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Dog Anxiety Causes and Treatment Options


Carol Bryant
No doubt at some point you've heard urban legends about the elderly lady who has dozens of cats or the guy who collects snakes and never leaves his house, or someone who spends thousands on clothes for their pet.

Perhaps you are one of them. Personally, I stopped caring years ago about what people think of me and my dedication to dogs, my dog-themed career, and the activities in which I choose to engage with and for dogs. It's my name on the birth certificate, after all.

In recent months, I've been told by a good friend about a very upsetting comment hurled her way at work.

"I'd never spend that much on a dog; I'd sooner put him down," the rude co-worker told her in response to her dog needing over $10,000 in medical treatments. To date, this has not been said to me, hopefully because my "don't go there" aura shines brightly.

A dog is a living, breathing being, and where someone spends their money is none of someone else's business. I'd sooner live in a cardboard box than not spend money on my dog's health and well-being. From grooming costs to cancer treatment and everything in between: When a good dog parent says "I do" to a pooch, it should be for keeps. Telling me to put a dog down in the name of cost savings is grounds for dismissal from my life, and I know I am not alone in feeling this way.

To some, a dog is just a dog, and spending a large sum of money on pet care and wellness is somewhat akin to being "off one's rocker" or even obsessed with your pet. But to me and millions of pet owners just like me, going to such lengths in the name of dog (and all earthly creatures) is the loving norm.

When Does Companionship Become Obsession?

Many people believe this sounds like an obsession with pets which could be unhealthy for the human and pet alike. But many others say mind your own business as long as there's no harm or neglect happening. To them, going to great lengths for their pet is completely rational, caring behavior.

Where is the line between obsession and devotion?

Quality of Life

What I call passionate some naysayers call obsession. To me, an obsession becomes so when you give much more than you receive and the object of your said affection is less than reciprocating.

A passionate dog owner is someone who is their pet's biggest cheerleader. We make sure our dog is kept healthy, happy, and a very integral part of the family.

However, when the health or the pet's quality of life suffers, that can spiral into an unhealthy obsession.

When a beloved pet is suffering and someone is so very much in denial about it, this can become an unhealthy obsession. Elizabeth Kubler Ross, in her famed Five Stages of Grief, would label this "denial."

Sometimes it takes a friend, relative or vet to point out the problem. One of the most common situations is when a pet has a terminal condition that is hopeless and the pet owners do not consider euthanasia.

There is a fine line here, though. We don't replace a family member by simply accessing someone who happens to look like Grandma or Mom or Aunt Susie. The same holds true for dog parents: We don't replace Ginger with Misty. For some of us, life without the pitter-patter of dog feet is simply not an option. I never thought I would want to commit to another dog after my first Cocker, Brandy Noel, died, but here I sit, with a snoring dog at my feet. He is my "never again," yet this decision was mine and mine alone.

Dedication and devotion is sometimes mistaken for a preoccupation with pets.

If the balance is unhealthy where the pet is the total focus of someone's life and the pet parent is unable to work, function, or be a part of activities of daily living, then the term obsession starts rearing its ugly head.

When You Are Called Obsessed

I am a dog mom. I love it when folks call me a dog mom; I never grimace, furrow a brow, or correct them. In fact, a sense of pride swells in me.

I embrace that I do things with my dog in 2012 that perhaps others who went before me did not (or could not) do with their pooches. I look back on my childhood and cringe: The "family dog" wasn't allowed in the living room, and I still wonder whether she ever even saw anything above the basement, where she was "allowed" to sleep on colder nights.

I, along with millions of other caring pet parents, go above and beyond for their dogs. As long as no one is being harmed and everyone is happy, what's the big deal?

When obsession spirals into hoarding, that's the big deal.

Hoarding and Its Hazards

An unhealthy obsession to pets can lead to a disorder known as animal hoarding.

Hoarding is a form of abuse where perpetrators do not always believe nor recognize they are doing something wrong. In the eyes of the hoarder, they are saving animals.

Animal hoarding is unsafe and unhealthy for the pets and the people involved. Contact animal control services if you suspect animal hoarding.

Have you ever been accused of being obsessed with your dog? Does this bother you? How do you handle the naysayers? Bark at me in the comments below.

This article was originally published on partner site Pet360.com

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Marisa Dalessandro via Pet360
By: Marisa Dalessandro

BOOM! The thunder crashes and there goes Carlos, running as fast as he can to my side and digging under the blanket. This is typical behavior for Carlos when he hears a loud noise. The same thing happens when we're in the car and a semi-truck pulls up besides us. Does this situation sound familiar to you? Where does this anxiety come from and what do we as concerned pet parents do about it?

Lacking Social Skills

Anxiety in dogs can be brought on by several different causes such as a lack of self-esteem. Dogs who lack proper socialization as puppies can grow up with little or no self-esteem; unsure how to act in various situations, their anxiety is almost constant as if they're always on alert and ready to flee.

A dog suffering from anxiety because of lack of self-esteem needs you to challenge them both physically and mentally with different situations where the dog can receive positive feedback from other more confident dogs. This is a delicate process and confidence must be built slowly with small goals repeatedly accomplished. Every small success brings a little more confidence.

Anxiety Due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Traumatic events can also cause anxiety in dogs. Similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in humans, dogs have been shown to experience signs of PTSD following a traumatic situation. Cases of extreme stress can occur over a variety of different experiences such asnatural disasters, car accidents, physical or emotional trauma during an interaction, history of abandonment or significant change in home environment (like a death of a family member). If your dog has been through an extremely stressful situation, he or she may require treatment if the severity and duration of the reaction seems persistent and excessive with no signs of improvement.

Exercise Does the Mind Good

Dogs with mild anxiety can benefit from exercise and counter-conditioning. Prior to the onset of anxiety, take your dog for a rigorous walk or game of fetch. A tired, worn out pooch is less likely to panic and just like humans, your dog's brain chemistry is positively affected by a good workout. Counter-conditioning works by changing your dog's anxious state into a pleasant one. It works by associating the cause of the anxiety with something positive. Over time, the dog learns that whatever he or she is scared of predicts something good.

More Complex Treatment Options

More severe cases of anxiety require a more complex desensitization and counterconditioning program. Consult a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or veterinary behaviorist to help you design and carry out the treatment plan. This plan starts with changing your routine. If your dog is anxious when you're gone, you might start to see the onset of anxiety when you start your routine, like putting your coat and boots on and grabbing your keys. Teach your dog that those pre-departure cues don't always mean you're leaving. Put on your coat and sit down to watch TV for a bit. This will reduce your dog's anxiety because those cues won't always lead to your departure. Once you've mastered that, move on to leaving for short bursts of time, starting at 1 second, while building in counter-conditioning. Based on your dog's response, you may start to increase your time away leading all the way up to a full-work day. This process may take several weeks and it is vital to this treatment that once started, your dog cannot experience full-blown anxiety (in this case, cannot be left alone) until completed. If possible, take your dog to work during this time. In addition to this desensitization process, all hellos and goodbyes should be calm and low-key. Some severe cases of anxiety require the use of medication in combination with behavior modification treatment.

My Experience with Carlos

Carlos' anxiety comes from his past experiences. When my fiancé, Louie, and I adopted him 3 years ago, the rescue organization said they found him wandering alone on the streets of Texas. The sounds of thunder or semi-truck take him back to a place where he was forced to brave the elements and survive alone. It takes every ounce of will power that I have to ignore Carlos when he is anxious and not reward him with the attention he craves. My instinct is to coddle him, scoop him up in my arms and pet him. Unfortunately, that's the exact opposite of what should be done. By ignoring him, I'm signifying that there is nothing to worry about because I'm not worried. Once he is calm, I give him attention. After I started this routine, his recovery time is a lot faster and I see so much progress to where I feel confident the anxiety will be eliminated all together very soon.

Do you have a dog that suffers from anxiety? I'd love to hear what treatment methods are working or not working for you.

This article was originally published on partner site Pet360.com

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