Tips to Help an Anxious Dog in Beverly Hills

By: David Codr

Published Date: August 4, 2022

Help an anxious dog

For these Beverly Hills dog behavior sessions we share tips to help an anxious dog in Beverly Hills named Thor.

I worked with Thor over series of sessions, addressing multiple dog behavior issues related to fear and anxiety. Due to his high level of agitation and fear of various interactions, he has bit multiple people.

But when I discussed these incidents with his guardians, it turned out that there was always a contributing factor or some trigger stacking (dog version of a bad day, several negative things in a row) in place. it’s important to remember that all dog behavior is trying to achieve something. Even a dog bite. In Thor’s case, he bit to make things stop. He wasnt looking for a fight, in fact he was trying to move away from conflict first.

How to Help an Anxious Dog

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I went over the concept of dog consent and went through the most common cut off signals that dogs offer (Thor’s most common was backing away). If you have a dog that is giving a cut off signal and you do not stop, it is not unusual for them to bear their teeth, growl, lunge or even bite.

Recognizing Thor’s cut off signals is the first step his guardians needed to understand so that they can learn when he is feeling uncomfortable and stop right then. Because of how triggered he is, this will take a little bit of practice before he can start to feel more relaxed and comfortable. But once he does, he will feel relief knowing his humans will stop when he shows he is uncomfortable.. This means he wont need to bite to make things stop.

Because of his bite history and high level of anxiety, I met him for the first time at a park outside his home. Anytime you’re dealing with an anxious dog, it’s always best to meet outside in a wide-open environment with plenty of distractions and lots of room so the dog feels less cornered.

We started off by introducing a marker word and then doing a loading exercise. I recommended that the guardians load both the word “yes” and the clicker that I gave them with 15 or so treats on six different occasions over the next day or two.

After that I showed them how they can distract Thor by doing the find it game (tossing treats onto the ground and marking whenthe dog licks them up) in the parking lot away from everyone. Sniffing is a displacement for behavior for dogs and something they should do naturally. Dogs that are over threshold are often looking for trouble instead of taking in their environment through their nose. Since dogs are scent creatures, it is crucially important that they learn to use their nose as it can be calming and also a nice way to distract the dog away from things it may react to.

The find it game is also a wonderful redirection exercise. I would like to see them practicing this exercise on walks. The guardians were a little bit concerned because Thor likes to pick things up and does not like to give them up. But if they’re practicing find it with known high-value items, they should be able to get him to focus on the treats instead of looking for other tasty things to eat or grab with his mouth.

They can also use the find it came proactively on the walks to distract him away from approaching joggers or other dogs. Tossing treats onthe ground in a direction that turns or leads the dog away is a great managment techniqe. They can build up a strong find it cue and also practice reinforcing their recall by playing the Cookie in the Corner game at home.

I also told them to be mindful of their environment. If they see a dog approaching them, they should try to use whatever is in the vicinity to help block Thor‘s view. Walking around a parked car, a bush or finding a treat in different direction are all great ways to manage the situation. Essentially you want the dog to not practice barking or lunging because the humans are managing the situation and preventing those experiences from happening.

Once Thor became more comfortable with me, we took a walk in the park and were able to eventually sit down and I was able to give him some treats. I respected his space and was passive, allowing him to approach me when he felt comfortable without trying to touch him. Going at a dog’s pace is super important when you’re dealing with a fearful or anxious dog.

When we ended the first session, I strongly recommended the guardian talk to their veterinarian about getting a prescription for Fluoxetine, the doggy Prozac. Fortunately, the vet concurred and they got a prescription. It will take about 4 to 6 weeks for the Prozac to take effect, but I think this is going to really help Thor. You can tell he had a ton of cortisol in his blood by his wide eyes, jittery movements and tension in his body. After it is released into the blood, Cortisol can take up to three days for to dissipate. But in order to do so, the dog has to be calm, preferably in a relaxed environment. Since he is triggered every time he leaves his home, this poor pup has probably not had a chance to completely settle down in a long time. These meds will greatly assist in that once they kick in.

In our second session, I showed the guardians how they can use a progressive reach game to help Thor feel more comfortable with people touching him. Because of his anxiety they have not been able to take off his collar and have to leave a leash attached all the time. This can be a small thing that is annoying or adds to his frustration so I wanted to show his guardians how to help a fearful dog feel comfortable being reached for.

If you have a dog that is not comfortable with people touching them, you should check out the free positive dog training video below where I demonstrate how you can help a dog feel comfortable with hands reaching towards its face.

I would like to see the guardians practicing this exercise in short, one or two minute practice sessions multiple times a day while watching for any cut off signals. While I was practicing, I noticed the most common cut off signal that Thor offered was leaning away or stepping away. Anytime this happens, the guardians need to recognize that they moved their hand too close to him and practice the next repetition with their hand farther away. They also need to not push too uch and practice to failure. You always want the last rep to be a good one.

They can also offer a treat with a flat hand when Thor is looking in their direction. This way Thor practices interacting with their hands but is able to go at whatever pace he feels comfortable with. The more positive interactions he has with hands, the more comfortable he will become with them. Giving treats with a flat hand 5-10 times a day with each guardian who feels confident doing so wouldbe a good idea.

I’m hoping that within a week or three, the guardians are able to touch Thor very lightly without him recoiling or offering any cut off signals. They will need to go slow and at his pace, but eventually they should be able to help him understand that when they reach out to touch him, it’s strictly a positive experience and nothing to avoid, lean away from or bite at. But if he does turn or lean away, they need to ALWAYS stop right then and there.

Another concern the guardians had is that if Thor were to ever get off leash, they didn’t know he would come to them. After meeting him outside his home for appointemtn two, we went for a short walk and half way through I had them hand me the leash and we finished the walk without them. Based on how he acted when I took him for a walk away from his guardians, I’m pretty sure that they will be able to get him to come to his primary guardian unless there is some strong distraction.

Still, cultivating a strong recall cue is important for any dog. I handed my camera to one of the guardians and went over a couple of positive dog training tips to train a dog to come. if you have a dog that doesn’t come on cue, check on the free positive dog recall video below.

I would like to see the guardians practicing The first exercise in short one to two minute practice sessions three times a day for 3 to 5 days in a row. They should then start practicing the second part of the exercise whenever there are at least three people in 2 to 4 minute practice sessions 2 to 4 times a day, progressively making the distance wider.

They will need to make sure they say the cue when calling him (only once) then use the marker word before the dog arrives and then let Thor lick the treat off of their open hand.

Eventually they can practice this outside and use a long leash that they can attach to the handle of the current leash. But the key is to not practice in too distracting an environment and not increase the distance between the people too quickly. They may also want to check out this video that we share with our puppy parents on the recall cue.

Because of how reactive Thor is, they wanted to do some muzzle training. Unfortunately they had hired a trainer who was supposed to be positive base, but she tried to force the muzzle on without creating a positive association, so Thor bit her.

If you introduce the muzzle the right way, dogs should have no fear of it and actually look forward to wearing one. If you have a dog that needs to be muzzled, never put a muzzle on it and then take it to a stressful situation. That is not what muzzles are for.

If you want to muzzle your dog for safety precautions, make sure it is a basket muzzle and not one that wraps around the snout. You can learn how to positively introduce a muzzle by checking out the free positive dog training video below.

I was delighted at how well Thor did in that positive muzzle training video. Creating a situation where wearing a muzzle a positive experience is so, so, so important. You have to go slow, especially with a dog like Thor. But I was quite pleased at how quickly he warmed up to the muzzle, I don’t think I’ve seen a dog stick its nose in the muzzle that quickly, especially one who had a negative experience with it before.

Muzzle training a fearful dog is a very helpful and prudent thing to do because you never know when you may need to take the dog to a vet or a place where it may lash out. Again you should always avoid that until it is your last option. But if the guardians go at a slow pace, and watch for cut off signals, they should eventually help Thor feel comfortable wearing it. I like to continue to practice until the dog can wear it without pawing at it and eventually takes a nap wearing the muzzle because they are that comfortable.

Because Thor had a bad experience at the vet, and the vet’s decision to treat him incorporated throwing a towel over him, I recommended that they search for a vet who has a little bit more experience in working with fearful dogs. There are many vets who have fear free certification. Some vets even offer cooperative care where they teach the dog to look at a bowl before they examine it so that the dog can turn away any time it feels uncomfortable without needing to bite to stop things.

But because Thor is so anxious in general, I thought I would share some tips on how to introduce a vet office to a fearful dog. We call these happy vet visits and if you go slow and use a lot of treats, many dogs learn that the vet office is a pretty awesome place to go.

If you have a dog that doesn’t like going to the vet, you should definitely check out the free positive dog training below on happy vet visits.

If the guardians are able to find a fear free vet and they practice this happy vet visit a few times before the dog goes into the office, and a few more times before it goes into the exam room, I’m betting that Thor is going to feel pretty relaxed and be able to interact with that without biting.

The last issue we went over was Thor’s habit of resource guarding the bedroom. He does this especially with one of the members of the family but has done it with a few other people as well.

Resource guarding is not exclusive to fearful or anxious dogs. Any dog can develop a resource guarding problem. The worst thing you can do is to try to forcefully take the item away from the dog. I would’ve liked to have gone over a leave it exercise with Thor, but because of how strong his reaction is when people reach for him, I worried that there was a high likelihood of a bite taking place. If we set up future sessions that something we can definitely try to work up to.

But in the meantime, I wanted to give the guardian some tips that they could use to teach Thor that he doesn’t have to resource guard the bed or bedroom. If you have a dog that resource guards a person place or location, the free positive dog training video details some steps you can use to help.

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I suggested that one of the guardians that Thor is more comfortable with practice the first few tosses to warm him up. Once they identify the distance that he feels comfortable, the other guardian can start practicing this technique to stop resource guarding. I’d like to see the guardians practicing this one or two times a day, going at Thor‘s pieces they gradually reduce the distance.

Since most of Thor‘s biting incidents have occurred in the evening, I recommended that they do not practice any of these techniques or exercises after 8 o’clock or whenever the dog starts to wind down. They should also try to avoid having the person Thor guards the room from, from entering the room as much as possible, but especially at night.

I’m hopeful that as Thor’s meditation starts to take hold, it along with these behavior exercises will help the dog feel less anxious overall. The Fluoxetine positive exercise combination should have a big impact on this little dog.

One final note, it will be important for the guardians to not overload Thor by doing too many things all at once. They may want to pick one or two of these exercises and focus on them exclusively for a week or two to help Thor feel comfortable and adjust before they add an additional exercise. You always want to go at the dog‘s pace when you’re doing dog behavior modification, especially a feaful dog who has felt the need to bite.

In my multiple interactions with Thor he did not show any aggression, just a lot of fear-based behaviors. I’m hopeful that now that his guardians know what to watch for and can start slowly working on ways to improve his trust and confidence in them interacting with him, he won’t feel the need to bite any further.

I suggested that they reach out to me if they have any questions moving forward. And then after a couple weeks we should probably schedule a follow up session or two in a month or so.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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