Does your dog spend their day barking or howling while you’re out? Do they like to rip up your favourite cushions during thunderstorms? Perhaps they’re a digger, or a master backyard escapee?
According to the Bondi Behaviourist, Ian Shivers, if this sounds like your household, it’s possible your four-legged friend could be suffering from anxiety.
To shed light on this important issue, we sat down with Ian, a self-professed David Attenborough fan, who decided to study canine behaviour following his adoption of an anxious rescue puppy.
Beginning his career as a volunteer dog trainer at local shelters, Ian now runs a business of his own, helping families and their pets all over Sydney’s east.
Below, Ian shares insights into what can cause anxiety in pets, what you can do about it, and how creating a safe space in the garage can help anxious pets.
Why do our pets get anxious?
Ian notes how our fast-paced world can be overwhelming for people at the best of times, let alone our pets. People should be mindful of their furry family members behaviours, and be aware of the signs of anxiety, so they can better help them cope.
“There are multiple types of anxiety, including social anxiety or separation anxiety. From loud noises such as thunderstorms and fireworks, to changes in environment and unfamiliar visitors, there are also many situations that can lead to a dog’s anxiety,” says Ian.
According to Ian, it’s important to remember that anxious dogs are not destroying items to be spiteful, stubborn or vindictive. They are merely doing the most available behaviour that helps them relieve their stress.
Ian adds that separation anxiety in dogs is increasingly common now, as people return to the office.
“A break in routine and sleep deprivation are some of the issues we are seeing as a result of Covid-19. In particular, family members may have been unintentionally keeping their dogs stimulated for longer than normal,” says Ian.
What can you do about it?
“When your pet first displays signs of anxiety, try to work out the earliest stages of the anxiety and help from there. We never want to proceed past this point for fear of compounding the stress and a gradual desensitization plan at the earliest stage is the most concrete way of helping our dogs feel comfortable ,” says Ian.
Leaving familiar toys, chews and access to safe spaces, can help soothe the dog and take their focus away from whatever is making them feel stressed.
When leaving a dog alone, it is best to have a space that the dog feels safe and secure in. As long as you take the time to build the association where your much-loved family members can rest and settle themselves with our dogs, it can potentially anywhere that you decide in the home, including a sectioned part of the garage. Garages can potentially give your pet the opportunity to feel in control of a space that is separated from the hustle and bustle of the house!
“Gone are the days of dominating training techniques – these only exaggerate animal stress. Instead of trying to find band-aid solutions for your dog’s anxious habits, owners should look at how they can better meet their pet’s fundamental needs, and a dedicated space of safety is a good place to start,” says Ian.
How to make your garage safe
If you’re looking to create a dedicated area for your dog in the garage, Ian says the most important thing is to ensure the space is safe.
It is important that all dangerous items are removed from the area, and that your pet is out of the way of cars. Everyone in the family should also be made aware that the dog is in the space, so no one opens the door unexpectedly.
A dog crate is a great option to help create a safe space in the garage. With a proper introduction, it can become a comforting retreat for dogs suffering from separation anxiety or seeking familiarity during stressful situations. It also means that they can’t get into things in the garage that they shouldn’t, or run out if someone opens to garage door.
“When creating a safe space in the garage for dogs, you need to be mindful to leave plenty of water. And check the room temperature. If it feels too cool or warm for you, your pet will not feel comfortable either,” says Ian.
If you need to let a trusted friend or family member into your garage remotely so they can check on your dog during the day, Merlin’s myQ technology and premium safety features can help.
How to make your garage comfortable for your dog
“Once you’ve ensured the space is safe, the next most important step to reducing your dog’s anxiety, is to make sure that they feel safe, settled and comfortable. There should also be enough bedding, blankets and soft lighting to ensure maximum comfort,” says Ian.
Ian notes that behaviours that we class as ‘naughty’ in pets, like chewing and digging, release highly levels of endorphins in animals. Owners should try and replicate these feelings in a garage setting by providing dogs with appropriate chews and toys that help the dog settle and relax.
How to introduce your pet to the garage
It’s important to note, that the process of introducing your pet to the space should be slow and considered.
“We strongly recommend taking the time to condition your dog to the space you leave them alone in, and stay with them in the space initially. Begin with very short durations, only closing the door and coming right back in and then systematically and gradually increase these durations at your dogs pace without pushing to the point of discomfort, so they can get comfortable with the space,” Ian suggests.
How else can you help your anxious pet?
Owners should know that there are many non-invasive options which can help alleviate their pet’s stress.
Once a safe space has been created, owners could try in a Thunder Jacket or vest. In a similar way to how anxiety blankets work with humans, these jackets feel like a big cuddle! There are also a range of collars and aromatherapy kits on the market, that intermittently release scents which are calming for animals.
So, next time your furry best friend is anxiously barking or digging, think about setting up a safe space for them in your garage, where they can feel more comfortable and relaxed!
For more information about Merlin’s range of garage door openers and accessories, visit our website or call 1800 638 234.