Ask the Vet: Social Anxiety in Dogs
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Can your dog suffer from social anxiety? Learn the answer and see how you can make things easier for your furry friend.
Veterinarian Courtney Campbell joins The Doctors to take a question from show producer Keegan. “I have a very, very cute dog who loves me very much, but he just doesn’t like other people,” she explains. “He gets very anxious.” He’s especially protective of his home, and will growl and snap at guests.
“Anxious is an understatement!” comments Urologist Dr. Jennifer Berman, who has met Keegan’s dog, Cash. She says he’s charged her – but he also hides under the furniture. “And Dr. Berman likes dogs!” Keegan points out. “It’s not people who are scared of dogs.”
“With Cash’s situation, he’s saying to himself, ‘I’m really scared, I’m really anxious’,” explains Dr. Campbell. The only way Cash knows how to cope with those feelings is to try to scare the intruders away. “We have to basically let Cash know that having a lot of people in the room is not the time to be anxious.”
Dr. Campbell recommends introducing people to Cash one at a time. When a new person introduces the room, they should ignore Cash and let him adjust gradually to their presence. When Cash relaxes enough to come up and meet the stranger, he gets a treat!
He also recommends using a head-halter to keep Cash from lunging at guests. And a “thunder shirt” might help – these weighted vests can help some anxious dogs feel more secure in scary situations.
Keegan admits that now she feels anxious when people come over, because she doesn’t want Cash to be scared and she also doesn’t want him attacking her guests! And her anxiety is probably making his reactions worse.
To lower everyone’s anxiety, Dr. Campbell suggests using commands more often with Cash. “There’s no free lunch,” he explains. “Cash has to sit, he gets a treat. He stays, he gets a treat.” This strengthens the bond between Keegan and Cash, and when Cash is under stress he’ll play attention to Keegan. “Regardless of the scenario, you and him are together,” he concludes.