Not too long ago we excused a medium/large sized dog from daycare for being extremely anxious as marked by frequent cowering, hiding and shaking. When these behaviors failed to wane over time and the dog had shown no signs of aggression due to the underlying anxiety, we then transitioned the dog from our group of large dogs ranging in weight from 50 to 100+lbs to our group of smaller dogs ranging in weight, conversely, from 10 to 45lbs. Transitioning a large(r) dog over to a group of smaller dogs needs to be handled with caution and care for the safety and benefit of the smaller dogs who, due to their slighter stature, would be at a severe disadvantage were an incident to occur. Because of this, only the most tolerant large dogs are allowed to co-mingle among our group of “Smalls” and any maladaptive behavior that is witnessed would initiate the dog’s removal from this group.
Initially, the large(r), anxious dog became more comfortable among our group of smaller dogs. However, after a few weeks, her anxiety kicked up again, and when the anxious dog “overcorrected” a young puppy we felt that it would be in the best interest of the anxious dog to refrain from daycare and/or find a smaller daycare which may elicit a less severe anxiety response in a dog such as she who appeared to suffer from sensory sensitivities.
It should be noted that dogs are “allowed” to correct other dogs at daycare – it is how they communicate with one another, especially if they want to disengage; this is why it is important that dogs are able to receive and respond to social cues from their packmates (include blog link). But an “overcorrection” – one that is initiated without warning or where the punishment does not fit the crime i.e. it’s too severe – is not encouraged. The larger dog that I reference here was not an aggressive dog. In fact, she was a sweet dog. But stress and anxiety will lead to unexpected behaviors in dogs, not unlike how extreme stressors will affect humans. This dog was telling us through her actions that she was uncomfortable and that she was not enjoying daycare. And it was our job to listen and notify her owners.
Training and Advocacy
There are a lot of things that training can address, and a lot of daycare dogs can and would benefit from additional recall and threshold training. However, extreme anxiety and extreme aggression are two behaviors that, in my opinion, cannot be adequately addressed without a large volume of lengthy sessions and a long break from daycare. Even then, dogs predisposed to aggression and/or extreme anxiety may learn to manage the behaviors associated with these states, but I don’t think that these states can ever be completely trained out of a dog predisposed to them. Just as I don’t believe that daycare is “right” for every dog, I also am not inclined to recommend training for a dog who is unlikely to benefit in any tangible way from it.
As a small business owner, it pains me to turn away clients or refuse service. But pain is often the path toward empowerment, and I know my business, built on trust, is empowered by the fact that we put the well being of the dogs in our care first. Always.
If you are the owner of an anxious dog, please share with me in the comments how you have managed to handle or mitigate your dog’s anxiety? What has worked? What hasn’t? I would love to hear from you!