Anxiety is a very broad term for stressful behaviours we see in our dogs. They cause us concern and we try to deal with eliminating the behaviour.
Most anxieties we see, we have given labels to, dependant on the trigger.
It is not the behaviour we are seeing that needs to be addressed rather understanding the underlying causes, that are bubbling under the surface. These need to be addressed.
What’s really happening?
So lets get down to the nitty gritty of what is actually going on here.
To understand whats going on for the dog, many aspects have to be considered.
Genetics, history, Sensory Integration(yes, science has a lot to do with it!) and the Nervous System, Basic Needs, Dog Language & Understanding and the Environment.
Lets start with genetics.
How a dog is bred has a lot to do with how the dog is going to turn out. Those of us that work with rescues and puppy mill dogs, know only too well the extremes of some of the anxieties that develope. Whether outward or inward behaviours that are shown, dogs deal with their anxieties in different ways.
Even the best breeding of dogs can and do have anxiety behaviours.
Those first few weeks of imprinting, how they are handled, the environment, even the food they eat, all have an impact on the dogs well being.
The way they are handled, trained and the environments they live in are all part of where they are now, in the moment whatever their breeding.
Sensory Integration & the Nervous System
I love science! This is my favourite along side Basic Needs! How the brain makes sense of all sensory input and I’m not just talking about the 5 senses of sight, sound, hearing, touch and taste. I’m going deeper, the inner sensory systems and how we can influence our dogs outlook and bring them into a successful place to learn. (ebook to be published at the end of May).
All my work with dogs, is based on the research that I have carried out over the last ten years. These needs are so important to success. Many are overlooked or taken for granted. Each need is linked and intertwined with the other, for the dog to be in a place of successful learning.
Here again we have a huge influence on how we can support the dog in being settled, feeling good, being calm and moving towards a thriving life. This is where trust and safety are built, two important aspects that are overlooked so many times. (“How to Reach the Basic Needs for Success” to be published May 21st 2013).
Dog Language and Dog Understanding
These subjects are huge and thankfully we are continually learning new ways of understanding our dogs. Working with many dogs in different capacities, I have learnt many aspects and am learning on a continuous basis. Many people know the tell tale signs of our dogs however the more subtle and quick communication between dogs, their responses and actions are always a fascination for me. Some calming signals are well known such as lip smacking, yawning, posture and gait. There is so much more in context with the whole dog and the environment at the time.
Intertwined with all of the above, is the environment. A dog may be settled in one environment, then taken to another and different anxieties start to surface. Dealing with what is going on for the dog at the time brings about our awareness to our dog. How much we understand them and how our skills can support the dog into being in a place of calm and learning whatever the environment, is our responsibility.
Dogs are so in the moment, they are so clear on being in that moment. How they are feeling in that moment is how we can influence and support them not only in that moment but previous to that moment. All our work and support goe towards a successful and thriving life.
Anxiety is a state of being for the dog. How it came to that state has many deciding factors some as indicated above. The good news is that supporting the dog into having a choice to move into a state of well being, is possible.
As I said earlier, the basic needs are not so much a step by step process (making it into a diagram is for ease of use). These needs are being met on a continuous basis, whatever the environment, for successful learning in all environments.
As an example, how you feed a dog has such a widespread impact on your relationship with them. Waiting for them to offer a sit, rather than telling them to sit, before placing the bowl on the floor and saying a word or a whistle, so they know they can eat, effects many levels of their basic needs. It will bring in self settling and listening skills for the dog. For you, observation skills will be heightened as you really start to see how the dog learns and how they are feeling. And a level of trust will start to be built upon in your relationship.
Anxiety is reduced when we start to look behind the behaviour seen and work and support the dog in being in a place of comfort, safety and trust.