Understanding Your Anxious Dog

Anxiety in dogs seems to be more and more common these days. That likely has something to do with the increased pace of our lives (meaning less exercise/interaction for your canine) and the increase in rules & confinement (often creating more mental frustration & a lack of social interaction). The world is also busier than ever meaning that dogs need to learn to acclimate to A LOT! Some dogs can do this easily, while others struggle greatly.

Luckily, there are some things you can do to help your anxious dog, and the first of those things is truly understanding them. Anxiety creates many behavior problems, so understanding where the behaviors are coming from and how to alleviate that anxiety will help your canine not only feel better but behave better too!


Lucky Paws Board & Train dog Finnegan. Finn struggled with anxiety related behavior problems, but she is now in a much better place due to behavior modification, training, management and the help of behavioral medicine.

What is anxiety?

If you were to pull out a dictionary, it would read something like…

Anxiety: distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune OR a nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, often with compulsive behavior or panic attacks.

This means that an anxious dog suffers from an uneasy mind. They are often excessively worried about what might happen and often have reactions to things that frighten them that are not proportionate to the stimuli (similar to a panic attack). Most anxious dogs have increased sensitivity to environmental stimuli, an exaggerated startle response, hyper-vigilance, and long recovery after arousing events.

The difference between a “normal” dog and an anxious dog:

When a “normal” dog is confronted by something it doesn’t understand (hasn’t seen before, considers it may be threatening), you may see a small amount of wariness in the body language (moving slowly, lowering head, moving away slowly), but after a few moments of evaluating the situation, curiosity typically kicks in and the dog begins using his senses to investigate (assuming the thing it didn’t understand was not actually something threatening).

When an anxious dog is confronted with the same situation, there is an exaggerated startle response. The dog may physically jump back or run away, bark at the trigger and generally exaggerate the level of threat. Many anxious dogs will either take much longer to get to the point of evaluating the situation, or skip it entirely and just run away to avoid the situation. Anxious dogs generally take quite some time to fully recover from a stressful event, sometimes taking several hours (and even occasionally days) after a stressful event.

Similarly, anxious dogs are often on edge. They are hyper-vigilant, constantly scanning their environment on the lookout for something scary. The world is a continuous stream of unknowns, so when outside of their safe zone (their crate, your home etc), they are constantly scanning the horizon for the next scary thing. This makes things like walks, and field trips to the park scary events. Some dogs may decide they no longer enjoy walks or trips to the park, but many are conflicted because they enjoy being at the park or they enjoy sniffing things on the walk, so they get excited to go on the walk, even though it tends to be a fairly stressful experience for them.

Anxious dogs tend to learn at a normal level in quiet environments but really struggle to learn and comply with commands they know in busier environments, or environments with a lot of stimuli.

To an anxious dog, the world is often at least a little overwhelming (sometimes incredibly overwhelming). To an anxious dog, a quiet yard can resemble a busy amusement park but instead of everything looking fun and exciting, it’s quite overwhelming and often scary. Remember that dogs have much better hearing and smelling abilities than people, so where we may see or hear nothing, they see and hear a lot!

Helping Your Anxious Dog

Once you understand your anxious
dog and how they see the world, helping them becomes easier. We can control how we expose them to the frightening stimuli so that they can learn not only to feel more at ease in their world, but also to trust our judgement which makes them feel safer.

Use Counter Conditioning

Counter conditioning involves pairing the scary stimuli with something the dog loves (play, affection, high value food rewards etc). When you come across something that frightens your dog, begin praising your dog and even stop to feed him a few treats or play. We want him to think that great things happen when the scary thing happens. Over time, he will begin to like the scary thing because it brings great things! That means, it will no longer be a scary thing!

What to do when your dog has a strong reaction to a trigger (barking, running away etc.)

First you need to stop the reaction as quickly as possible to avoid a huge spike in stress hormones which makes it more difficult to come back down from the fear. Immediately moving the dog away from the trigger to a place where he can actually think and evaluate the situation is helpful. Once you find the location where the dog can function, try to regain the dog’s attention and use food, praise and play (counter conditioning) to get the dog in a better state of mind. Getting your dog into a better state of mind is important. We need to give your dog’s brain the ability to slow down enough to evaluate the situation instead of just immediately reacting to something he doesn’t understand.

Here are a few Dos & Don’ts for helping your anxious dog.

Refrain from harsh discipline: This doesn’t mean you never correct your dog, it only means that you control the level of the correction, especially in the presence of scary stimuli. Any time your dog is around something that makes him uncomfortable, you want to be positive. Fear and anxiety are emotions your dog doesn’t have much control over. Harsh punishment can actually increase anxiety and damage your relationship with your dog.

Change the way you console your dog: Instead of trying to soothe your dog’s anxiety by picking them up, petting them and saying “Your ok…” in a quiet manner, try to change his state of mind by making things fun. Condition him to feel happy in the presence of things that produce anxiety by pairing scary stimuli with fun. This of course needs to happen at a distance that is not too overwhelming for your dog.

Avoid the fearful stimulus when you aren’t able to work on counter conditioning: This doesn’t mean avoid it entirely. If you do, your dog will never learn to feel more comfortable when confronted by things he is fearful of. Only avoid when you are unable to work on counter conditioning. We don’t want to ingrain the fear any more than it already is.

Take the time to learn your dog’s body language: Being able to read your dog and recognize anxiety quickly is a very important part of the rehabilitation process.

Be a good leader your dog can trust: Take the time to counter condition your dog. Teach him that he can trust you to evaluate the situation and get him to a place where he can feel comfortable every time. When he learns to trust you, he will have more confidence to try
situations he may have otherwise not been comfortable with because he trusts you are there to help him through it.

Check your behavior and emotions: Dogs are very good at picking up on human emotions and can sense any stress or anxiety you may be feeling. Not surprisingly, many anxious dogs have anxious owners. Tackling your own stress and anxiety and being confident for your dog makes a world of difference. Anxious dogs are more likely to be able to feel comfortable in their world if they are confident that if anything does come up that is scary, you will handle it. You need to teach your dog they can trust you by immediately taking action when something frightens them, first getting them feeling safe, then following that by helping them adapt and learn about the thing that made them fearful. Soon they will begin to want to investigate things they don’t understand instead of feeling fear and anxiety.

Provide your dog with a routine life: Anxious dogs function best with a routine. They like to know as much as possible what is going to happen next.

Provide lots of physical and mental exercise: Physical and mental exercise boost serotonin levels naturally. Serotonin is a feel good chemical that is depleted when stressful events happen. The less serotonin there is in your dog’s system, the weaker his ability to cope with stress.

Teach your dog that paying attention to you is great: If you have your dog’s attention, they are more likely to be able to listen to commands in stressful environments. Keeping their attention is the key to success. This means that anxious dogs often rely on rewards in stimuli rich environments for much longer than your average dog.

Additional Helpful Tools:

Natural Calming Remedies: Pet stores sell many herbal supplements for anxiety. This is a great place to start before resorting to prescription medication (which can be a great option for some dogs). Be sure to consult your vet before choosing a remedy, especially if your dog is on any medication.

Comfort Zone Plug-In: This releases something that mimics a mother’s natural pheromones which helps to relax your dog. This can be great in conjunction with other calming remedies.

Pheromone Collar: Similar to the plug-in, this is a collar that helps relax your dog. This is great for dogs who are anxious outside of the house.

Thundershirt: Anxiety wraps use pressure to calm your dog.

Need Training Help?

Need some help with teaching your dog to cope better with their anxiety? We can help! Give us a call (612-388-9656) or send us an email (heather@luckypawsmn.com) anytime!




Preventing Resource Guarding

No one ever wants to think their sweet puppy may someday growl or snarl when you try to take away his bone or walk past his food bowl, but this is actually a pretty common occurrence.

Does your puppy…

  • Eat REALLY fast!brown-labrador-12
  • Become very still when you approach his food or bone
  • Play keep away with his possessions

Did you know that these can all be subtle signs of resource guarding? Guarding dogs tend to eat quickly to prevent the need to guard. They also appear to freeze when approached, maybe even look at you out of the corner of their eye in this position and sometimes they just quickly run away when you approach. These can all be warning signs that more severe guarding may begin over the next few months with your puppy. It’s important to take action now to prevent this from getting any worse. Here are a few steps you can take to be sure your puppy is happy to have you around his prize possessions.

Practice Trading Your Puppy

Always practice trades for valuable objects. If you are just constantly taking things away, your pup won’t think you are very much fun to play with. Play fetch with two balls, as your puppy drops the first you can throw the second. When your puppy has a bone, you may need to provide a highly tempting treat such as hot dog or cheese to convince him to give up the bone. After bone time is over, consider doing something else with your dog so the fun doesn’t just suddenly come to an end.

Create a Positive Association

Walk by your dog while they are eating or chewing a bone and simply toss them a few treats while they are eating. You may also drop a spoonful of wet food into their bowl. This will make them see your approach as a very positive thing.

Ask for Help

If you see any type of behavioral issue developing in your puppy, don’t wait months or years to address it! Behaviors can be changed much more easily when your dog hasn’t practiced them for a long period of time and gotten good at them. If your dog is already freezing, growling or snarling, it may be time to consult a trainer for help. You should also look for help if your dog is guarding from other dogs as this is a more complex behavior. Contact us and we can help you solve these issues and keep your family safe.

Kong & Bone Stuffers

Does your dog have a Kong toy or an empty marrow bone? Often unless they are stuffed, dogs quickly become uninterested.

Great Kong StuffersWhy stuff a Kong or bone? Here are just a few reasons:

  • Is your dog barking or crying when left alone or do you want to prevent it? Try leaving him with a stuffed & frozen Kong or bone every time you leave. It won’t be long before your dog begins to look forward to your departure.
  • Is your dog full of energy & often bored because you don’t have enough time to exercise him some days? Giving your dog a stuffed Kong will stimulate him mentally & keep him out of your hair for a good 15 minutes or more.
  • Do you love your dog? Give them a tasty treat once in a while!

Kong & Bone Stuffers

First things first. There are a few foods that can be toxic to dogs & shouldn’t be used. NO GRAPES, RAISINS, ONIONS, OR CHOCOLATE. Also, freezing whatever you fill the Kong with will make it last much longer! To avoid stomach upset, it might be a good idea to start off by stuffing with mostly your dogs food or other treats they get on a regular basis, then slowly begin adding in small amounts of other foods (plain yogurt and rice are usually good things to start with). Some dogs adapt very easily to new foods, other dogs have sensitive digestive systems. You will need to learn what works best for your dog.

  • Dry Dog Food
  • Canned Dog Food
  • Dog Treats (anything from small training treats to larger dry treats)
  • Meat: Chicken, Beef, Pork, Fish (Cooked or Raw)
  • Plain Yogurt
  • Apples or Bananas
  • Potato or Sweet Potato
  • Pumpkin (known to firm up dog stools)
  • Eggs (Cooked or Raw)
  • Canned or Fresh Green Beans, Carrots (fills up a belly without adding many calories)
  • Organic Peanut Butter
  • Ice
  • Hot Dogs
  • Baby Food
  • Oatmeal
  • Cooked Rice
  • Cooked Noodles

REMEMBER: Freeze your Kong or Bone for the longest lasting treat.

Your Newly Adopted Dog

Bringing home a new dog can be very exciting, but it can also be a real bummer if the transition doesn’t go well. Here are my top 10 tips for success with your newly adopted dog.

1. Establish a routine: Dogs love routines, especially a dog who is trying to adapt to a new environment. Set up your routine so your dog knows what to expect each day and that will help him better cope with the stress of a new home. Plan meal times, walks, playtime etc and try to stick to a similar schedule each day. Your first few weeks should be low key (nofficeo dog park trips or large gatherings) to help your dog adapt more quickly.

2. Teach your dog to love his alone zone: Generally, a crate is a great place for a dog to be while you are gone (at least until he has shown you that he is not destructive). Whether a crate, mudroom, bedroom etc, teach your dog to love his “Alone Zone.” Each time you bring him to this place, leave him with a stuffed Kong or other long lasting (and safe) edible. From day one, you should give your dog brief periods of confinement in his Alone Zone. Ignore any whining or barking when left alone, and instead give him attention for good behavior (such as resting or chewing his toy).

3. Teach some door & gate boundary control exercises: By teaching your dog to sit & wait at a door or gate, you are preventing door dashing. If your dog doesn’t already know how to Sit, start with that. Once he understands that cue, simply go over to a door and act as if you plan to exit. Reach for the door handle and ask your dog to sit. Once seated, begin to open the door. If he gets up, close the door and again ask for a sit. Repeat until your dog understands that the door only opens when he sits & waits in that position. Release him (with a word such as Break, Free or Release) when you are ready to go through the door. Initially practice on an interior door, then leash the dog to work on an exterior door.

4. Play the Name Game: If your dog has a new name, you’ll have to teach him that saying “Fido” means to pay attention to me. Simply say “Fido” and give a treat if he looks in your direction. If he doesn’t look your way, pause a few seconds before trying again, this time touching him gently right after you say it to get his attention. Again, reward him for looking your way. Practice initially in a quiet environment in your home, then work up to more distractions such as outside in the yard or while on a walk.

5. Teach your dog to chase you: A loose dog that barely knows you is difficult to catch, especially if he is fearful, so play the chase game (he chases IMAG1000you… not the other way around which will have the opposite effect) to teach him that running to you is a great game! Start with a bunch of high value treats, say your dogs name and run away from him. When he catches you, deliver several high value treats and praise him. Repeat, repeat, repeat until your dog sees running after you as a great game. In the event that he sneaks out the front door, all you need to do is say his name, and run back in the yard or house. To prevent him from nipping when he catches you, be sure to deliver the treats immediately when he gets close to you, so he doesn’t think to chase you and nip at your clothes, hands or feet.

6. Know how to prevent him from getting away from you & what to do if he does: The type of collar or harness you use when going on walks is important. A collar that is too big can easily slip off your dog. Make sure your dogs collar is snug or use a martingale collar (aka no slip collar) for prevention (and don’t forget the ID tag & microchip). It is also a good idea to set up some double barriers at all exits that lead to an unfenced space. Use gates, x pens or get creative with furniture to make sure your dog can’t slip out the door under your feet. This is especially important in homes with children who may leave the door open on accident or not know to stop the dog from going out with them. The boundary control exercises above will also help prevent this. If your dog does slip out, play the chase game above. If that doesn’t work, bring a bunch of treats to throw directly at him and while he is cleaning them up, you can grab him. Sitting or lying down can also be an effective way to get your dog to approach you, especially if they are running away the moment you get close to them. More often than not, running after the dog is not the answer. Try to stop and think. You can even try corralling him into a fenced yard for capture.

7. Try using some natural calming remedies to reduce stress: When you bring your dog home, consider using a calming collar,  calming spray, calming treats, DAP diffuser, or essential oils designed for use in dogs. This can also help prevent separation anxiety which is very common in shelter & rescue dogs.IMAG1892

8. Really get to know your dog: Learn about his likes & dislikes when it comes to affection (where does he like to be pet, or not like), play (does he like squeaky toys, playing tug etc), food (what are his favorite types of treats) and social interaction (how does he feel about strangers out in public or other dogs). Do a little at a time so you don’t overwhelm him, but see if he enjoys things like swimming, going for walks (surprisingly not every dog does) and more. When you figure out what your dog enjoys, you can begin using those things as rewards in training.

9. Dog proof your home: Don’t expect that he should know not to chew on your shoes or your favorite rug. Set up the space so he can succeed. Remove unnecessary things he might try to play with, and give him plenty of his own toys & chews of different types and textures.

10. Set him up for potty training success (even if he’s already trained): Take him to his toileting area immediately when you bring him home, and continue to take him there as often as possible to give him ample opportunity to get it right. Even for a potty trained dog, coming into a new home with new people and smells can throw them off, so don’t expect that there won’t be any accidents.


Often, the first few weeks of an adoption are the honeymoon period. The dog is unsure of his new surroundings and is just sitting back to figure out what is happening. Once he begins to settle in, you might begin to see some not so fun behaviors setting in. That’s why its a good idea to get your new dog into training classes or schedule private lessons in the first few weeks you have him so you have some help on your side to tackle the issues as they come up before they become a serious problem.


Understanding Leash Reactivity

It’s not uncommon for dogs to bark, snarl & lunge at other dogs or people while on-leash. We call this leash reactivity. Generally this problem develops over time either due to fear or discomfort around other dogs or people, a bad experience, because they weren’t socialized as a puppy, or simply because they are frustrated with not being able to greet the dog or person. Some leash reactive dogs are perfectly friendly off leash, while others may have social issues and struggle to get along in general.

Dealing with a leash reactive dog can be very frustrating and down right embarrassing. You may find yourself walking your dog less or at odd hours to avoid dog traffic. Unfortunately, isolating your dog will often make the behavior worse as your dog will be lacking in exercise and social experiences. Creating alternate forms of exercise and doing controlled set up training scenarios with a qualified trainer is the best way to address this issue.

The On-Leash Greeting
I recommend that even non-reactive dogs avoid on-leash dog greetings all together for the simple fact that dogs can often not display proper body language while being restricted on leash, which can cause some miscommunication. Not only that, but you never know if the dog is indeed friendly on leash, even if the owner claims it is! Unrestrained social dogs typically approach one another in an arc, coming together gradually and from an angle, then proceed to circle & sniff and decide whether they want to play or move along. This type of greeting ritual is very difficult to do successfully on leash. Typically as the dogs are approaching they are head on (such as on a walking path) and likely making direct eye contact (which isthreatening in dog language). The dogs are likely pulling toward each other with tight leashes and the strangling sensation of the tightening collars adds to the frustration and tension. If the people walking the dogs become apprehensive of the greeting, they may jerk the leash, again adding to tension and frustration. They are accidentally sending the dog a signal that this situation may indeed be something threatening.

Can this be fixed?
This question is generally answered on a case by case basis. In most situations, yes this behavior can be greatly decreased or go away completely. There may however be some cases where the reactivity is caused by genetics or the dogs physical health. In those cases, the physical health needs to be addressed first, and we need to understand what limits we may face due to genetics. Success with this type of training is highly variable depending on several factors:

  • Genetics – Genetics play a large role in behavior and could potentially limit the amount of progress we can make. A reactive puppy from a long line of reactive dogs is likely to be more challenging to work with than a reactive puppy from solid parents.
  • Level of Fear – If fear is involved, we will need to proceed slowly and at the dogs pace. Rushing things will not help anyone. If you have a fearful dog, it is especially important to our progress that you never push your dog over threshold. Pushing too far could result in significant setbacks in our training plan.
  • How long the behavior has been practiced and reinforced? – Every time your dog barks, lunges, or growls at another dog and they get what they want out of the situation, (typically more space) they are being environmentally reinforced, even if you are not praising, treating or even if you are punishing. The longer the dog has been practicing the behavior, the better he/she is going to be at it.
  • The amount of work you put into training as well as the use of techniques is very important. This means you must main consistency with the techniques used and work at your dogs level to be sure to not push them over threshold and into a reaction.

So how do we fix it?

I wish this was an easy answer as many dog owners deal with this sort of behavior. The truth is, it will take a serious commitment from you to learn how to rehabilitateBelle your reactive dog. You will need to learn a few things yourself such as reading you dogs body language, what are your dogs strongest triggers, at what distance can your dog handle the trigger? You will also need to manage your dogs reactive behavior by preventing it and only work on it in controlled training scenarios.

What do we do in the controlled training scenarios?

The techniques we use for training involve desensitization and counterconditioning. We will not be using punishment. We use desensitization by exposing your dog to their trigger at a distance they can handle without reacting. We use counter conditioning to teach your dog that another dogs presence (or a strangers) makes great things happen! We will be working to change the dogs emotional response from one of anxiety, fear or frustration to one of happiness. This process involves a lot of repetition in order to re-condition the feelings they already have about another dogs presence. We will also work on focus related behaviors, polite leash walking and more.

A note about punishment:

Punishing reactive behavior is often ineffective and doing more harm than good. Your dog is trying to communicate their discomfort with the situation by growling, barking and lunging. If you punish those communications, you are left with a highly unpredictable dog that instead of giving warnings, he tolerates as much as he can, then goes straight to the bite, skipping all warning signs. This makes for a dangerous dog. We are not looking to suppress the behavior, we are looking to change the dogs emotional response to people.

Below are a few additional resources to continue learning. If you are ready to get help with your dogs reactivity, contact us to schedule some Private Training.

  • Help For Your Fearful Dog – Nicole Wilde
  • Scaredy Dog! – Ali Brown
  • Feisty Fido – Patricia McConnell and Karen London



Submissive & Excitement Urination

This subject is one close to home. My dog Ryder’s nick name is “Mr. Pee Body.” Some dogs will urinate submissively or because of excitement. This often happens upon first meeting a person, but can also happen each time you or a guest greets your dog. This can certainly become problematic when tryinImageg to keep your home clean.

Why does this happen? Some dogs are more prone to this type of urination than others. Confident dogs are less likely to do submissive urination, and dogs who are not exciteable are also less likely. It often has a lot to do with genetics, with lack of muscular control of the bladder and/or behaviorally (mom or dad was submissive or a submissive peeing dog). Ryder’s seems to be due to a lack of muscular control as he exhibits it submissively, excitedly, and sometimes seems to just loose control randomly. I would say I most often have seen Cocker Spaniels and Golden Doodles in private training for his behavior. No matter the reason, punishing a dog for this behavior will make it worse, not better.

What do you do? There are several things I like to do to change this behavior. First, I like to start off with teaching the dog how to greet people calmly. This often involves teaching them to go to a place and stay there for the first few minutes a guest (or the owner) is there, as well as removing the dog immedately from a person when over excited greeting begins.

The second thing I like to do is take the dogs mind off of the social pressure they may be feeling when greeting someone. This can be accomplished by giving the dog a treat, bone, or toy as a greeting rather than immediately petting and sharing affection. The petting can be saved for a time when the person is seated or when the greeting is happening in a much calmer way.

The training also involves teaching guests how to greet the dog calmly, without direct eye contact, speaking calmly (not excitedly), and generally maintaining a calm and somewhat aloof attitude until the dog is completely comfortable. All of these things combined can significantly reduce it not eliminate this type of urination.

As with any training, the sooner you address the problem, the more likely you will be able to fix it and the process will be much faster. Contact a trainer for help if needed and keep in mind that urinary tract infections & kidney issues can often cause urination issues as well, so don’t be afraid to see your vet if this is a problem.

When your pooch doesn’t want to share…

It is very natural for a dog to guard its valued resources, in fact, we as humans are also resource guarders. We lock our doors, some people keep a weapon in case of an emergency, and if someone does try to steal our things, we are likely to try to protect them if possible. Dogs are the same way. They guard their valued resources because they are important to them. We as owners also tend to compound this issue by taking away those objects without offering something in return.

Many people think that if you take the object away and give it back enough, the dog will learn that it will come back eventually. This often actually makes the problem worse. Consider someone taking your valued possession, giving it back the next day, and then taking it again over and over. It’s inconvenient and irritating and would likely provoke a response from a human as well.

Trades: It is always a good idea to teach your dog or puppy that you will trade their valued resource for another, even if they don’t already guard resources. I typically will use a piece of hot dog or cheese as the trade (so the dog can eat it quickly) for a high value bone. Your dog will not be likely to give up a bone for kibble, and if they do, they will likely regret it and not do it next time. If someone offered you $10,000 for your car, you might give it to them… if of course your car was worth around that amount, but if they offered you $500 (the equivalent of kibble), you probably wouldn’t give it up.

If you already have a resource guarder, there are a few things you can do. If your dog is a mild resource guarder that may freeze (seems to stop breathing momentarily) or growl, but not bear teeth, snap or bite, I would suggest that you simply try to associate your presence with a good thing. Ex. When Fluffy is chewing his favorite bone, instead of trying to take it away, simply walk by and throw him a few pieces of hot dog. Repeat over and over again (across multiple days) until your dog comes to expect hot dogs when you approach. To remove your dog from a resource, try pouring food in his bowl, or asking if he wants to go for a walk or outside to see if you can get him away from the resource. Once you have him away from the resource either put him outside or in another room while you go to pick it up (he should be out of sight). This is what we call management. Dogs will often get wise on this trick, so try to make it fun when your dog leaves the resource (give a special treat or play with your pup). Over time, you will begin doing trades with this dog, once he is comfortable with your presence. If your dog is bearing teeth, snapping or biting it is a good idea to consult a behaviorist or trainer to help you along with the process. It’s important to understand that even the most friendly dogs may bite in the wrong scenario, so don’t try to push it. No matter how small your dog, resource guarding is not cute. Even small dogs can do serious damage, especially to a child.

If your dog is guarding from other animals check out this article from Whole Dog Journal.