When dogs are anxious, many people innocently begin to try to calm or soothe them by petting their dog. Although this may seem the proper reaction, it actually enforces the anxiety. Your words, voice and attention actually make the dog feel that being anxious is okay.
So, how do you avoid this, and help your dog become a relaxed, happy dog? The best solution is to reward your dog for being relaxed. When he is relaxed and you reward him with a treat, or perhaps a favorite toy, the more they will begin to be more and more relaxed in general.
This requires help from the entire family if you really want to help your dog overcome his anxiousness. It will also benefit your dog, in general, if you teach him basic commands such as “sit” and “stay”. This way, when he performs a command well he will be rewarded – but ONLY when he performs. By having him perform these commands often, then rewarding with treats and attention when he shows a relaxed appearance, this will instill even more calmness in him, so that he can become less anxious.
You can also do a routine of these commands during an anxious time for your dog to have his mind concentrate on a non-threatening stimulus. As time goes on, your dog will begin to relax quickly when he performs a “sit”. When you can see that this is happening, it will be easy for you to command this behavior as soon as you notice he is becoming nervous.
Practice having him do a “sit” or “stay” before he gets anything he really enjoys such as food, treats, grooming, walks, or playing with favorite toys. When he gets to where you have no problem with him obeying, you can feel comfortable knowing that in situations that cause him to feel anxious, a simple “sit” will relax him. You can also practice what’s called the jolly routine.
When your dog becomes anxious engage your dog in an activity he enjoys and have a happy tone in your voice. What this does is take the dog’s mind off the stressor, places his attention on you and the fun thing you are doing. It is difficult to not give your dog attention when he is feeling anxious, but it really does more harm than good. By talking in a sweet voice, doting and trying to calm him, you are only further instilling anxiousness because you are now appearing as less of a leader to him.
In other words, you are letting him know that it is okay to be anxious. Teach him, using the tips above, and you will soon have a very relaxed, happy dog! Remember, “Opportunity Barks!”