Like humans, all dogs can get nervous. Generally, dog nervousness occurs after a specific event, like thunderstorms, fireworks or separation. Reducing your dog’s nervousness can be achieved through behaviour adaptations and changing how your dog sees his environment. The aim of training your dog not to be nervous is to make him associate anxiety causing stimulus with positive feelings. In cases where there is severe or chronic anxiety, we recommend seeking the help of a vet or animal behaviourist.
Watch how your dog behaves on a day to day basis, noting any incidents that cause him anxiety. If you have to, create a situation that will make him nervous, such as playing a recording of thunderstorms.
Identify which stimulus and situations cause your dog to become anxious or nervous. It can sometimes be the case that a general nervous disposition can be linked to attention seeking rather than actual nervousness. In these circumstances, obedience training, exercise and quality interaction can help him forget his nervousness.
Confirm the stimulus that is causing anxiety by exposing your dog to it, for example leave the house and listen outside for barking or whining if you suspect separation anxiety. Other indicators of nervousness are pacing, whining, salivation and folding back ears.
After you have created the situation that causes your dog to be nervous, introduce a distraction. Get your coat on as if you are about to leave the house, or switch the vacuum on. Before your dog starts showing signs of anxiety, throw him a toy or ball to redirect his focus.
Immediately restore the situation to normalcy, removing the stimulus causing anxiety; take your coat off or switch the vacuum off.
Act normally around your dog, giving him long slow strokes and letting him wander away fi he wants. Show your dog there is no cause for distress. Try not to change your behaviour when your dog becomes nervous, He learns from you and could start to associate your change in behaviour with negative stimulus.
Reintroduce the anxiety stimulus and give your dog a treat. If you are trying to help your dog with separation anxiety, give him the treat and then leave the room. This process is called operant conditioning and involves getting your dog to associate positive stimulus with feeling good so that it overrides the negative stimulus.
Remove the stimulus again and act normally around your dog. This helps reinforce the fact that the anxiety stimulus is not a permanent thing. Keep repeating the process until your dog stops showing the nervous behaviour and the negative stimulus has been neutralised.
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