I went to a really interesting talk last week. It was all about anxiety in puppies and what we can do as vets and pet owners to reduce anxiety, aid the settling in period and facilitate their adaptation to their new environment. The talk featured two brilliant Veterinary Behaviourists, Dr Kersti Seksel (Aussie) and Dr Gary Landsbery (Canadian).
Now bringing a brand new puppy in a new home has got to be a scary prospect. Not only for the puppy but also the new puppy parents. The talk discussed behavioural requirements of your future dog, the signs of anxiety and then what we can do about it. So prepare to be enlightened. I hope you find this as useful as I did!
To start the talk they introduced us to some statistics –about the behavioural needs of a dog. If you asked me before the talk I would have thought, yep, I’ve got a fair idea. After the talk I thought, nope I had no idea but I really want to know more!
Being read out these stats was like a smack to the forehead for me. 12.5% of their day should be spent eating! Now that is 3 hours per day! This means that by simply placing our pets food in a bowl and having them hoover it down in moments is not going to fulfill their NEED to chew and slowly consume their food. This is where puzzle bowls, kongs, treat balls and other game based ways of feeding our pets come into play. No wonder Labrador puppies take to chewing and destroying the house and garden. It’s because we’re not well enough aware of what our puppies and dogs need.
So what happens if we don’t meet the behavioural needs of our pets? Frustration (for them and us) and alternative behaviours result – and they are generally not behaviours that we as pet owners like. They may include destructive chewing, scratching and digging, nuisance barking, in appropriate toileting, self-trauma (over grooming) and the list goes on.
Anxiety in puppies - how do you know they are anxious?
Anxiety is the anticipation of future danger (real or received). Anxiety can be divided into the Four F's. Flight, Fight, Free and Fiddle. Recognising stress in your puppy may not be as easy as it first seems. The common signs of stress in puppies are illustrated below.
How do you help prevent anxiety in your puppy?
The good news is that you can help control your puppies anxiety levels. The key points that I got out of the talk when it came to reducing anxiety in puppies were:
- Socialisation is essential - so puppy preschool is a must. Socialisation means socialising with other puppies, puppies of different breeds and sizes, socialising with a range of people (children, teenagers, adults & seniors), socialising with other species (cats, rabbits etc) and exposing them to a variety of situations and places.
- Meet their behavioural and physical needs - enrichment is essential
- Reward desirable behaviour and ignore or prevent the undesirable
- Provide security and control for your puppy - they thrive on predictability
- Just as you need to provide your puppy with socialisation it is also really important to provide them with quiet alone time. They need to learn it is ok to spend time on their own and gives them a chance to unwind after a busy day learning!
- Pheromones can go a long way to help reduce anxiety. They recommend using a Dog Appeasing Pheromone called Adaptil for the first three months of bringing a new puppy home. Now I'm a big fan of these collars. My dog Jack wears one and it helps with his old man separation anxiety. It is not medicated, we can't smell it but they can and that makes a big difference. It is the same pheromone that the mummy dog secretes just after she has the puppies. Think of it as a feel good pheromone. They have recently released a bunch of studies that show the effectiveness of these collars. They found that the collars lead to faster settling of puppies into their new home, reduce signs of anxiety, less fearfulness, less shyness, sleeping through the night sooner (seriously don't they have something like this for human babies already?), decreased arousal, increased sociability and more.
I hope this has been helpful to the new puppy parents out there. It has certainly sparked an interest in me and I look forward to furthering my knowledge in this area.
What have you found helpful in settling your new puppy into your home?