Give me space - dealing with anxiety in dogs

Dogs, don't suffer from mental illness!

It's just poor training, not mental illness!

Surely, dogs do not need medication!

I hear these things on a regular basis, especially when I tell people my girl Mystique is on medication for her anxiety.

Let me tell you straight out mental illness in pets is a real thing, and in some circumstances medication is necessary.

Mystique is a 2 1/2 year old Border Collie and suffers from generalised anxiety disorder.

When Mystique first started signs of anxiety I thought it was just bad puppy behaviour or worse my lack of training her.

The first obvious signs something was not right, was at our local obedience school, Mystique was in the puppy class and no matter what I did she would not pay any attention, was constantly panting and had no interest in high value treats. Mystique would not perform the most basic of task, despite completing them perfectly at home. The trainers at the school put screens around us in an attempt to stop her overstimulation. This did not work.

At home, Mystique would always be hyper alert and begun throwing tantrums when she did not get her way (imagine high pitch squealing and barking). We tried everything to calm her down, enrichment activities such as puzzles, snuffle mat and attempting to teach her to lay down and be calm. Mystique was exercised daily and did short training sessions to use her brain but nothing worked.

I finally decided it was time to get some help. We took Mystique to see Behavioural Vet and let me tell you it was the best thing we ever did. Mystique was diagnosed with generalised anxiety and prescribed medication. After 6 weeks, i began to see a new dog, a calm cuddly girl, who still had all her sass.

It has now been 6 months and 98% of the time Mystique is a normal dog, who is calm and likes to play like a normal border collie. However Mystique can still get overwhelmed very easily in new environments.  This is why she wears her "Give me Space" Bandana when we go out to places with a lot of dogs or people. This allows her to become comfortable in the environment and say hello to dogs and people in her own time.

(bandana available here)

Mystique's medication along with calming techniques, has allowed us to have a happy girl that can now go to cafes and be happy. However Mystique will never go back to obedience school (we do train her at home though) as it is all too much. 

Please, if you think your dog might be suffering from anxiety, talk to your vet.

I have included below signs of anxiety and some resources to teach calming behaviours.

Subtle changes in behaviour that can be indicative of anxiety may include:

  • Seeking comfort or affection
  • Excessive licking or chewing
  • Hiding or searching for solitude
  • Panting and shaking
  • Refusing high value food

More profound symptoms that can surface due to anxiety may include:

  • Aggressive behaviours
  • Attempting to escape
  • Overexertion
  • High energy
  • Excessive barking and howling
  • Excretion
  • Panic attacks
  • Destruction


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