way your dog will have to work for his meal and, doing so, this is a great way to occupy his time. The ThunderToy is a stuffable chew toy that can be filled with food, or yummy treats such as ThunderTreats, which fit perfectly into the toy. This is a great combo to further help calm and distract stressed or anxious dogs.

    Leaving a TV on with a channel such as Animal Planet is something a lot of pets enjoy. Even a channel featuring soapies such as The Bold and the Beautiful and General Hospital will work because of the different voices that keep the drama going on screen and help to avoid it at home.

  • Guest Blogger: Mikkel Becker

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    We’re thrilled to welcome back well-known and respected pet behavior and training expert, and Vetstreet.com contributor, Mikkel Becker on our blog today! She’s talking separation anxiety in our pets… Take it away, Mikkel!

    Countless canines become anxious when left alone. Stress upon separation spans from mild anxiety to an extreme state of panic. Whenever a dog is anxious at separation, it’s important to address the issue immediately, starting with a visit to your veterinarian. Stress upon separation rarely goes away without intervention, but more often, escalates over time. Caretakers of dogs who are anxious when left alone, find that normal tasks, like going to work or going out on a date, are difficult to impossible. The situation can become so severe the dog causes serious harm to themselves or to the home. Even for dogs who internalize stress, the state they are in emotionally is damaging long term to their health and affects their ability to cope with everyday stressors.

    There are numerous indicators of a dog nervous with separation. Signs can include excess salivation, panting, hyper vigilance, whining, barking, acute anorexia, pacing and inability to settle. Anxiety can amplify to the point of self-injury where the dog causes themselves serious harm as they attempt to claw, bite and jump out of exit points. The household also suffers devastation. Doors, crates and windows can be damaged as the dog attempts to flee, while household items like couches can be ravaged from anxious chewing. Dogs become so nervous they may even lose control of bodily functions and have accidents in the home.

    Dogs in this panicked state are literally helpless at their own behavior. Dogs don’t do these destructive behaviors out of spite as a way to teach their person a lesson for leaving them. Instead, their behavior stems from a root emotion of fear. To change the behavior, the root emotion must be changed.

    In my profession as an animal trainer working in conjunction with numerous veterinarians, including my father, Dr. Marty Becker, I help address separation anxiety on a regular basis. Separation anxiety is one of the most common behavior problems in dogs, with 20-40% of dogs reported as having the condition.

    Thankfully, with the right combination of training, environmental modification and veterinary intervention, separation anxiety can be decreased or eliminated. Whether a dog is only moderately nervous or in an all-out panic, it’s important to take the necessary steps to help a dog overcome their distress when left alone.

    Keep in mind, before training begins, it’s important to train under the supervision of a veterinarian who can rule out any medical conditions contributing to behavior and properly diagnose separation anxiety if needed.

    As an animal trainer, I want to share with you several of my top tips for addressing separation anxiety. The training is also helpful as a preventive tool against the development of separation anxiety.

     

    1. Use a ThunderShirt. One of my favorite tools in my training arsenal is the ThunderShirt. Regardless of the size or breed of the dog, the ThunderShirt works on about 80% of dogs. Even without any training, the ThunderShirt drastically reduces anxiety with near immediate results. The ThunderShirt works to non-invasively calm dogs in a similar manner to swaddling a baby.

    2. Many dogs dislike being crated, and some of their panic may stem from being shut in an enclosed area. If your dog dislikes the containment aspect of separation, find a more open area of the home to leave your pooch in that’s doggy proofed. The area of the home should have windows, as dogs feel less enclosed when windows are present. If you have a secure fence and your canine is not an escape artist or incessant barker when separated, consider allowing access the outdoors. By opening up the dog’s area, canines are less likely to feel trapped, and may relax as a result.

    3. When you leave and when you come back, keep attention on the dog as minimal as possible. A simple, non-emotional goodbye or greeting will do, rather than hugs, kisses and emotional words. The more calm and nonchalant the greetings, the less worked up the dog will get. When you return, wait five minutes or until the dog calmly settles into a relaxed sit or down, before acknowledging.

    4. Reduce departure cues. Throughout the day, even on weekends, randomly put on your shoes, pick up the keys, turn on the car, open the garage and do other cues that may signal you’re leaving. Often dogs become anxious even upon the perception of these cues, because they signal you’re leaving. However, if you do these cues with the end result being you still stay home, the cue loses its meaning.

    5. Train your dog to enjoy time alone in their own area. Put the dog in a certain area of the home, like an xpen, or tether the dog with a leash and harness next to a comfortable area, like a dog bed. Place food puzzles or long lasting chews in these areas for the dog to nibble on. To begin with, sit a few feet away and get the dog comfortable with just a short distance separation. The training can be made more challenging later by giving the food item and leaving to go into another room or going outside. Return to the dog before they finish eating their food reward. The idea is to have separation happen with associated pleasurable rewards and at a pace the dog can remain relaxed at. Play classical music during separation, proven to calm pets, to further promote relaxation.

    6. Protect your pet. During training, management techniques like sending the dog to doggy daycare or a dog sitter during inevitable long departures is helpful. In some cases, medication from your veterinarian added in combination with training, will provide especially anxious pets with the best chance of recovery.

  • Guest Blogger: Mikkel Becker!

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    We’re thrilled that well-known and respected pet behavior and training expert, and Vetstreet.com contributor, Mikkel Becker is here to share her advice on how to best prevent and treat pet anxiety related to the upcoming 4th of July festivities! Take it away, Mikkel!

    Fireworks are exciting to many people, but our dogs see them differently. The sight and sound of the patriotic displays we love terrify our dogs. They seem like an attack, an experience so frightful that days around the Fourth of July are the ones most likely to lose a dog, as they run away in terror.

    It makes sense from a survival standpoint for a dog to react fearfully to fireworks, because in the natural world, loud bangs and flashes of light may signal a life-threatening situation animals need to avert in order to stay alive.  The fear they experience is obvious:  Our dogs will be shaking, trembling, panting, pacing, drooling, hiding, running away, attempting to escape, whining and vocalizing.

    When dogs are afraid, they can injure themselves when attempting to escape. The people around a terrified dog are also at risk, because a scared dog is more likely to bite defensively.

    Stress and the body’s reaction to it has damaging effects when experienced over prolonged periods of time, damaging the immune system and making the body more susceptible to disease.  Stress also decreases reproductive hormones, increasing a dog’s risk of cardiovascular disease. (http://www.livescience.com/2967-animals-stressed.html)

    I know firsthand how horrific fear can be.  When I was a young girl I was afraid of air travel, so much so that I would have panic attacks both in the days leading up to travel and during plane trips. Family and friends would attempt to get me to understand that my fear had little basis, but their words didn’t help.  At the time I had flown to more than 48 countries safely, but I was still afraid.  That fear is similar to what many dogs go through: They experience fireworks displays with no real harm done, but the fear remains. Although we may believe that our pets’ fear of fireworks lacks reason, to the dog, the situation is very real.

    These dogs are in a state of distress.

    To overcome my fear of airplanes and get to the confident state I’m in now as a frequent flyer, I worked to change the way I viewed plane trips, as well as incorporating calming techniques to relax myself during flights. Today as a dog trainer, I help dogs overcome the fear that feels very real to them by changing their perspective and using calming techniques.

    If your pet experiences fear around the Fourth of July, there are some practical ways you can decrease your pet’s panic and help him or her relax. The right training will not only keep your pet safe during the days around the holiday, but will also boost your pet’s quality of life and promote the bonding between you and your pet.

    The top recommendation I give to clients with anxious pets is to use the ThunderShirt, a pressure wrap that’s a non-invasive, natural way to calm pets.  The ThunderShirt is the top anxiety-reducer recommended to pets at the North Idaho Animal Hospital, where I teach training classes. I’ve seen the dramatic difference in dogs and cats on many occasions. Pressure wraps are calming to pets. Just as swaddling a baby or giving a tight hug to a close friend is comforting, pets are similarly comforted by pressure hugs. Dogs respond amazingly well to the gentle pressure the ThunderShirt provides. The ThunderShirt works on 80 percent of dogs. (And if it doesn’t work, as I remind my clients, there’s no harm done to your dog or your wallet, since ThunderShirt offers a money-back guarantee.)

    The ThunderShirt provides immediate relief. I’ve watched time and time again as dog’s whole body relaxes and outward symptoms of anxiety, such as trembling and panting, decrease shortly after the ThunderShirt is on. For best results, I have clients use the ThunderShirt at the onset of stress, such as when the pet first hears fireworks in the distance. The faster fear is addressed and comfort is applied, the less panic a pet will face. But even if the pet is already in a full blown anxiety response when an unforeseeable event occurs, such as when a surprise crackling and bangs when fireworks next door suddenly set off, the ThunderShirt will still do its job and calm the pet at whatever stage of anxiety they are in. The ThunderShirt also works for other stress evoking situations, such as trips to the veterinarian, car rides and thunderstorms.

    In addition to the ThunderShirt, there are training tactics that can help pets remain stress-free during the season of fireworks and thunderstorms. One of the best tactics is to prove your pet with a comforting den-like hideout they can retreat to when fireworks are being set off. When pets are in a panic, many seek out a place of refuge to hide in. Closets and bathrooms make ideal hiding areas, because they’re smaller in size and usually dark. Make these areas as comfortable as possible; giving the pet blankets and even hiding areas inside, such as their regular crate or a chair with a blanket draped over the top for them to hide under. Keep the windows of the area and surrounding rooms closed to prevent the pet from catching the flashes of light that accompanies the sounds of fireworks or storms.

    Drowning out the sound of fireworks is another helpful tactic. Classical music has been shown to be naturally calming for dogs. Play it loud enough to make the crashes of fireworks less abrupt and to drown out some of the background noise.

    You can also change your pet’s perception of the fireworks to make the noise symbolic of the onset of something pleasurable happening. Depending upon the dog, a food puzzle, a trick training session, fetch or a structured game of tug are all ways to change your pet’s association of the fireworks. Changing your pets focus, such as getting them to work towards getting food or engaging in play, changes their focus from fear to food acquisition and food. One trick I’ve used with my parent’s dog, Quixote, is to howl with him. The act of getting your dog to vocalize in a socially facilitated situation of howling along with a person immediately changes a pet’s focus. The more the pet associates fireworks with something they enjoy, the more relaxed the pet will be.

    Pets should never be left in an area where they can escape or injure themselves when the fireworks are happening. Unattended canines must be left in a doggy proofed area, such as a crate or enclosed area in their hideaway den when left alone. For dogs with a history of escape or panic when left alone, use constant supervision during fireworks season or leave them with a professional, such as a pet sitter, who can provide the comforting techniques to calm your pet while you’re away.

    When taking your pet outside to potty or when going out on walks on the days surrounding Independence Day, keep your pet on a leash or a long line to prevent escape and subsequent harm. Pets can be walked and taken outside with their ThunderShirt to make outings less frightening even with fireworks around. Exercise provides an outlet to channel excess energy in dogs; it also releases calming endorphins. If you use a regular flat collar, you may opt for a martingale type instead that tightens on the neck without choking the dog to prevent the animal from backing out of the collar on walks if startled. For pets who react to the sight of fireworks, consider using a  ThunderCap, which reduces the visual stimuli, making it less frightening.

    The Fourth of July doesn’t have to be a frightening experience for your pet. You can keep them safe and calm by using training tips, providing a safe and secure hideaway, and using the natural action of the ThunderShirt to calm your pet.

    -Mikkel Becker

    Mikkel Becker Low-Res

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