What do you do for an anxious dog; medication, behavior training, confinement, calming beds, blankets, or toys? Is there a best method of help for the fearful fur-child?
To effectively design the Dogpetsmart dog bed, we began with the question, “How do dogs react to fear and what best ways to calm the anxiety?” Our research discovered some pretty interesting facts about human’s best friends!
The Stages of Fear
Fear is an instinct in humans and animals. The response is one of survival, and it surfaces when an external threat is present. Fear creates stress, anxiety, and the classic “fight or flight” response. The inability to control fear leads to unhealthy and often dangerous behaviors, especially when humans share a home with dogs.
My puppy has always been a confident, friendly dog; now she is afraid of EVERYTHING – what’s wrong with her?
It’s a common question heard by veterinarians, trainers, behaviorists, groomers, and breeders. The answer is simple; nothing is wrong – in fact, dogs must move through critical growth and development periods known as “Fear Stages.”
Newborn puppies cannot see or hear. They remain in the den and depend on the mother dog for their survival. At about 2-weeks of age, they begin to develop their senses and react to sight and sound. Throughout the first year of life, puppies go through several periods of awareness and response. By the time they are mature between 1 and 2 years of age, the dog should be able to recognize and respond appropriately to fear stimulus.
Fear Stages teach dogs when to fight and when to fight/flee. In the wild, knowing what to fear and how to deal with it determines life or death. Domestic dogs may live as pampered little fur-children comfortable in the lap of luxury. They will never fight for food or shelter, encounter a predator, or be required to protect its pack, but; the survival instinct remains strong in even the most “well-bred” dog.
The Fear of Fear
Trauma or illness can intensify the reaction to and the longevity of specific fears. A dog that is afraid of storms may react to sudden loud noise or ground vibrations. To understand and effectively help your dog process fear, it is essential to identify normal reactions versus abnormal behavior to a stimulus.
The situation determines the context of fear: the doorbell rings and your dog barks. In most cases, that would be considered a reasonable response. A dog that barks continually without apparent cause is not normal behavior and may be an indication of a deeper problem.
Persistent and excessive fear reactions are called phobias. Some phobias are so intense that merely the memory of an event can result in a fearful response.
Failure to identify and minimize phobia in dogs can result in anxiety. Anxiety does not require a stimulus for a reaction. Stresses may occur based on anticipation or imagined events.
What Does Fear Look Like?
It is pretty easy to spot the symptoms of fear and anxiety in dogs. The signs may vary based on the severity of the condition. Common behaviors to look for include
- Mild fear: barking,trembling, scratching at doors or windows (need to escape), tucked tails, hiding, lethargy
- Panic:pacing, panting, manic attempts to escape, whimpering
- Anxiety:vomiting, diarrhea, scratching/biting/licking legs, feet or tail often resulting in skin lesions, running in circles/chasing tail.
Fearful responses are typically, though not always associated with traumatic events. It is a reasonable assumption a dog that is hit by a car may always be afraid of cars. Dogs are also creatures of habit, and it is possible to create a fear trigger that will last a lifetime simply by abruptly changing a routine. The most common causes for a dog’s fear are
- Being forced into an unfamiliar situation
- Failure to socialize to different people and places
- Illness, and other health-related issues (lack of healthy food, water, exercise)
- Confinement (being locked in a crate, chained, fenced)
- Separation anxiety (multiple owners, rehoming, boarding, abandonment)
- Physical trauma or abuse.
Comfort – the Best Medicine
Most phobias are established by experience and may be controlled by training and conditioning over time. In some cases, a dog’s anxiety will become so severe it requires medical attention. A qualified veterinarian can assist by diagnosing underlying health issues and recommending proper fear management techniques.
Anti-anxiety medications are sometimes prescribed for extreme fear cases. These drugs are only recommended as a short-term solution used in conjunction with training and other counter-conditioning techniques.
Gradual exposure to stressors that trigger a fearful response, positive reinforcement, and a safe environment most often work to calm a dog suffering from anxiety. It is seldom possible to be with your precious pet 24 hours a day, 7-days a week. Providing a calm, safe, soothing space that includes the perfect dog bed is a great start.
Are Calming Dog Beds Really Worthy to Buy?
The opposite reaction to fear is calm, which is also an instinctive condition. Calm is the absence of triggers that create anxiety. That would pose the question; is purchasing a dog bed explicitly designed to calm really all that important?
Most dog owners will try anything to provide some relief for an anxiety-stressed pet. The best place to start is with a comprehensive physical evaluation by a qualified veterinarian. After ruling out health issues, you may find simple environmental solutions are the best bet to beat your pup’s stress. If your dog is upset when you leave the room, or if the frenzy of a few guests sends him cowering for cover, a cozy, calming dog bed is totally worth its weight in dog bones.
A dog that is scared of anything that twitches, tweets or twirps may need some extra therapeutic solutions. If your dog requires medication and or professional intervention, a calming dog bed will support the treatment routine.
Calming dog beds by design soothe, provide a sense of comfort and security, and encourage your dog’s ease from stress triggers. Dogspetsmart’s calming dog beds made in a donut shape are intended to maximize cozy comfort. Nine-inch bolster walls support the neck and head and create a nesting experience. The bed fill consists of premium, virgin, AIR Loft fibers for support, and the cover is made from a soft, vegan-fur fabric that simulates a mother dog’s coat.
When planning the purchase of your dog’s calming bed size matters. To ensure the best fitting bed for ultimate comfort, measure your dog from the tip of the tail to the end of the nose. Then measure him from the bottom of his front paw to the top of the withers (shoulder point). Add 5 inches to the measurements to determine the minimum length and width of the mattress to buy. Dogpetsmart calming dog beds are available in 5 sizes for dogs weighing less than 7-pounds and up to 150-pounds. When in doubt, go a bit bigger – never smaller.