Being nervous is normal right? Everyone and every dog experiences nerves, I know I do like just before I am about to talk to a room full of people, flying (I hate the feeling of being trapped) and spiders they give me the fear like nothing else… well also puppets that move on their own that is the stuff of nightmares thank you to X-files for that one.
My dog Ally is a nervous dog. She doesn’t like a lot of noise happening all at once, walking alongside a busy road is hard for her, she gets jumpy, walks faster to the point she is dragging me along. If she sees something she isn’t familiar with then she cowers and moves slowly until shes either passed it or worked out its not threat. Not long after I got her I realised she hated bikes going mental if she saw one moving.
My dog Erick compared to Ally looks like nothing bothers him but he does have his moments, if he is unsure about a strange dog he will move away and start sniffing something until the dog has passed. It took me a while to notice that behaviour from him.
The dictionary states the following adjective: nervous easily agitated or alarmed. “a sensitive, nervous person”.
Does that sound like your dog? It does sum up Ally, I have to say.
When I am nervous my stomach is usually in knots, I loose all colour in my face (oh I forgot the Dentist makes me nervous, apparently I looked like I was going to pass out in the waiting room because I was completely Ashen waiting for my appointment once). I might panic or get very scared, I most definitely fidget and without a doubt I get tense muscles in my neck and back. I also will voice my concerns too.
But what about Ally and your dog, its not so easy to tell that they are dealing with nerves, we probably just pass off any behaviour as being either typical dog like or being naughty. So what should we look out for?
Pacing or shaking. You’ve seen your dog shake after a bath or after walking in the rain right well, that whole body shake can be amusing and is quite normal…unless it’s a result of a stressful situation.
For example, dogs are commonly stressed out when visiting the Vet, just like me and dentist. Most dogs “shake it off” when they’ve finished on the exam table and are safe on the ground. If you notice your dog shaking out of context, have a think about why they are doing it?
Dogs, like people, also pace when agitated. For example if you leave your dog in a room to go to another then you might see them pacing back and forth around the room, worried about where you’ve gone.
Whining or barking. This is normal canine self-expression, but when your dog is nervous then it may become intensified. Dogs that are afraid or tense may whine or bark to get your attention, or to self soothe. Ally turns into a screaming banshee when faced with something she is scared of, when she saw a bike go past she would bark non stop at it (chased it too if she got the chance) I swear her barks have stopped traffic too.
Yawning, drooling and licking. Dogs yawn when they are tired or bored (not unlike us lot), but did you know that they also yawn when stressed? A stressful yawn is more prolonged and intense than a sleepy yawn.Dogs may also drool and lip lick excessively when nervous. Have you ever had a dog that didn’t like traveling in the car? If yes you may have seen them drool a lot during the car journey and I am talking about streams of drool, like a flood gate has been opened.
Changes in body posture. Dogs normally bear even weight on all four legs and move normally. If a healthy dog (no orthopedic problems) shifts their weight to their rear legs or cowers, then this may be due to stress. When scared, dogs may also tuck their tails under or become quite stiff and still.
Ally lowers her body and moves super slow when she spots something she is unsure about. I once heard her quietly growl in the living room, I found her cowering and giving my rucksack (which was unusually sat upright) the death stare while she tried to work out what it was and why was in her home. She also does this when she sees suitcases being pulled on wheels, skateboards and scooters.
Sudden Toileting. Like people, nervous dogs can feel a sudden urge to go to the bathroom. If your dog has lost control over their bladder or/and bowels then you should check to see what is in their immediate environment that has caused this.
Avoidance behavior. When faced with an unwelcome situation, dogs may avoid it by focusing on something else. Instead of looking at or interacting with the situation which could be a person or dog they may go and sniff the ground, lick their genitals, or simply turn away.
This is what Erick does if a dog he is unsure of enters his space, he will start sniffing the ground around him. If your dog avoids interaction with other dogs or people, don’t force the issue. Respect their choice.
Hiding or Escaping. An extension of avoidance, some nervous dogs literally move behind their owners to hide. They may even nudge their owners to prompt them to move along. As a means of escape, they may engage in diversion activities such as digging or circling, or may slink behind a tree or parked car. They go even run away from what is making them nervous.
While the above is a pretty good list of things to watch out for with your dog if you think they are nervous it isn’t exhaustive. A pretty great way to see what differences there in your dog’s behaviour is to fully know what they are like relaxed.
For example I know when Ally is chilled when she carries herself evenly on all 4 paws, I can see her body is relaxed ie not stiff or tense, her mouth is also relaxed, almost smiling. Her tail wags nice and high when she’s happy too.
So have a look at your dog around your home, around family, in familiar places then compare it too unfamiliar places, people and dogs to see if there are any signs of nerves.
Did you know that I specialise in helping and training Nervous Dogs?
I sure do, I have created a 6 week training program to help your dog gain confidence, to help you understand your dog and show you how to manage your dog during and after a stressful event. This is everything I have used with Ally, she now doesn’t bother with bikes, doesn’t bark or chase them and can even be off lead around them!
Its a weekly class with no more than 4 dog’s in attendance, you get a 24 page workbook to keep which contains all the games and exercises, training treats and a training toy.
The next block starts 18th March at 6.30pm & 7.45pm YMCA Edinburgh 1 Junction Place, Leith. Find out more here or hit reply!
Take care Suzanne
Chief Canine Happiness Officer & Creator of Practically Perfect Protocol®