My dog manifested her anxiety as hyperactivity. She was all over the place, all the time. If I let her wander my apartment she'd walk in circles through the living room and kitchen, whining all the while. Even after hours (!) of walks she wouldn't lay down and if we got her calm and resting, you could see that her mind was still going a million miles an hour. Some of it is likely due to the fact that I was her fourth household in a month, and some if it is possibly just her nature. Here's what I've discovered helps. (Discovered with the help of my vet, my friends, and trial-and-error.)
1. Go to the vet
The first day I had Daisy I took her to the vet. I didn't know that her behavior was abnormal for a dog, but within a couple of minutes the vet technician asked me about her behavior at home and suggested putting her on anti-anxiety medications. Daisy was prescribed a long-term anti-anxiety medication (that even humans take) and a short-term medication to take until the long-term one kicked in.
After a couple of days of taking the medication we could see improvement but tell that she was still super on-edge. (I didn't make this determination on my own - my dog-experienced friend helped because she had a better idea of what was normal for a dog.) With the permission of the vet we doubled her Xanax and voila! a dog that had a normal energy level and attention span for a teenaged dog. (Two human years, teenage in terms of dog development.)
I do want to emphasize that her energy wasn't a healthy, doggy energy or even a super excited puppy like energy. It was an unhealthy I-can't-slow-down-or-focus-or-relax sort of energy. I understand that dogs have a lot of needs that can help with hyperactivity in non-anxious dogs. Some of these are even listed below. :)
2. Wear them out
Dogs need a lot of time walking and spending their energy. I spend about an hour a day walking Daisy. She'd be happy to go for hours and hours and hours, but unfortunately her human isn't quite in shape enough for that. :) To help, she also wears a (slightly weighted) backpack while we're on our walks. This helps her focus since dogs are meant to have jobs. It also helps wear her out a little faster so she's doesn't have a lot of excess energy.
3. Set boundaries
As I mentioned above, when I first got her I let her have almost free reign of the apartment. And she would just cruise around in circles, from room to room, whining. She struggled a lot with all the stimulation around her. When my dog-experienced friend came over to help she noticed this and hooked Daisy's leash to my coffee table, within reach of water, Daisy's crate, a pet bed, and dog toys. Suddenly Daisy had access to everything she could need, but only a limited range of motion. This helped her calm down a lot! It also helped her understand that the humans set the rules - which I believe took that uncertainty off her mind. (This was only while someone was home and she was under supervision - we wouldn't want her leash to get caught!)
No, I don't plan to keep her on the leash by the coffee table forever. Once she has proved she is comfortable with that space and is able to calm down and obey within it, I will slowly open up the apartment to her. It's just going to take some time.
4. Find their trigger areas
Every time my dog got on the couch she thought it was playtime. Not nice, cuddly, tug-of-war playtime, but jumping, lunging, mouthing playtime. Suddenly she owned that space and humans better be out of her way! Not petting her? She'll lunge towards your face or climb behind you on the couch or mouth your arm. (She wasn't agressive, just chose to communicate with her teeth.) For a while I tried teaching her to behave, but nothing worked. (I should also mention that due to her anxiety, she had very little interest in any toys I would bring out to distract her.) Until I spoke with my friend, it never occured to me to just ban the couch from Daisy's allowed perimeter. And man, what a difference that made! Just by eliminating the area where Daisy freaked out the most, her behavior improved quite a bit.
Although Daisy was houstrained and crate trained (yay!) she didn't seem to have much in the ways of basic training like HEEL, SIT, STAY, etc. For the first week or so, every time she'd get anxious we would pull her aside and train for a while. We used a clicker and treats, and just the mental excersize helped her a lot. We used HEEL and COME a lot - my friend would take Daisy on a leash around the apartment. Every time Daisy pulled on the leash, my friend would turn a different direction and say COME. When Daisy did, she'd get a click and a treat. We made eventually made this more complicated by opening the front and patio doors - she wanted to pull toward them but had to quickly learn to ignore them.
I now spend 30 minutes or so a day training Daisy on new skills or reinforcing old ones. These two 15-minutes sessions were easy to add in to our day, and helps with her anxiety quite a bit.
My vet pointed out that Daisy needed things to occupy her mind. She suggested puzzle toys - usually toys that dispense treats if a dog takes the time to work them out. My dog seems to be more occupied by bones and chews than by puzzle toys, so I use a lot of these as well. Listed below are the toys I've tried and had at least some success with, in order from most effective to least effective. Most effective would be the toy/treat that occupied Daisy the longest.
- Rawhide stick
- Kong filled with peanut butter
- Treat dispensing puzzle shaped like a drumstick
Have lots and lots of patience! Keep up with your boundaries and training and your dog will soon learn them! (And learn that they can't outlast you.) Keeping a calm voice will help them be calm - being anxious yourself doesn't help their anxiety! Anger doesn't help either.
8. Set a schedule and stick to it
Try to set a schedule and stick to it. This will help them learn the pattern of their new life and take away just one more uncertainty. Try to schedule walks, feeding time, training, play time, and bedtime. Of course it's not going to be perfect, especially with our human schedules being so inconsistent, but try to keep it the same as much as you can.
9. Get a bark collar
The bark collar I have just beeps if Daisy makes a noise - the beep gets longer if she barks too many times in succession. This helps so much! Before the collar, Daisy would just keep working herself up, getting caught in a spiral of low whining then desperate whining and then barking. Even if I ignored her, she wouldn't pull out of it. This collar is great because the simple beep draws her attention away from her distress and snaps her out of her mood. (It's also great because I don't have to worry about bothering my neighbors while I'm not home!)
10. Keep learning
I've beeing doing a lot of reading, a lot of YouTube video watching, and a lot of talking with those who are experienced with dogs. The more I learn, the better things are getting for both Daisy and I - which is great!
What about you? Any tips/tricks for helping an anxious dog?