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Old 08-06-2010, 06:09 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default How to stop general anxiety + using it to get attention?

I recently adopted a purebred 21 mo old GSD a few weeks ago and he seems to have some anxiety issues I can't quite manage.

He and I have bonded well and he's adjusted to the place at this point. Living in a pretty urban area now, he was a bit overwhelmed outside at first, but has become acclimatized with the neighborhood within a few miles' radius and is overall comfortable.

However, his anxiety can be ridiculous sometimes and I've come to realize he uses it to get attention as well. Like right now as I type this, he's whining and pacing around because I won't play, sighing, and panting heavily.

He does have an abused background; I got him as a rescue dog after he was fostered for a few months.

My questions are:

How can I help him become more comfortable in times of genuine stress (i.e. new people/surroundings/etc)?

How can I stop him from acting nervous just to get attention? Is this a learned behavior because I have given him too much affection during times of real stress?

Thanks in advance for the help
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Old 08-06-2010, 07:13 PM   #2 (permalink)
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i think alot of anxiety can be controlled through focus work and obedience training....you also might want to look into the t-touch approach to calm him.......maybe at times when your sitting or busy giving him something to do, like a kong filled with goodies, a bully stick etc..........i think anxiety can be a learned behavior from prior bad situations, so trying to redirect him to something enjoyable.........and calming.......
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Old 08-06-2010, 07:53 PM   #3 (permalink)
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If he's using it to get attention couldn't you wait it out then reward him (attention, treats, play, whatever) as soon as he stops?

I wonder if he has learned that whining is the best way to get what he wants?
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Old 08-06-2010, 09:27 PM   #4 (permalink)
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I would keep it simple, start by actively ignoring him when he's doing that. As the human, try to actually take your mind off of it by engaging your mind in something else. If you just try to go through the motions of "ignoring it" by folding your arms, looking away etc., and are still thinking about it, your body language may suggest to the dog that his whining is having an impact on you, and that there must "really" be something to worry about if the master is stressed as well. If you are actually engaged in something else, and not even thinking about the whining or how annoying it is, then you've "accepted" the whining which is the first step to reducing it.

If it helps you as a human, you may want to run through your mind that his whining REALLY isn't that bad in the scheme of things. That sort of thinking helps to take the pressure off. Overall it sounds as if he's doing good and you are doing a good job with him, so keep a positive relaxed mindset about it, and reward him when he is being how you want him to be.

As mentioned above, obedience training can help. Some of his behaviors, like the pacing, can reinforce his anxious feelings. If he is told to "stay" and corrected for not staying, then he cannot pace, so in his mind he MUST do something else, and the behavior of laying down can be a calming exercise. He can whine, but that's not going to get him anywhere, so eventually that will subside as well. The thing to keep in mind with obedience and an anxious dog is that there has to be a line walked between what you expect in terms of his obedience, and his ability to do what he's being told to do. If he's very anxious, for most dogs it would be unreasonable to expect reliable obedience in those situations. Expecting it and striving for it can add pressure to the situation on both parties.

This will take patience as you know, thank you for rescuing him, he is a cute guy.
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Old 08-06-2010, 09:33 PM   #5 (permalink)
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In terms of making him more comfortable in times of stress, you can slowly expose him to those things that stress him, while working to keep yourself relaxed. You can also do basic association like is done with the "look at that" game, whereby the dog learns to associate what was once stressful, with a tasty treat.
Look at That! A Counterintuitive Approach to Dealing with Reactive Dogs Dog Training for Dog Lovers Blog
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Old 08-06-2010, 09:38 PM   #6 (permalink)
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What does his former foster say? I would start there first - there may be some behaviors that they have seen and previously dealt with. I'd do that before reinventing the wheel.
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Old 08-06-2010, 09:58 PM   #7 (permalink)
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You may find the calming signals described and used by the Norwegian trainer Turid Rugaas to be helpful. She has worked with rescue dogs including GSDs. Here's a link to her site: http://www.canis.no/rugaas/ My Husky was a bit like your GSD. She did use her anxiety to get attention. I adopted her from the Humane Society but fortunately, I was able to visit with her previous owners. She wasn't abused, like yours. But when I first got her (she was 2 years old), she would pant and shake. I thought she needed to go potty, no, she just wanted to go outside. I learned to ignore it as UCDCrush said. I also found it helpful to give her something to do. I would put her on her leash and she would follow me around while I did the household chores. Then I would sit down and read (or try to). She would have to be on the down/stay. In the beginning, I had to sit on the leash to keep her down. I started with 5 minutes. She got no attention. If she tried to get up - she had to go right back on the down. I kept focused on my book (even if I wasn't able to concentrate) no matter on much she shook and panted. At first, right when she was quiet - I would release her from the down and reward her. Then I started to gradually lengthen the times. After a month of daily practice times, I had worked her up to 30 minutes - I actually could read my book and she had relaxed and took a nap. She would also pull her panting trick (as I came to think of it) when she had an audience. I had to tell people to ignore her. After about 3 months, she stopped her panting. Looking back, I think it was part of her adjustment to a new home. Your dog is also adjusting. Try wearing earplugs or headphones to help you ignore the whining. Good luck!
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Old 08-06-2010, 10:02 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Thanks for the advice.

I'll turn my back and just idly stand there when I know he's just acting, but it doesn't seem to do the trick. So it does make sense now that I should just go engage in something else entirely.

He's quite obedient and does stay when I tell him to, but it just kills me watching the poor guy stand there looking stressed, giving me a WTF face (and the panting is genuinely going to give me a brain aneurysm.)

In my desperation, I got a book on dog massage, which he seems to enjoy for acute periods of time, but I question the long-term effectiveness.
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Old 08-06-2010, 11:17 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Quote:
However, his anxiety can be ridiculous sometimes and I've come to realize he uses it to get attention as well. Like right now as I type this, he's whining and pacing around because I won't play, sighing, and panting heavily.
He's not using it to get attention. He's coming to you because HE doesn't have the skills to relieve the anxiety and he's trying to get you to help.

Have you bought and read The Dog Listener by Jan Fennell? Be a HUGE help to the both of you with tons of stuff to help take the pressure off him by giving YOU the leadership skills so he will take a back seat realizing you have everything in control.

I'd also figure out a way to really really exercise him. The chemicals the brain puts out during and after exercise is calming.

A training that is ONLY positive, only rewarding, that shows the dog over and over and over how smart and clever they are (not based on them being wrong and getting corrections) would again put YOU in a leadership role in a calm way and letting him just relax to listen and learn and gain confidence.

Good clicker class would be ideal.
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Old 08-07-2010, 10:01 PM   #10 (permalink)
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"He's quite obedient and does stay when I tell him to, but it just kills me watching the poor guy stand there looking stressed, giving me a WTF face (and the panting is genuinely going to give me a brain aneurysm.) In my desperation, I got a book on dog massage, which he seems to enjoy for acute periods of time, but I question the long-term effectiveness. " Boy, I sure feel for you both. When my Husky did this, out of my own desperation, I even locked myself in the bathroom and took a long bath. I could hear her panting through the door. Just a couple of additional thoughts based on my own ordeal and from what I've learned since then. Yes, the massage is great. Please keep it up with him. Regular exercise (and that nifty new training method that Maggie sugested) with a regular routine. A schedule will help to calm him and adjust. The most difficult part of all this is having patience and not trying to transmit your frustrated feelings to the dog. The dog is in stress from trying to adjust to a new home and is afraid that you'll give him up. He expresses this in panting (a consolation - it could be worse - he could be acting up). Turning your back stresses him more because then his worst fears (she's going to give me up) are triggered. Try yawning -that is also a claming signal. It will relax you too. Also, try playing music. My Aussie who would get all excited and whine while in the car, quieted down one time when I switched on the car radio. It was opera, of which I'm not a fan, but my dog just settled right down with a placid look on his face. For you, it can be music (played softly) that you like. For your dog,those soft cuddly squeaky dog toys can be very comforting. Even as an adult, my Sting loves his bears. He even sleeps with one, using it as a pillow. I'd take Rescue Remedy. The spray for you - 2 squirts when you're really feeling stressed. The liquid for your dog, 4 drops 4 times a day in his food or water. Be sure to give the first dose in the morning, followd by noon - supper- and the last at bedtime and anytime in between that he is feeling stressed. There are also other homeopathic pet rememdies for anxiety. Underneath all that stress, he sounds like a wonderful GSD. With your love and patience, he'll slowly began to unwind and enjoy his new life with you. Good Luck!
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