Alan's Anxiety and How We're Helping Him Overcome His Triggers
Since Alan came into our lives a year and a half a go, one of our biggest challenges has been anxiety. Even when we’re relaxing at home, he’s sniffing, twitching, listening - ready at all times for ‘danger’. Imagine a wild deer in an open field, having a snack and enjoying the moment but always on the lookout, always ready for fight or flight - well that’s Alan’s default. His response is usually ‘fight’ - and by that I mean he uses his voice as a warning. Just imagine it, you’re already on edge, then you hear a car door slam shut outside, your instant reaction is to jump. That’s just what it’s like for Alan, whereas his reflex is a bark. A very loud, deep, shouty bark. Then imagine the noise of a car door, followed by a bus stopping outside the house, then someone walking past the window. With every potential ‘threat’, it just winds him up even more, this is commonly known as trigger stacking. We’ve made lots of progress with Alan, so I wanted to share parts of his journey and a few tips. BUT I should mention, these tips are just what I have found to work for Alan. Every dog has different circumstances and I am not a trained behaviourist. So if you’re having serious issues, do seek help from a professional.
Reward Good Behaviour
I’d say this is the most important rule you should follow as a dog owner. It’s so easy to shout at a dog when they’re being naughty. It’s a natural instinct to want to correct. I’m still guilty of it occasionally, especially when you know your dog knows better and they’re having a stubborn moment. But it’s important, especially in the early stages to ignore bad behaviour and reward the good.
So going back to the barking as an example - there have been occasions when someone has walked past our living room window and Alan has reacted with just a little growl, instead of a huge territorial outburst. Even though he’s not being completely silent, we praise him as much as possible. It’s a huge step for him not to be full of rage and using his voice to defend himself and his pack. So we need to let him know that he’s a good boy for reigning it in.
By doing this, we’ve been able to take it to the next level. When we can see someone approaching the house, we praise and distract him while he’s calm. Then when that person walks past he tends not to bark. I’m not going to lie, it’s been a lengthy process and we’ve still got a long way to go, but hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day!
2. Invest in a Dog Camera
At the start of the year, I wrote a review on the Furbo dog camera, which was very kindly gifted to us. It has become so essential to our routine, I honestly couldn’t imagine life without it. At the time, Alan was transitioning from being shut in the kitchen, to having free reign of the house when he was home alone. I remember feeling pretty nervous and to tell you the truth, I was certain he was going to destroy the cushions. The Furbo made that process a whole lot easier, as I could see what Alan was getting up to. Six months on, and Alan is happy enough to be home alone. I realised that before the Furbo, I had built up this whole image of Alan, distressed, pacing the floor, chewing up anything in sight as a way to cope with his loneliness. But that was not the case!
Thanks to the Furbo, I could spy on Alan and it was clear to see he was quite happy just curling up on the couch and snoozing all day. In fact I’ve noticed that he’s actually better behaved when he’s home alone. His barking is less frequent which tells me his noise making could be a protective behaviour. One feature I really like about the Furbo is that you receive a notification when your dog is barking. I used to use this as an opportunity to check in on him, worried that something may have happened. Now, I kind of ignore it and I let the notifications build up and keep track of how many ‘outbursts’ he has. I remember at one time I had 17 notifications in one day - so that’s 17 separate times when he was barking the house down (sorry neighbours). Now it’s more like 4 times. Once when the postman comes, once when the dog walker arrives and the others could be noises/people outside. So this is my favourite thing about the Furbo, it’s great for tracking progress and just brings peace of mind. A lot of people think a dog camera can be pointless as you can see a distressed pet, but you’re powerless and unable to help. However, the way I look at it, you can learn about your pet’s behaviour and then know how to make them feel more at ease in the future - for example, we now slightly close the blinds so that Alan doesn’t have a full view of the street.
3. Stick to a Routine
I’ve found that when Alan is out of his routine he tends to play up a bit more. It’s understandable really! Let’s say he’s not been able to have his usual big morning walk, his mind isn’t as stimulated and he’s probably not had enough exercise. This means he’ll be restless, he won’t be as tired and will probably be more irritable and prone to anxiety. Routine is especially key for us as I know at certain times in the morning, there will be dogs on the park that Alan will get a bit grumpy with. So I take Alan out a little later and he plays with his pals that he knows and loves. A trainer would probably say not to avoid those morning dogs, and try and confront the situation, but the way I see it, I’m just setting Alan’s morning off to a bad start. By sticking to our routine, Alan knows what and who to expect and he’s less anxious for the rest of the day.
Alan’s anxiety is an ongoing issue that we will continue to monitor. I hope by sharing how we deal with his behaviour, it will bring a little peace of mind for you too! I think a key thing to remember when it comes to dog behaviour, is remain consistent and hopefully with time, you will see results and a less anxious doggo.
If you’re interested in keeping an eye on your dog with your very own Furbo, you can grab yourself some discount and use the code petstories20 to receive £20 off!
(This code is valid in the following countries: UK, Spain, Italy and France (in the countries with Euro prices - €20 off).