The American Psychological Association states that millennials are the most anxious generation to date. With this information, is it a surprise that we are seeing more anxious dogs? In most family’s dogs are no longer just pets, they are now family members. As family members, we often include our dogs in our everyday activities. More and more people are taking their dogs to restaurants, on trips, on planes and into stores. We often expect our dogs to adapt to our human lives (lives that are stressful for the humans themselves!) without any type of preparation.
I have worked with fearful and anxious dogs for years and I am definitely seeing an increase of dogs that are needing help. From my experience, I believe there are a few main factors that have contributed to this increase. First, I see many puppies that are anxious at 8 weeks old. When I ask my clients about the pups’ parents, they often describe behaviors that indicate that one or both of the parents were anxious or fearful themselves. We need breeders to look at personality/ behavior rather than just focusing on how the dogs look. We can’t expect a shy puppy to magically become an outgoing adult dog.
The second factor that fearful dogs often have in common is that they were isolated until they were 4-6 months old. It is extremely important that puppies are exposed to new people, dogs and novel objects during their prime socialization period (approximately 8-18 weeks of age). Puppies that are not safely socialized before they are fully vaccinated often grow up to be fearful dogs. If we want our adult dogs to be comfortable in a variety of environments, with new people or dogs, they must be exposed to these things early in life.
The third most common reason dogs become fearful or anxious is if they have experienced a stressful event. If a puppy or dog is attacked by another dog or if they get scared during a rough play session, they may become fearful of other dogs. If a person scares a dog or puppy, the dog or puppy may become fearful of people. If a puppy experiences a fearful event, it is important to try to help them overcome their fear as soon as possible.
If we expect our dogs to feel comfortable in our stressful society, it is vital that we set them up for success. If you adopt a puppy that is shy, it is critical that they are well socialized before they are 6 months old. It is also important to try to prevent any traumas from occurring. However, our human world is full of stress and we also need to realize that some dogs do not want to go everywhere, some dogs would rather stay home than be part of our stressful society.