Calming Sophie’s Anxiety to Achieve a Balanced Frame of Mind
Sophie (three year old Vizsla on the left) and Darby (Two year old goolden-doodle mix) live together in an active family in Omaha. Their owner contacted me for help primarily with Sophie who was starting to show signs of separation anxiety.
When I arrived for the session, I immediately knew that Sophie was a high energy dog which is normal for her breed. In addition to her higher energy, she seemed a bit timid which i interpreted as a lack of confidence. Its not at all uncommon for a high energy dog that lack’s confidence to develop separation anxiety.
I went over a few tips to help keep Sophie’s energy level from spiraling out of control. When multiple dogs live together, they usually raise their energy level to match the highest energy dog. This can have some negative consequences when the dogs aren’t balanced and it was clear that Sophie’s energy level was impacting Darby who was trying to keep up.
I demonstrated a leadership exercise that will help the dogs learn to focus, look to their humans for guidance and increase the dog’s ability to restrain themselves. It took a few repetitions for both dogs before they caught on. Once they did, I coached all the members of the family through the exercise as well.
Next I showed Sophie’s owner a rehabilitation technique to help her learn to relax in her kennel. During this exercise, the door to the kennel remains open which helps the dog relax as they don’t feel trapped or pent in. Once she relaxed and lay down in the kennel, I gave her permission to come out. By rewarding the dog when it relaxes, we are able to communicate that a balanced, calm, relaxed frame of mind is rewarded – while high or nervous energy is ignored.
We repeated the exercise a few times until she started to lay down faster each time. By practicing this exercise daily for the next few weeks, we can help remove the negative stigma the kennel had developed for Sophie.
I also suggested placing both dog’s kennels in the same room. Sometimes having a second dog nearby can have a calming influence on a dog that is lacking confidence.
By the end of the session, both dogs were noticeable calmer. I explained that by repeating the leadership exercise and giving the dogs a time out any time their energy level got too high, the calm behavior we saw could become permanent. It will take some time and effort, but mastering those exercises along with regular practice at the open kennel door technique should eliminate Sophie’s fear of the kennel while also building up her confidence. Once that is in place, her fears of being left alone should subside and eventual go away completely.