Anxiety is a word we are hearing more and more when it comes to adopting a dog. Unfortunately, when a dog has been abused or abandoned, they will most likely end up with some form of anxiety. Whether it be separation anxiety or anxiety around people/certain environmental factors, it is important to know how to deal with it to make sure the transition is smooth for both you and your new furry family member.
I have just welcomed a beautiful addition to my family. She is a 3-year-old, 25 pound Staffordshire mixed dog named Shadow. Unfortunately, this sweet girl is incredibly anxious and has many fears. When I first met her, she trembled uncontrollably. As soon as I got her home, she ran directly to the smallest space she could find to feel safe. I’m not entirely sure of her past but I know she is afraid to eat in front of humans, she’s afraid of meeting all humans, she is afraid of car rides, she is afraid of loud noises and large objects, and even going outside makes her tremble.
Thankfully, she isn’t afraid of dogs and she loves her new big brother, who’s an 85 lb Staffordshire mix. She draws enough confidence from him to go for walks in the park, try new and exciting treats, and even eat and drink in front of me. My first rescue has major separation anxiety and was also a victim of abuse and abandonment. However, he was rescued at a much younger age and had the opportunity to truly live out his puppy years right. He still experiences separation anxiety when I go anywhere. If I go on trips he won’t eat and if I drop something by accident, he will hide and tremble.
I am fortunate enough to work from home so leaving my anxiety-ridden dogs is not a problem. When I do have appointments or something where they can’t join me, they go to a trusted family member’s home. Unfortunately, many people do not have the privilege of being able to work from home and be with their fur family all day.
When I first brought her home, I wasn’t sure what to expect so I just decided to take it slow. The foster parents told me about all kinds of problems I should be aware of. “She probably will have accidents on the floor, she’s allergic to all kinds of food, she’s not food driven and won’t respond to treats, she will hide for the first few weeks and rarely leave her kennel, and she probably won’t wag or show any kinds of affection for the first bit.” I knew I was going to have to take it day by day and go slow with her. However, by the third day, she was wagging and jumping all over me if I came in the house from a few minutes outside. She eats in front of me, she very much loves her treats, and she hasn’t stepped foot in her kennel since I got her in the house.
So I have just been taking it easy. I don’t force her to come upstairs when she gets overwhelmed and retreats into the bedroom, but I will call her once and see if she’s open to visiting with me. I don’t force her to eat or give her restricted feeding times, I just leave the food out so she will take it when she is ready. I encourage her to sleep in my room with me but I don’t shut the door so that she feels free to go where she wants when she wants. She hasn’t had a single accident in this house. The closest thing I have experienced to an accident is because of the nerve damage in her tongue, she drips water when she drinks. This is nothing new to me after dealing with 8 years of my big floppy lipped boy displacing more water than he drinks.
For the next few weeks of this transition, which I know will be a rollercoaster ride of major ups and major downs, I am going to take it slow. For instance, the first two nights she slept all night in my bed, but the last two she has been going from the bed to the floor. I’m not sure why she does it, but I just let her be. I will continue this approach of being very passive and showing her that this is a safe space where she is free to do as she wishes. As long as she isn’t destroying things, making a ton of noise, or hurting my other dog, there is nothing really for me to correct. I don’t see her doing any of those negative things in the future either.
I plan on staying close to home for the first few weeks and I won’t be introducing her to many people at first. I want her to trust me and know that this is her home. I have been doing short walks around the block since the third day and she seems to really enjoy them and get excited when she sees the gate to my home. After a few weeks, I will start to venture on longer walks and maybe even make a trip out to her grandmas to meet some family.
Car rides are a bit of a scary one for me, something I haven't done with her yet. She usually rides in a huge crate that takes up the entire back seat, but since she hasn’t used the kennel in this house I don’t imagine she will need it in the car. My backseat isn’t all that big so it has to comfortably fit two dogs, and the kennel would be a big problem there. I might add a small car seat for dogs or cradle bed so that she has a safe space in the truck. I am hoping she will just enjoy sitting back there and trust that wherever we’re going, I will keep her safe.
For the first two days, she stayed mostly downstairs in my bedroom and didn’t come up at all. The third and fourth day she spent almost the entire day upstairs with me on the couch and barely touched the bedroom. For the last two days, she has been going between the bedroom and couch with some hiding under the coffee table. I’m not sure why, nothing has really changed. But to encourage her to come out from hiding, whenever she comes upstairs I get really excited and thank her for coming to us. I sometimes even give her a treat so that she recognizes this is a safe space and being around me is beneficial, not scary.
I am still working on getting her to eat out of the big bowls rather than me bringing small amounts of food to her at a time, but it is still hit and miss. Sometimes she will go over to the big water bowl and drink but then run away when she notices I’m watching. Sometimes she will grab food from the big food bowl and bring it over to the dog bed. I’m not sure why she won’t eat there, but I will just let her be and hope it gets better.
So far, that is what is working for me. I let her do her thing and show her that she has a lot of freedom here and that she is safe. When she comes out from hiding, I will continue to give her a healthy and tasty treat to show her that coming out from hiding is actually a good thing. Whenever we come back from a walk or a ride I will also give her a treat to show her that she did good. I make sure the treats are healthy and natural so that giving her a lot of them won’t have any negative effects on her health.
Adopting a dog with anxiety can be a tough task and it’s something that you truly need patience for. However, it’s such a rewarding thing being able to witness your fur child come out of their shell and truly show their personality to you.