Working with an Anxious Dog


Medical condition

Anxiety is an emotion characterized by an unpleasant state of inner turmoil, often accompanied by nervous behavior, such as pacing back and forth, somatic complaints, and rumination. It is the subjectively unpleasant feelings of dread over anticipated events, such as the feeling of imminent death. Anxiety is not the same as fear, which is a response to a real or perceived immediate threat, whereas anxiety is the expectation of future threat. Anxiety is a feeling of uneasiness and worry, usually generalized and unfocused as an overreaction to a situation that is only subjectively seen as menacing. It is often accompanied by muscular tension, restlessness, fatigue and problems in concentration. Anxiety can be appropriate, but when experienced regularly the individual may suffer from an anxiety disorder.

After doing a lot of reading on current research regarding Anxiety, i like the definition above. The problem with defining anxiety  is that it is often confused with ..anticipation, fear or insecurity.
My hypotheses for this intermingling is the fact that all of the aforementioned can lead to anxiety. As stated in the definition provided …..Anxiety is a medical condition. 1. step is to make sure that there is no underlying medical condition causing the behavior.
Examples are… heart condition, endocrine in balance, or just an injury that makes the dogs brain feel that it is weak and maybe unable to handle the situation presented.  In this situation, feelings of insecurity turn to fear and then to anxiety. Similarly, with anticipatory anxiety you are unsure how to behave in the given situation becoming more and more stimulated until you have anxiety. In this situation you maybe excited to meet someone and as the even approaches you find yourself becoming more and more excited until you become over stimulated and become anxious. Maybe a better example would be when someone meets a really famous person and they are “star struck”.  You have tagged this person, or situation with many positive attributes, hopes and dreams and when the moment actually arrives you brain goes fubar. Another hypothesis of mine is that anxiety is a battle between your fight or flight response. It would be a bit like having a sudden flood of two conflicting biochemical reactions. One telling you to run, the other to fight.
Do to this idea when working with anxious dogs I try to create a neutral situation at first. Once I have established neutrality, I work to guide the dog to the correct cognitive response.  I accomplish this through a kind of modeling technique and I work to model that behavior in as many situations as I can create.
Guiding dogs through these episode can be dangerous for you, your dog and those around you. This is not a do it yourself kind of thing. It is also very, very easy to make the anxiety worse. As a matter of fact during treatment there is a high probability that facing anxiety provoking situations will increase anxiety before improvement begins.
Hope you find Motley’s small discussion of anxiety interesting.
Motley and Jeau