The first definition in the dictionary for ANXIETY is
1. distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune: He felt anxiety about the possible loss of his job.
I define it in my dog behavioral consults as manifestations of behavior including poor impulse control and see it on a scale from 1 – 10… 1 would be, “yes I have stress in my world but I handle it gracefully and within what I define as normal limits for me” and 8-10 being “whoa, things are really not going too well and it negatively affects function and, well, it’s a big problem.” That scale is subjective and varies from person to person and, well, also from dog to dog.
I think a lot of pet owners with anxiety on any scale (and I think we all have some level of anxiety at all times which when mild allows, actually encourages us to function) get trapped into a reactive instead of proactive mode in the relationship with their pets and engage in what I call The Mirror Dance. When one is reactive, it’s much harder to slow down enough to reflect on What I Want Instead and are instead just caught on this cycle of frustration and usually negativity. And it can worsen. We’re being bombarded every day in every way — print, television, internet, coffee shops, everywhere — by the nosediving of our economy and the general dismal state of affairs. This anxiety has reached macro proportions and it trickles into the microcosm of the individual(s). With the increased anxiety the Mirror Dance speeds up (think about a prime time network Dancing With The Dogs show doing The Viennese Waltz in a Canine Freestlye Celebrity Competition!) and now one of the side effects is the increased anxiety in the dog and the manifestations of that anxiety becoming so overwhelming it’s the I Hate My Dog But I Love My Dog But I Hate My Dog cycle.
It seems to me in my own recent experience that the worse the national and international news gets, the more calls I’m getting and seeing clients and dogs with a lot of anxiety issues. By simply helping slow things down and help people better understand how to achieve control using non force based methods and positive reinforcement and owners taking responsibility, letting go of making excuses and being proactive then they not only can continue to love the dog but the hate gives way to like and the like is what motivates for training.
My favorite challenge is the client who says if I don’t fix the problem they will get rid of the dog and in a single 3 hour session without exception I leave having succeeded in the challenge — I don’t fix the dog so much as I teach the owners by modeling and giving explanations of how dogs really think and what dogs really need. And they love and like their dog again.
So this holiday season slow down, be proactive, enjoy the fundamentals of the holidays we begin today to celebrate — give thanks, spend time with those you love or like, but certainly not with those you hate!, and try to quell the anxiety beast while living in reality.