Pet Anxiety Month
In the UK nearly 80% of pets are reported to suffer with anxiety!
(The PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) report 2018)
During Pet Anxiety Month Jessica Barton from Forest Canine Massage had the pleasure of collaborating with Gemma O’Leary from Canine Reactive and Sarah Jones from My Anxious Dog UK. Together they raised awareness of anxiety in dogs, the physiological and psychological effects it can cause and the various support systems that are available for you and most importantly your anxious dog.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is the feeling of unease, such as worry, concern, or fear. It can be triggered by many different stimuli and be very individual to your dog, as will the severity of the anxiety they experience. It can often be categorised in the following ways:
Generalised anxiety disorder
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Imagine you are walking down a narrow path, alone, after dark, which is poorly lit. A tall, hooded figure, dressed in dark clothes turns the corner and starts walking towards you. Your instinct will be to avoid eye contact, keep your head down, move to the very edge of the path, hold your bag tightly or pretend to busy yourself by looking at your phone. Usually, the stranger would mirror these behaviours allowing you to continue on your way. But what would happen if the stranger instead of looking away started to stare at you and walk towards you? When they reach you, they start to become very hands on. What would you assume might happen?
Now put yourself in your dog’s position. Imagine the stranger is another dog or person. Your dog tries to ignore/ avoid the encroaching stranger by looking/ moving away and busying themselves with a sniff, but the stranger continues to stare at your dog, walks towards them, leans over, and sticks out their hand.
Many owners assume that their dog will happily accept strange people and dogs coming towards them and yet we as humans are very wary of strangers!
What happens when dogs feel anxious?
Like humans, dogs have evolved to be high-risk aversive. When dogs become anxious, their Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) known as the ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ response, is activated, causing behavioural, physiological, and psychological changes. This system is essential for survival, however prolonged exposure to stress can be problematic.
Let’s imagine your dog has separation anxiety. Your dog knows your cues and signals for when you are going to leave for work. The whole time you are getting ready your dog is already starting to build on his anxiety, and stress levels start to rise. When you leave, your dog reaches boiling point, and cannot cope. To try and help him settle or rid himself of the feeling of anxiety and stress he may choose to become destructive, pace, bark excessively and so on. At some point he may settle, drive himself to exhaustion, or intermittently change from one coping strategy to another, resting in between for short periods.
Your dog’s Sympathetic Nervous System will have been activated as soon as they sensed you were leaving for work and the following hormones would have been released;
Adrenalin – elevates your dog’s blood pressure and increases their heart rate, to deliver freshly oxygenated blood swiftly to the main muscle groups for a quick getaway. Glucose (sugar) rushes through the blood stream to give your dog a quick energy boost. Your dog’s respiratory rate also increases, they pant more to maintain oxygen levels in the blood.
Cortisol – you may be familiar with this as it is a well-known stress hormone for both dogs and humans. It increases the level of fatty acids, amino acids and glucose in the blood stream. These are substances that repair tissues and supply an immediate energy boost to large muscles. Non-essential body functions including digestion (the feeling of butterflies in your stomach), reproduction, excretion and the immune response are suppressed as this many hinder the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response. Cortisol also communicates with areas of the brain that control fear. Your dog will clearly remember what happened to them when they were anxious and be able to easily access that memory when they are in that situation again.
BUT! You need to go to work five times a week, meaning your dog’s Sympathetic Nervous System is activated every day. Not only that but the effects of the hormones released can stay with your dog for several days. Adrenalin is short-term lasting only 2 – 15 minutes after the initial stress response. However, it can take up to 6 days for the cortisol levels in your dog’s body to return to normal, particularly after a stressful event. So, if we look at the dog that is suffering with separation anxiety, not only do they feel terrible in the moment, but their body is also being put under pressure and can take several days to recover.
So how is your dog supposed to recover if they suffer daily with anxiety? The answer is they cannot!
The more stressful events your dog experiences, the more elevated their cortisol levels become. This is where the danger lies and where potential health problems can occur.
What are the signs of anxiety?
Knowing the internal physiological effects anxiety can have on our dog’s wellbeing poses the question. How do I know if my dog is suffering from anxiety?
Signs of anxiety can be very subtle at first i.e. normal behaviours that seem out of context for the circumstances, situation, or environment. For example, a waggy tail can often be misinterpreted as a dog being happy. However, dogs also wag their tail when their emotions are heightened. This would be the same as humans, aimlessly manipulating objects, chewing pens, biting nails, or twisting rings.
You may start to question if something is going on with your dog but then the behaviour may seem to improve for a short time before getting progressively worse again. It is important to known what behaviours are ‘normal’ for your dog so that subtle changes can be picked up early. These behaviours may include;
Licking of the lips/nose
Showing whites of the eyes – whale eye
Avoiding eye contact/ looking down or away
Out of context yawning
Stress lines around the face
Ears pinned back
Checking in with the owner
Excessive scratching, nibbling, licking (usually legs and paws) - this can cause sores (lick granulomas)
Constant sniffing the ground when there’s nothing to sniff
A body shake all over when not wet or rolled
Obsessive licking of items and people
Gnawing on unsuitable objects
Being unusually submissive - rolling over, walking away
However, these subtle behaviours can be easily missed i.e. by an approaching dog or person and your dog will quickly learn that these responses are not a successful option for keeping them safe. They will then start to show more obvious signs of anxiety which may include;
Backing off/ walking away from someone or a situation
Tail tucked between the legs
Cowering, shrinking down or crouching
Curling up tight/ making themselves small
Shutting down/ absence of behaviour
Trembling or shivering - when they are not cold or excited
Loss of appetite
Toileting accidents - Diarrhoea or increased bowel movements
It is important to note that some of these signs may also be caused by a health problem. Always speak to a vet if you are concerned.
If disproportionate levels of anxiety are left unresolved, your dog could develop an anxiety disorder and more serious behavioural issues. These are known as defensive behaviours. This usually means the dog urgently wants something to stop. Some of these behaviours include;
Stiffening and staring
Flashing or showing teeth
If you think your dog maybe suffering from an unhealthy level of anxiety, there are specialists that can help. Jessica Barton from Forest Canine Massage, Gemma O’Leary from Canine Reactive and Sarah Jones from My Anxious Dog UK are passionate about supporting dogs suffering with anxiety. Here is how they can help you and most importantly your anxious dog.
Gemma O’Leary – Canine Reactive
I have over fifteen years of experience in the animal care sector and specialises in providing behaviour therapy for reactive dogs. My approach focuses on emotional rebalance and appropriate behaviour modification to help your dog change their behaviour for the better.
Why traditional approaches fail
Traditional approaches to training focus on the problem. For example, if a dog is destructive due to anxiety, they would find a way to STOP the dog destroying items. This often-involved punishment in the form of verbal or physical reprimand or confinement (locking the dog in a kennel or crate). The traditional behaviour consultant may have given advise on what to do and what not to do, then told you to go ahead and implement it. On your own!
There are few problems with these traditional approaches. Firstly, focusing on the behaviour/actions caused by the anxiety without treating the dog’s anxiety, may stop the dog physically destroying things, but they will still be experiencing anxiety and suffering as a result. Plus, if using punishment or confinement then you will cause the dog further stress, fear and guess what? ANXIETY!
The traditional behaviour consultant will be able to tell you why your dog is being destructive, and why they have the anxiety in the first place. However traditionally you would then be given a behaviour modification program to follow, on your own, solo. So, what happens if what has been suggested doesn’t work for your dog? What if you have questions or are struggling to implement it?
How successful do you think this approach is?
When it comes to dealing with anxiety or any behavioural problem, it is essential to discover the root cause of the problem. Why is your dog anxious in the first place? Then a plan involving management strategies, training, and behaviour modification can be created. This is because, when you work on the cause of the problem, the behaviours that happen start to naturally dissipate on their own.
The old school learning theory for both canine trainers and behaviourists does not cover the other end of the lead. There is no consideration for what or how the owner feels. No guidance, compassion or support. It is all focused on the dog. You are a team in this journey and as much focus should be on you as it is your dog.
So what do you need?
· You need a qualified professional who cannot only help with your dog’s behaviour, but is also able to help support you on the journey.
· You need management strategies to help you cope day-to-day and give you some immediate stress relief.
· You need a personalised plan which covers management, training and behaviour modification that suits your dog’s needs and your needs and is realistic for your circumstances.
· You need ongoing support for those moments when you simply have a question, are not sure or simply feel overwhelmed.
· You need a supportive community where you can speak with like-minded people about your experiences and be supported, not judged. Know you are not alone.
Call Gemma! Take the opportunity to have an initial, friendly chat to help you to understand the process and how it works. Get to known Gemma and ask her as many questions as you like before deciding if Gemma’s services are right for you and your dog.
Use this link to book your FREE discovery call today!
Join the number one place for reactive dog owners. The canine reactive - support hub. Free advice, guest speakers, a safe, friendly community, where you can chat all things reactive. You are not alone.
Jessica Barton – Forest Canine Massage
Massage might not be the first therapy you think of when considering how to support your anxious dog. However, did you know that Clinical Canine Massage Therapy has many positive psychological effects? This includes;
· Reduced depression
· Reduced fear, anxiety & stress
· Reduced pain
· Improved mood and demeanor
· Improved motivation
Clinical Canine Massage Therapy can help your anxious dog by lowering the sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight, freeze response) by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest response). This calms the mind allowing your dog the time and space they require to process emotional distress, cope with the world around them and relax their body.
But wait there is more!
When I trained to become a Clinical Canine Massage Therapist with the Canine Massage Therapy Centre, I was taught a unique blend of Swedish, Sports and Deep Tissue Massage and Myofascial release (both Direct & Indirect). It was at this time that I learnt about the fascinating world of Fascia and how emotional trauma can become trapped inside the body.
What is fascia?
Fascia is a strong, flexible, continuous three-dimensional web of connective tissue which weaves its way throughout the dog’s entire body, enveloping and supporting every muscle fibre, muscle, bone, organ, blood vessel, nerve, and cell. It consists of 70% water enabling it to ‘slide and glide’ without restriction (your dog can move freely and comfortably).
Fascia is richly innervated with sensory nerve endings, making it a “tissue of communication.” Interceptors are sensory nerve endings which sense mental and emotional feelings. They are linked with patterns of tension or posture in the body. Take the example of a dog that is noise sensitive. Every time the dog hears a noise it will tense. If this happens repeatedly the fascia becomes dehydrated causing the fibres to shorten, thicken, and stick together. You will get this pattern of tension, stiffness, pain, anxiety, and trauma that becomes locked into the fascial network of the body. This is known as Myofasical pain.
Clinical Canine Massage Therapy
As a member of the Canine Massage Guild, I have been taught the Lenton Method. This this a three-tiered approach:
Advanced palpation and evaluation - to identify areas of Myofasical pain and muscle dysfunction.
Body mapping – a memorised, extensive map of muscular injuries and Myofasical problems.
The 7 protocols – a unique set of complex direct Myofasical release techniques which loosen and free up large sheaths of fascia.
You usually will not see how much anxiety and trauma has been trapped inside your dog’s body until after their Clinical Canine Massage Therapy treatments. This is when they blossom!
If you have any questions or would like a chat about how your dog may benefit from Clinical Canine Massage Therapy and the process involved, contact Jessica today. https://www.forestcanine.co.uk/contact
Sarah Jones – My Anxious Dog UK
Sharing your life with an anxious, nervous, or reactive dog can be isolating and frustrating. Other dog owners, people you meet on walks, and even friends and family don’t always understand the lengths you go to for your dog. You can’t have a friendly chat with other dog walkers when you take your dog out, and sometimes you might experience confrontations that make leaving the house with your dog stressful. You need help and support to bring back the joy to your dog walks and make life fun again.
What Makes Our Anxious Dog Products Different?
If you have an anxious or reactive dog who lunges and barks when out on walks or pulls on the lead, you will feel more confident if your dog walking accessories are strong and durable. A flimsy lead or poorly fitting harness just amps up your anxiety about being able to control your dog if you have an unavoidable reaction.
Yellow space awareness products help let others known that your dog needs space. Having bright easy to spot and read warning messages on your lead, harness or dog attire is an effective way to reduce stress and anxiety on your walks. Our range of dog leads have;
· Different warning messaging to suit all dog’s needs, including keep away, anxious, do not touch, and keep dogs away. They can be layered with different products to increase visibility.
· Messaging embroidered on both sides rather than printed, so it doesn’t fade and can be seen from every angle.
· Padded handles and are strong & robust, so you feel comfortable and in control walking your anxious dog.
· A d-ring so you can attach a slip-lead for extra visibility or a treat dispencer for easy access.
· Our products are machine washable, so you can keep them looking good as new for the long-haul.
Do Yellow Anxious Dog Products Work?
Don’t take it from us, we surveyed our community of nervous, anxious and reactive dogs to see how they feel about yellow space awareness accessories for their dogs.
Over 78% of owners surveyed who walk their #dogsinyellow report that they enjoy their walks more, feel more confident and calmer. This is thanks to people giving them and their dogs space.
66% of owners using yellow say it has reduced the number of people/dogs they come into contact with on walks.
Of the dog owners we surveyed, only 8% felt yellow warning accessories for dogs were ineffective.
91% of owners using yellow space awareness products for their dogs are working to increase awareness of what it means in their local area and online.
Have you joined the #yellowarmy yet?
Some people are just unaware of what our anxious dogs have been through and what they must continue to go through daily. All they need is some space and then their world will feel much less frightening.
To check out our yellow products visit the website
We hope that our support and advice during Pet Anxiety Month has been helpful. As you have discovered there are many reasons why your dog may become anxious or develop and anxiety disorder. But now you know why this may be the case, the many signs of anxiety to lookout for and the support systems that are available for you and your dog.
Remember you are not alone and there is always someone you can turn to for advice and support!
Jessica Barton – www.forestcanine.co.uk
Gemma O’Leary – www.caninereactive.com
Sarah Jones – www.myanxiousdog.co.uk