If you are living with an anxious, hyper or nervous dog, I get you, I lived (sometimes still live) it. But, there is hope and these dogs CAN learn to be calm. In this article I will give you some tips on how I have achieved it with my own personal high anxiety dog.
All of these dogs, no matter which genre they belong to, have something in common in their energy. Sometimes you wish you could just tell them to shut up or (insert curse word here) or other things and you think this dog will never ever be calm and able to just lay there without following you around, whining or hovering around the house.
But believe me...there is hope!
If you don’t know him ye, let me introduce you to Taz, one of my own dogs and bare with me while I tell you a little of his story…
The very first time I met Taz, he was probably 8 months old and just put up for adoption at the shelter. At that point he was called Elton (yes, I know LOL). I was volunteering for the shelter and brought him to an adoption event. I quickly realized that this dog has a lot of energy, but also a lot of potential, a really really smart cookie he was and still is. I was so impressed, I never forgot about him. But, right then, I wasn’t ready for another dog. So time went by and I took him for a walk a couple of times wondering why nobody wants this dog.
Well actually, I did know why... He was a typical “shelter” dog (a Pit Bull mix too) with no manners ... noooo manners! Jumping, nipping, pulling, barking, whining, mouthing you name it. After only a short time, Elton started to literally go nuts in the shelter, he wasn’t made for confinement (well no dog is, but he had a really hard time). He started to jump the walls for hours and hours a day in the shelter to release his anxiety and eventually it became an OCD behaviour. I’m not exaggerating... If you put him in his kennel and closed the door, the jumping started until you opened it to take him out and he was absolutely exhausted from all the jumping (Silly me deleted the video I had of him doing it). Seeing that great potential in him, it broke my heart… But again, I wasn’t ready for another dog but always admired his potential to be an awesome dog for somebody that enjoys a dog with energy and wants to do something with him. Trying to help him in other ways I could, I offered a complete free training program for him! But still, nobody was interested. People called to get the training package, but not with him.
A few months went by (4 actually) I was busy working on my own education and hadn’t been at the shelter for a while and didn’t know if he was still there or not. Just after I completed another dog training seminar, I decided that I have dragged my lazy Bull Terrier Durian through enough training (which was mainly for my learning experience rather than for her) and it’s time for a second dog. I knew that if I want a second dog now, Elton it would be if he was still available. It was important to me to get the right dog, not just a “project” dog or just A dog for any emotional reasons, it has to be THE dog. I contacted the shelter to inquire and yep, poor guy was still there....still jumping the walls....and with only getting worse, they were close to euthanizing him as it just was very bad for his mental health.
Well, I did pick him up kind of knowing what I got myself into (well a couple things I didn’t fully know…read below), and I knew how to approach this in a way that it won’t change his goofy, full of life energy that is ready to work but will help him be a more stable balanced dog that can exist in this world without constant anxiety attacks.
So before we move on, let’s see what his problem behaviours were when I got him:
Extreme mouthing (never hard, but this was one major way to release his anxiety)
Not house broken
Strong Separation Anxiety (anxiety is one of my general pet peeves…I don’t like whiny anxious dogs, I like quite dogs!)
Resource guarding towards my other dog
Leash Reactivity (Never with bad intentions, rather the opposite and based on frustration)
High Prey Drive
High, high energy
... I hope I didn’t forget anything
This all basically it screams ANXIETY!
Training started the second we walked out of the shelter. Commands are no biggie for Taz, he’s a smart cookie, what he needed help with mostly, was general life skills. Skills to exist in a man made world.
While I could tell you lots on how we solved each individual of Taz’s problems, it would take way to long, rather I want to help you understand that there is help for the high anxious dogs who you think can never calm down.
So the most important things for him to learn were impulse control, to control his own feelings and actions and to self sooth and to learn to be calm (sound like teaching some kid life skills hey!)
So how did we start out with this, how did we help Taz become a more balanced dog inside and out?
There are a few ways to approach this but what was most important for him was structure, not routine!, structure! Clear expectations and boundaries in life.
A few of my main rules for any dog to live with me are:
No rough play in the house (house is quite time; the fun happens outside). By allowing rough play in the house you allow anxious behaviours in the house and open up a window for your dog to display anxious behaviours everywhere. Anxious dogs need times to rest their brains (all dogs do obviously). But if they never have a place where they HAVE to relax, the anxiety just builds and builds and builds. So expect calmness in the house from your dog
No leash pulling (a leash pulling dog always experiences some sort of anxiety or stress through the tension the leash pulling creates in not only his but also your body.
No jumping at people (dogs that generally learned that jumping is not acceptable only jump out of excitement which equals stress/anxiety)
No mouthing of any kind (mouthing again often happens because the dog experiences anxiety and he needs to learn to redirect his anxiety in a more appropriate way)
No door bolting (teaching the dog to respect thresholds can create a calmer state of mind when entering new environments)
Crate training (learning to be calm in a crate. Dogs that are allowed to roam free in the house unsupervised are more likely to work up their anxiety level)
Good obedience (learning impulse control and to redirect the anxiety)
With these simple rules, and by enforcing them 100% at all the times, I made the world much clearer for Taz. By learning these things, I took a lot of worry of him. Inconsistency is a deal breaker for these dogs. If sometimes they are allowed to pull on the leash, or to jump on people, and other days they might get yelled at for it, they get super confused (as most dogs do but for anxious dogs it has more impact) and it creates additional stress on top of everything which increases the anxiety and as well all the unwanted behaviours.
Over time, with different exercises Taz eventually learned to make the proper decision to self sooth him and control many of his behaviours. It is pretty impressive when you see dogs starting to make decisions on their own to have less stress in life simply because they know right from wrong.
Here are a few tips on how can you help your nervous or anxious dog deal better in daily life:
Focus on structure and clarity. Set boundaries and expectations that you enforce 100%
Focus on calm behaviour in the house but also in general
Focus on Impulse control (teach your dogs things like “Leave It”, Long Stay commands, or to balance a cookie on their nose etc)
Structured walks (daily brisk on leash walks that are controlled, no sniffing, no pulling just a walk with you. This is a short mental workout for your dog. We recommend at least 1 structured walk a day of 30 mins in addition to other physical exercise)
Teach a solid place command or conditioned relaxation to set the ability to relax on cue
Exercise! Mental and physical….High energy or highly anxious dogs need and outlet. Get a tread mill if you need to and tread mill train your dog for those cold rainy days to ensure your dog does get his needed exercise.
Give them a job (make them work for their food, enroll them in dog sports, play mental games with them etc.)
Believe me when I say that in the beginning first Taz almost drove me crazy with his restlessness and anxiety (though he had enough exercise). He just missed the most important life skill; knowing how to self soothe and calm down by making decisions. If you want your dog to be prepared for this world and more even so “our needs”, they need to learn how to handle their anxiety by them self.
Taz has come a long way in the almost 2 years I’ve had him but still has ways to go as he still struggles with anxiety in new environments. While he will always be his crazy wiggly self that I love about him, he will also knock it off when needed. Dog’s that have high anxiety sometimes need somebody to tell them enough is enough. Taz will never be perfect, he doesn’t have to be, and he knows where to look for guidance if he needs help.
Dogs don’t’ want to be crazy or anxious etc. they are not happy when they are in their anxious state of mind, they need you to teach them life skills. A calm dog is a happy dog!
If you say, I tried it, I really did but it’s not working, I don’t know how to calm my dog down...you probably haven’t tried the right things yet. Contact a professional to help you and your dog have a better and calmer life together by giving your dog the help he needs to exist calmly in this crazy world.
Below is a client testimonial from Tess' owner. Tess WAS an out of control Jack Russel. While her general anxiety was moderate, she was a typical Jack Russel full of energy but she didn’t know where to put her energy and she drove her owners a little bit nuts and probably herself too. After our training, she has become a super great dog. If you need help, feel free to contact us and find out how we can help you.
About the author:
Simone Krebser - CPDT: Owner and head dog trainer of K9 Possible Dog Training serving the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia from Osoyoos to Penticton and Kelowna with result based dog training. Certified dog trainer, certified pet first aid instructor, member of the IACP, dog crazy and chocolate/cheese addict. “My life revolves around dog’s day in and out and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It is my goal to help enhance the lives of as many dogs (and their owners) as possible. Your dog is my priority and I’m as committed to your dog as you are. But I can only help those who sincerely want to help their dogs and not only themselves.”