Many of the symptoms of fear and anxiety overlap, an animal’s experience of these emotions differs based on their context.
Fear relates to a known or understood threat but anxiety is more a lingering apprehension or a chronic sense of worry or tension, the source of which might be totally unknown.
Many factors influence the development of behaviours associated with anxiety in dogs. For many dogs there is a genetic impact, which is why it is important that breeders select temperamentally sound dogs. Additionally, the period of time which your dog developed in their mother’s womb has a tremendous effect on their later temperament. Studies have shown that stress experienced during pregnancy negatively affects stress reactivity in the offspring. Therefore, all possible measures should be put into place to ensure that the mother’s environment and her experiences during pregnancy are as stress free as possible.
Of course, you will have heard about the all-important socialisation period for all dogs which is a vital element of their learning. Anything the puppy learns and is exposed to during this period is likely to be accepted later in life and less likely to produce a fear response. However, the sensitivity of the puppy’s brain during this period may mean exposure to scary or overwhelming situations during this period may have long term negative effects.
Finally, your relationship with your dog, how you treat them and what training methods you use when training your dog has a huge impact on numerous aspects of their social behaviour. Research has shown that dog owners who had more shared activities with their dogs were less likely to categorise them as nervous. Historically, advice was to ignore your dog when they showed signs of nervousness or anxiety as it was thought that you would reinforce these emotions, however you cannot reinforce emotions. Instead, providing the dog with the choice of whether to approach or retreat to a safe distance where they can observe is more likely to make them feel in control and therefore reduce anxiety.
About Kimberley ...
Kimberley Grundy is a canine behaviourist and trainer, based in Yorkshire. She has practised for more than ten years and has two masters degrees – one in animal behaviour and welfare,
the other in psychology.