Boosting “Can-Do” Confidence in Your Anxious Dog or Cat
By Arden Moore – The Pet Health and Safety Coach™
Many pets need steady doses of confidence throughout their lives to not have fear or anxiety and to maintain a can-do, happy attitude. However, like us, our pets have been emotionally impacted by the social restrictions triggered by this never-ending pandemic. For most of 2020 and 2021 we did not have anyone come inside our home. It took a toll on my pets’ confidence. This was especially evident with the two pets we adopted in early 2020: Rusty, a then seven-month-old ginger kitten and Emma, a then one-year-old toy poodle mix. Rusty arrived with confidence and performance skills that diminished due to COVID restrictions on house guests. Emma showed up with heartworms which is a major health issue that delayed her opportunities to hone her social skills with pets and people. There are far too many pets, like mine, who were delayed, have not developed confidence or have regressed.
As a pet behavior consultant I know the fido/feline fear factor is real. By definition, fear is a normal emotional response to a real or perceived situation or threat. Unchecked, fear can lead to a phobia, which is an exaggerated and irrational response that can turn pets into puddle panics. It can also lead to behavioral and medical issues. So, what can we do to transform fearful felines and cautious canines? First, we must learn to identify the signs.
HOW PETS DISPLAY FEAR AND LACK OF CONFIDENCE
Be on the lookout for these signs:
- Acting clingy
- Attempting to flee
- Excessive grooming
- Vocalizing more
- Refusing treats
- Body shaking
- Suddenly shedding heavily
- Excessive sleeping
WHAT WE CAN DO TO HELP
There is no one-solution-fits-all approach to helping bolster confidence in anxious or fearful pets. You need to tap all your senses. Look, hear, touch and smell for clues behind your pet’s shrinking confidence. You need plenty of patience and calmness as cats and dogs tune into our emotional states. Keep in mind that your dog or cat is always reading your emotions. Baby talk or speaking in a loud, commanding tone can send some sound-scared pets into further panic modes. I recommend you take baby steps. And most importantly, take a team approach with your veterinarian because some pets may benefit from calm-inducing medications.
There is a lot of merit to the popular phrase “a tired dog is a happy dog.” Dogs and cats need physical and mental exercises to unleash positive attitudes. So, when I got the healthy green light from my veterinarian, I began taking Emma on leashed walks in my neighborhood and dog-welcoming parks.
Once COVID restrictions were reduced, I also enrolled Emma in structured dog training at a training center. This allowed her to learn new skills while being in the presence of other animals.
On day one of Emma’s training, she froze in place after first entering the training center. I resisted bending down to pick her up and carry her into the training ring. Instead, I stopped and said in an encouraging tone, “You got this, Emma. We are here to have fun learning.” She looked up at me and then began walking into the training ring.
Reward positive behavior
Grade-A bite-sized treats and affection are very effective in building confidence and encouraging positive behavior.
As for pets like Rusty, who started off with confidence that isolation diminished, taking baby steps is often the best approach. During COVID, I taught Rusty to walk on a leash and ride in a pet stroller. For Emma, we had to make sure that she never got overly excited as that could spur on more heartworms inside her, so we carried her in a sling and then progressed to a pet stroller for walks.
There are many benefits to keeping a pet mentally stimulated. Developing confidence is one. For Rusty, I did this by hiding food puzzles throughout different parts of my house for him to hunt. Rusty enjoyed the stimulation and I discovered that Rusty is very food motivated.
Eight months later, we are in the third level of dog obedience training and Emma lets out a happy squeal when we pull into the parking lot. She quickly walks by my side into the ring, smiles as she hops on her mat, and is ready for class to begin. Also, I am now having cat-savvy friends, one at a time, come for short visits. I make sure all escape exits, such as the bedroom and bathroom doors, are closed before the guest enters my house. We engage in quiet conversations and give the ever-curious Rusty time to enter the room. Then my guest will drop a few treats on the floor for Rusty. I am happy to say that Rusty is now welcoming chin rubs and being picked up and hugged by my friends. And, I am treating Rusty to short car rides (he loves his carrier) and visits to a pet supply store in off-peak hours inside the pet stroller for him to explore the store aisles and sniff out a treat packet.
LEARN MORE AT FEAR FREE HAPPY HOMES
Here is my parting advice: I encourage you to check out the Fear Free Happy Homes website. Fear Free is a growing movement launched by Dr. Marty Becker to offer specific tips, techniques, and products for pet parents and pet professionals to reduce fear, anxiety, and stress in dogs and cats. I am a certified Fear Free Pet professional and can tell you firsthand that these techniques can be effective and positive in your shy, clingy pet who needs a confidence boost.
In addition, the Fear Free Happy Homes site offers exclusive deals , called Purrks, from top quality pet product companies, including the sponsor of this article, Pet King Brands the makers of Oratene® Brushless Oral Care and ZYMOX® Dermatology. You can receive 20 percent off any ZYMOX enzymatic ear or skin product simply by entering the promo code: FEARFREE20 at checkout on zymox.com.
Arden Moore wears many collars in the pet world. She is a best-selling author, master certified pet first aid/CPR instructor, pet behavior consultant, host of the Oh Behave Show on Pet Life Radio and happy pet parent to a Furry Brady Bunch in Dallas. Learn more at www.ardenmoore.com.