With millions of people struggling with mental health issues and turning to their dogs to help them cope, I’d like to encourage dog owners to check in on the mental health of their dogs as we celebrate National Dog Day 2021.
Over the past year many households across the country welcomed a new puppy or rescue dog into their home, enjoying the much-needed stress relief, joy and improved mental and physical health benefits that owning a dog can provide.
However, for some dogs the constant change of routine as we go in and out of lockdowns, more people in the house at one time (often dealing with their own stress), and a rise in people and dogs walking on the streets and at local dog parks, has led to a rise of stress, anxiety and aggression in our canine companions.
As both a dog trainer adopting a reactive rescue dog at the start of Melbourne’s lockdowns last year, I have seen first-hand the negative impact that this rise in dog ownership, lack of proper puppy socialisation and more households taking in rescue dogs has had on our dogs at home and in the local community.
More dogs than ever are on anti-anxiety medicine, something I am actually an advocate for if diagnosed by a professional and the right behaviour modification plan is also in place, while an increase in dog reactivity and aggression to other dogs, people and children is also on the rise at local dog parks and in general.
That’s why I am calling on dog owners to think about and look for signs of anxiety in their dogs as we celebrate them on National Dog Day 2021 …and take the right steps to help.
Signs of stress and anxiety to look out for in your dog
- Loss of appetite
- Increased barking, digging, destructive behaviour
- Increased toileting inside the house
- Reactivity/aggression (growling, barking, lunging, over excitement) at other dogs, people, children, objects
- Subtle to obvious physical signs of anxiety including panting, drooling rapid flicking of tongue, ears back, tail tucked, whale eye, cowering, hiding
- Listlessness/depression or restlessness/pacing
- OCD type behaviours
How to help treat stress and anxiety
Always speak to your vet, dog trainer or a vet behaviourist to help identify underlying medical issues or the need for anti-anxiety medication to assist (also accompanied by a behaviour modification training plan), should your dog be displaying anxious or aggressive behaviours.
- Provide a safe, comfortable, quite space of their own inside the house they can retreat to – keep children, strangers and other pets away
- Avoid ‘trigger’ situations i.e.: busy or off-leash dog parks, stressful new environments, avoid crowds/too many people in the home
- Never force them to interact with other people, dogs, pets or children
- Keep to a routine – daily walks, set feeding times
- Plenty of mental and physical stimulation and exercise (environmental enrichment, interactive toys, long lasting chews/occupiers)
- Adequate sleep (12- 14 hours for adult dogs)
- Complete and balanced diet
- Independence/obedience training
- Counter-conditioning/desensitisation training program to address ‘triggers’
- Pheromone appeasing sprays, diffusers and herbal supplements
If you are looking for some products that may assist with your dog’s anxiety, check out the PETstock website HERE. You can also make a booking to see one of their Vets to discuss your concerns, if there is one near you.
About the Author: Lara Shannon is a certified dog behaviourist and trainer, Executive Producer and Host of Pooches at Play on Channel 10 and editor of Poochesatplay.com. Lara runs her own dog training business in Melbourne’s Bayside area, is a sought after pet expert speaker and Author of Eat, Play, Love (Your Dog).