HomeDog TrainingAnxiety in Your Dog

Sometimes no matter how well you treat your dog they develop a bit of a neurotic personality.  Occasionally it can be a full blown case and the dog is afraid of its own shadow, sometimes little things set off an episode of fear.

There are natural points in a dog’s development where fear stages will probably occur.  One of my Labs took offense to a fluttering Grocery sack on a tree when she was 6 mos. old.  We needed to have a full session with her to reintroduce her to Grocery sacks in a non-threatening way.  Another of my dogs that was being trained for Search and Rescue, was startled by a subject concealed in a blue tarp.  To this day she is very unsure of blue tarps.  She has no problems with Green, Orange or Silver tarps just blue ones.  These natural fear stages typically will occur at 6 months, 12 months and 18 months old.  These are not hard and fast as some dogs will develop at slightly faster or slightly slower rates.

The most pronounced fear issues that I have faced with my dogs happened several years ago with a hound mix that we owned.  Shannon was a sweet and wonderful pup of about 30 pounds.  She was a mix of Dachshund and White Shepard.  When the litter was about 6 weeks old, there was a lightning strike within 10 feet of the whelping pen. Shannon developed an aggressive fear of thunder.

This fear showed up every time the barometer dropped.

We didn’t even need to hear thunder and the dog would start to pace and drool.  Several times she climbed into the bathtub and shivered.  Most of the time,she would find me, crawl under my legs and drool on my socks.  This was the worst case of fear behavior that I have ever seen.  The 4th of July was always traumatic for her too.  The distant fireworks were almost more than she could stand.

The most important thing that you can do is to recognize what is happening to your dog and treat it in an appropriate way so that the fear reaction does not get reinforced.  Telling your dog that it’s reaction is OK and coddling the dog is not the right handler response.  If possible you should confront the fearsome object in a non-threatening way.  You should reinforce inquisitive behavior with good treats and a positive voice.

If there is a way to introduce the fearsome object in a non-threatening way this is how you would start to de-escalate the the fear reaction.  In the case of the fluttering grocery sack, I laid out several bags around the room.  Each time the dog checked them out I tossed a treat to her so that it landed on the bags.  After a few minutes she was moving from bag to bag and pouncing on each one for a treat.  Then I hung several of the bags fro doorknobs and treated her when she touched them with her nose.  Finally, I took the bags outside to the dog pen where there was a breeze and hung the bags where they would flutter in the wind.  She had no problem going over to the bags and touching them for a treat.  Problem solved.

In the case of my thunder shy dog. Lab in Thundershirt
We didn’t want to reinforce her fear reaction so we just ignored her behavior until she seemed to relax a bit during a rainstorm.  She got a treat for this.  In the last several years there is a product that would have been a godsend for this dog.  From what I have seen, this product, called the Thundershirt,
, calms the nerves of dogs while they wear it.  It is amazing how well it works.  I would have purchased this for my Shannon if it had been available for her.





Anxiety in Your Dog — 8 Comments

  1. Thanks Craig for the info – this is something I would like to promote (Thunder Shirts) for my next niche – Charter Jets for the Wealthy. Might be a month or two before I get to it as busy with the School Study Guide niche.

    I have done research on Charter jets and some of the offerings accomodate pet travel on private jets.

    Might be an idea to promote a link to your site with reference to Dogs (labs) etc.
    Thanks for the info


  2. I think a Charter Jet might be a good place for a Thundershirt. I would also try to introduce the dog gently to flying. There are any number of pilots that are learning to fly or even some instructors that would be willing to help with desensitizing a dog to loud noises and strange aircraft.
    With our SAR dogs we try to introduce them to helicopters at every opportunity. There is a fly in by MercyFlight each year at a special event. We take advantage of this to show the dogs these are not to be feared. There are all kinds of opportunity for a SAR dog to need to load in a helo. They need to learn before they are deployed in one.

  3. Hi Labman. I’m training at WA too. I enjoyed your website and in particular the thundershirt videos. I know a couple of stressed dogs who might benefit from a thundershirt. You learn something new each day…amazing. Thanks for the info.

  4. I have a Jack Russel that has high anxiety when someone leaves the home. We have to physicaly restrain him or-put him in his crate before anyone leaves the house. I feel bad for him cause you know he can’t help himself. I think your site will really help us with this issue. Thanks

  5. You can try a thundershirt, the best way to deal with this though is to desensitize him.
    Get him comfortable in the crate. Feed him in the crate for a week or so, toss an occasional treat into the crate just to reward him at random times.

    My Labs, when I put on my boots to go out, will run to their crates. They know, when I’m going out, they get to hang in the crates. Before I close the door, they get a couple of treats. In this case, all they get is a piece or two of kibble nothing special but they do so enjoy it.

    There is no reason the crate needs to be punishment, dogs are denning animals. They feel safe and secure in an enclosure.

  6. Hey there,

    I have a lab mixed with a husky and german shepard and she has always been nervous.

    What would you recommend to help her with her anxiety. I use to live in the country where it was big fields and she could run outside.

    Now I am in an apartment building and every time we are in the lobby of the building coming In only, she gets crazy around the elevator.

    WE have been here for 6 months now. I work with her but she’s nervous when doors close (loud bang) only with doors tho.

    Any advice would be great.


  7. Hi Craig,

    I wanted to let people know that we use a Thunder Shirt for our 10 year old lab mix. She didn’t start tearing up our house (mostly 60 some year old wood doors and molding!) until she was 9 years old. It started on New Year’s Eve. She also became afraid of thunder storms. Anyway, we purchased a Thunder Shirt and it does help her, some. Especially if we can get it on her before a full blown storm comes. I put it on her last night just as we started hearing fireworks for July 4th and it helped. I think it depends on the intensity of the fear in the dog. It’s definitely worth the $40 or so that it costs.

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