Fear And Anxiety In Dogs Causes Damage
Nobody enjoys seeing frightened or anxious dogs. It wrenches at the heart-strings as we internalize how we feel when anxious. But this study makes it even worse. It speculates that fear and anxiety can actually shorten dogs’ lives.
In this article, “The Unexpected Dog Killer,” pulled from Scientific American, the author points out that even though modern-day dogs have relatively comfortable lives, they do still face many stressors – repeated separations as owners go to work, variable schedules, frequent mixing with strange dogs and people, and then of course fireworks (which prompted the article’s writing). In some dogs, these stressors cause fear and anxiety, either generalized or specific.
This study was formulated by questioning owners whose dogs had died within the last five years. There were 99 questions for each owner, and 721 people participated.
The study came to two conclusions:
- “Being afraid of unfamiliar people (often called stranger-directed fear) predicted decreased lifespan. Dogs with extreme stranger-directed fear died six months earlier than dogs without.”
- “Non-social fears (like showing fearful behavior towards “noise, unfamiliar objects, traffic, storms, wind, new situations”) did not predict lifespan, but non-social fear and separation anxiety did predict both severity and presence of skin problems in adult dogs.”
Studies in rats and other species have also shown that chronic stress affects health and lifespan. One study showed that rats who were constantly fearful died sooner than their more relaxed brethren.
How This Applies To Training
So, as modern dog trainers, what does this mean for us? First, it means it is crucial that we become fluent in canine body language so we can help owners see when their dogs are exhibiting fear and anxiety. Next, it requires us to remain up to date with compassionate methods to help dogs learn to overcome/work through these fears. Lastly, it means we need to help our clients maintain an open mind regarding pharmaceutical or supplemental intervention to help dogs deal with their fear and anxiety while counterconditioning and desensitization are occurring. This can be aided by having a good working relationship with a veterinarian in your area.
How do you help your clients identify fear and anxiety in their dogs?
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