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What does recovery mean for fearful and anxious dogs?

reactive dog trainer london ontario

If you have a fearful dog, you may have wondered if there is hope for a full recovery.

The answer is: yes. There is absolutely hope for fearful and anxious dogs! Whether your dog is scared of being left home alone, fearful of specific triggers in the outside world or terrified of the outside world altogether, there are plenty of options to help fearful dogs feel better, humanely. My greatest honour as a behaviour consultant is to see fearful dogs transform into confident ones, before my very eyes.

However, just like we wouldn’t expect to “fix” a human with an anxiety condition, recovery for dogs isn’t that simple either. Recovery can range from improving the problem to the point that your dog never/rarely reacts to their triggers, to avoiding fearful reactions long-term by more effectively and proactively managing your dog through situations they can’t handle.

Compromise may be part of the recovery process.

You may get to the point where you accept that your dog is just not a good fit for certain environments, like dog parks or busy patios. You may decide to stop working on separation anxiety training when your dog can be left for one hour, instead of the six hour goal you initially intended. These compromises are normal and can help you accept the dog in front of you…not the one you imagined when you adopted them.

Some situations may need to be carefully managed on a continued basis.

Your dog may be able to be left alone, no problem for up to 4 hours at home - but when they are with a pet sitter, alone time comfort goes way down. Or your dog may go weeks or months without a reaction, but never be able to “fly solo” without your guidance. It’s common for fearful or anxious dogs to need more help than the average dog to be successful in situations where other dogs have no problem. Remember that this is a mental health issue - not a simple training task.

You may also work with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviourist on an ongoing basis to ensure that your dog is supported through medication or other therapies.

Be regression aware!

So you’ve made it to a point in your training journey where your dog is able to cope with the things that previously scared them. Hurray! This is awesome and worth a pat on the back. To decrease the likelihood of a regression, it’s important to be mindful that once our dog is predisposed toward a certain behaviour problem, the risk of a regression is higher than it would be for their non-fearful counterparts. Two common triggers for regressions include:

  • big life changes, such as moving, having a baby, a new pet coming home, a family member passing away or another big routine/lifestyle pivot

  • medical changes, such as aging into senior-hood, pain, discomfort or hormonal differences

Remember, your dog is not giving you a hard time, they’re having a hard time. Thank you for being patient and accepting your dog for who they are.

Need help figuring out what recovery looks like for your dog? I am currently booking for August 2023.

Tess Morgan is a Certified Dog Behaviour Consultant specializing in reactivity, fear and separation anxiety. She sees clients in London, Ontario and virtually wordwide.

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