After working with animals for quite some years, I have learned to identify quickly dogs that are particularly tense by simply observing their body posture and facial expressions. Nervous dogs exhibit a series of signs that may not be promptly visible to the unexperienced eye, but it may be helpful to learn how to read into these particular hints so to react promptly.
Nervous dogs may be prone to biting as they are often in a "fight or flight" response mode and this is why when working with animals it is vital to identify the nervous dog so to restrain it properly. However, learning to distinguish the body cues of a nervous dog should not be limited only to people working with animals, rather, this may benefit just about anybody that owns a dog.
Dogs use primarily body language among themselves. Years ago, when still in the wild, dogs used to live in a pack and various emotions were continuously transmitted and perceived among one another. Dogs were able and still are able today, to represent a wide array of emotions by just using specific signals that were and still are readily understood by other dogs.
Today, as humans, we must try to understand what dogs are trying to tell us. This way we can better communicate and cherish the relationship we have with them. When it comes to demonstrating nervousness, some dogs may display very subtle signs of being uneasy and some instead manifest very prominent hints of such uneasiness. Common signs to watch for are:
Overall tense body
Tail between legs
Ears folded tightly back
Pulled back lips
Eyes showing white part
Avoidance of eye contact
Jumpiness to minimal noise
Startling at minimal movement
Hiding behind owner
When the nervousness escalates then other more evident and concerning signs may be added:
As we can see, if we catch the early warning signs we may avoid big trouble. There is still a big debate today on the growling issue. Many people tend to punish a dog that is growling, but more and more dog behaviorists are re-evaluating the meaning of growling. While once, growling was seen as negative warning of an upcoming bite, today a growl is perceived more on a more positive note. A growl may just be a way for the dog to manifest it's uneasiness; try to take the growling away and very likely you will get a dog that will bite out of the blue without warning.
But why are some dogs more prone to being nervous? There are many different theories. The nature vs. nurture debate may be considered here. Some believe that some dogs are just plain and simple predisposed to nervous behaviors. For these believers, a dog's temperament is genetically linked and there is not much that can be done to change it. They believe that it is in the dog's nature, genetically instilled deep in their core.
On the other hand, there are those that believe that the environment is what will shape a dog's temperament. Socialization, interaction with litter-mates and humans will bring out the dog's temperament
While both theories will still be fully debated for a while, there are some pretty consistent theories of what may make a dog more prone to a nervous inclination, here are some examples:
Dogs that were not properly socialized by the age of 12 weeks
Dogs that were not properly trained
Dogs that lacked leadership from their owners
Lack of confidence
While some dogs prone to nervousness may be challenging to relax, most simply need lots of patience, time and consistency. Many animal shelters work hard on training dogs that lack confidence and a good percentage of them make great progress and are successfully re-homed.
Nervous dogs need guidance, they need to believe in their owner, which in their eyes is a leader. A lot can be done to help these dogs live a full life again.
For instance, dogs that are excessively shy and bark at every person or dog they encounter along the street may be gradually desensitized by making walks a routine. Not only will a routine calm down a dog but it may also turn into a pleasurable event. Passer-byers may toss a treat out for the dog, and the dog once shy, now will look forward to meeting new people.
It is a fact that owners may instill more nervousness into their dogs. One of our clients had a dog that was terrified of thunder. She had medications prescribed by our vet to help her dog cope with the anxiety. One day, dog and owner were in our waiting room. A rumbling thunder sounded off in the quiet reception area.The owner was saying in a distressed tone of voice ''oh, no, thunder storm is coming, poor baby is going to be so scared!" The dog started whining and trembling in fear. The owner picked her up and started a whole cooing and cuddling session.
Relaxing a dog may take a lot of effort, here are some basic guidelines:
-Exercise your dog. A tired dog has less chances of feeding their fear.
-Study the sources of your dog nervousness and use positive reinforcement and desensitization
-Show your dog your confidence around things your dog fears
-Put your dog to work, inquire about the training 'learn to earn " program
-At home, you can try a pheromone plug in diffuser
-If you believe in holistic remedies try Rescue remedy or Bach flowers
-As a last resort only, ask your vet about anti-anxiety meds
Nervousness does not necessarily mean that your dog is prone to behavioral issues, when caught early, an attentive owner may work on it on a timely matter. By recognizing the tell tail signs of upcoming nervousness, a dog may be taught that the anxiety may be managed and even overcome...