Normally greyhounds are relaxed couch potatoes, however, if they are retired racing greyhounds, you may notice some anxiety. Anxiety among retired racing greyhounds is a common phenomenon that can be managed through time and patience. Up to 60% of dogs are being returned to shelters due to anxiety, and greyhounds aren’t the exception.
What is Greyhound anxiety?
Greyhound anxiety is the constant anticipation that something causing fear may happen. Like human beings, animals in a constant state of fear are exhausted and, over time, affect their judgment. It also impairs their ability to learn. Often than not, anxiety is the underlying problem for aggression. Greyhounds displaying signs of aggression are often misconstrued as being dominant or in need of better leadership. Punishing displays of anxiety only heightens the fear.
Types of Anxiety in Greyhounds
The ability to identify what triggers your Greyhound’s or dog’s anxiety helps eliminate, manage or block the stimulus, thereby managing the anxiety. Dogs that exhibit anxious behavior derive their symptoms from a past experience that triggered the anxiety. Often, dogs develop fears and phobias between the age of 12 and 36 months of age. The types of dog anxiety include:
1. Separation anxiety
Separation anxiety is the result of a sensitive dog becoming deeply attached to its pack, which in most cases is you and your family. Unfortunately, some people create favorable conditions for developing separation anxiety by fussing over their dog when they leave or return home. Your dog eventually picks the cue that something important is about to happen and starts displaying anxiety in anticipation of its pack leaving or returning.
Separation anxiety may also occur when new owners fuss over a puppy crying at night by picking them up and cuddling them. It teaches the puppy that crying and whimpering gets them attention. Crate training, when they are still a puppy, is a great way to prevent separation anxiety. This teaches your puppy to self-soothe and settles down in the crate.
2. Social anxiety
Many owners assume that dogs enjoy playing with other dogs. However, some dogs suffer from social anxiety that manifests as perceived aggression when around other dogs. Canines that suffer from separation anxiety do not understand the difference between friend and foe. They perceive every dog as a threat and strike first to ward it off. They may bark, growl, lunge or snap at the other dog. Some of these dogs react to every unknown being, whether a dog or a person.
Social anxiety is thought to affect dogs taken away as puppies from their mothers. This is because they didn’t get a chance to understand how other dogs interact, and being around other canines makes them feel anxious. It is recommended that a dog be at least eight weeks old before being taken away from their mothers and littermates. Within the first eight weeks of age, puppies learn social skills hence the most crucial part of their growth. During this time, they wrestle with their mom, play with their littermates, and enjoy a life that helps them understand how dogs interact and communicate. Without this experience, they become fearful of other dogs.
3. Noise Anxiety
Some dogs are afraid of sudden or loud noises. The loud boom of fireworks or a crack of thunder can drive them into a frenzy. Dogs begin to associate physical signs such as a change in environmental conditions with noise. Windy days can cause them anxiety since most of them are accompanied by thunderstorms.
Why is anxiety common in Greyhounds?
Habituation and socialization are very important for puppies. For a canine to be well adjusted, they need to be exposed to friendly and sociable dogs, people, sounds, sights, and smells, especially before they are 12 weeks old. Retired racing greyhounds, however, do not experience these crucial brain development activities that support a healthy canine while growing up. These greyhounds aren’t physically handled during their first year of life. It also makes their transition to a domestic environment challenging. Atop it, all, rehoming is a stressful event for a greyhound. When a greyt, as greyhounds are often referred to, is facing all these new situations based on their background, it can be very traumatic and heighten the anxiety.
Exposure of greyhounds to recurrent traumatic experiences also influences their anxiety and nervousness. Even a single event may cause unforgettable trauma to your greyhound, such as abrupt socialization. You need to ease them in carefully, starting with a few other dogs in an observed environment rather than an off-leash park.
A greyhound’s genetic temperament also determines the anxiety levels they experience. Fear and anxiety are highly heritable diseases that can be passed from a parent to its pups. In greyhounds, for example, in a bid to breed for strength and speed, other traits are overlooked. This may lead to a dog being bred with a high-strung dog producing pups prone to nervous tendencies.
Due to bad advice based on outdated norms of punishment, dominance, sensitization, blame, and lack of leadership, an owner may further expose their greyhound to repeated fear-inducing stimuli, which only compounds the issue, leaving owners frustrated and confused.
How to recognize Greyhound anxiety
Here are some common signs of anxiety you should keep an eye out for:
- Freezing up or display of non-responsive behavior.
- Fighting or fiddling
- Licking lips
- Collecting and storing toys or objects
- Destructive behavior
- Lack of appetite
- Growling and biting
- Chronic diarrhea
- Following you closely
- Urinating frequently
- Not eating
What should you do if your greyhound shows signs of anxiety?
Once your greyhound starts displaying signs of anxiety, it is crucial to have them assessed by a veterinarian to rule out any medical or painful conditions. The first step towards dealing with an anxious greyhound is understanding anxiety and its possible consequences.
Here are practical tips you can use to deal with a nervous greyhound:
Your dog can easily pick up on your stress and worry. The more you stay laid back and calm when he is anxious or fearful, the more you can remain calm as well.
Management and controlled exposure
It is essential to learn and recognize the triggers and signs of your anxious greyhound. Immediately remove them from the situation or stimulus that is triggering anxiety. Forcing your anxious dog into scary situations repeatedly only worsens the problem and may eventually turn it into a phobia or escalate it into aggression. Controlled exposure using sights, low threatening sounds, or experiences can help your dog, but learning must take place when your greyhound is calm. Remember to reward calm behavior.
Pathological fear, separation distress, and extreme fear are medical issues associated with neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, and imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain. They require correct diagnosis and medical intervention.
Watch the tone of your voice
Avoid yelling at your anxious greyhound when they are anxious or in a state of unrest. High pitched squealing when you come home creates excitement. You don’t want your greyhound to associate you coming home with excitement, especially for a dog that suffers from anxiety.
Socialize your anxious greyhound
Ideally, socialization occurs during the early life of a puppy. Puppies are more receptive and sensitive during this period of their life. Unfortunately, not all puppies get to be properly socialized during the right time frame. It is possible to socialize an adult or older anxious dog or greyhound.
Here are useful tips on how to socialize an older dog:
- Walk your dog daily
Daily walks offer your dog an excellent opportunity to experience new sights, smells, sounds, animals, and people. It is a great opportunity to practice good behavior because there are many social situations. If your dog responds in an undesirable manner, avoid tugging on their leash or scolding, as this will heighten their excitement and create a negative experience. Walk in another direction away from the situation that is causing anxiety.
- Have people over
Host one or two friends over in a space where your dog feels comfortable such as the backyard or living room. Ensure your friends do not approach or crowd your dog. Let your dog make the first move and approach the guests when they are ready. If your dog doesn’t wander over, you can have the guests toss over some treats to show your dog they come in peace. Keep the environment calm, laidback, and positive to keep your dog relaxed and help them associate guests with a good experience.
- Safe exposure to another dog or play date
Reach out to a friend with a gentle dog and find an open spot where the two dogs can get accustomed to one another. Begin by walking the dogs far enough from each other but close enough for them to see each other. When your dog exhibits calm behavior, praise and reward them. Gradually over a period of time, walk the two dogs together. Over time allow them to interact with supervision and even play together.
After a while, you can slowly introduce them to a dog park by first walking around the fence and allowing your dog to sniff about and watch the other dogs play. If they respond aggressively or nervously, walk away and return when they are calm. Don’t be discouraged if your dog doesn’t have a great first visit. After a while, allow your dog into the park where they can interact slowly at their own pace with the other dogs.
- Stay calm
Dogs can easily sense your emotions. Don’t play into your dog’s fears or nervous behavior as it reinforces his fear and anxiety. Show your dog that there is nothing to be scared of when they are frightened by staying calm and collected. Remember that for older dogs, it takes time and a lot of repetition when socializing them. Be patient, create a calm loving environment with positive associations. If you need more guidance, consult a professional trainer.
Desensitize your Greyhound to departure cues
If your greyhound suffers from separation anxiety, desensitizing them to cues of your departure by creating positive cues is a great place to start. Over time your dog will associate your departure with something good and will be less prone to anxious bouts. An easy way to achieve this would be to go about the motions of leaving the house without actually leaving several times a day. Another easy way to desensitize your anxious greyhound to departure clues is to crate them even when your home. Then encourage them to stay calmly in the crate so that they can disassociate crating with your departure.
Keep your departures and arrivals calm and quiet.
Increase your dog’s independence
It is crucial to help your dog cultivate independence and the ability to cope when left alone. This means that you should ignore your dog’s attention-seeking behavior and only initiate attention when they are quiet and calm. Teach your dog commands that facilitate their ability to lay on a mat or bed rather than at your feet or following you around. These commands include ‘stay,’ ‘bed’ and ‘down’. Use a baby gate to keep your dog in another room to keep them from following you around. They should, however, be able to still see you. This tactic is known as counter-conditioning. It is training your dog to adopt positive behavior to replace anxiety or fear.
Exercise your dog
Like in human beings, exercise can help your dog relieve stress as it produces helpful endorphins. Exercise also stimulates the brain to produce dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, which helps your dog feel better. Exercise stimulates the center that manages moods, and stimulating it diminishes depression and anxiety.
The lack of clear patterns in a household can confuse your greyhound. If one day certain behaviors earn a treat while, during others, a harsh word, there is no clear pattern for your dog to follow. Sometimes you are home all day, while during others you are gone all day. Clearly defined patterns marked with consistency provide your dog with peace of mind.
Most greyhounds are comfortable in a crate than loitering around the house. This is because they have spent most of their time inside a crate and having something familiar to help with their transition helps keep them feeling safe and calm.
Naturally, dogs are den animals. They find comfort and security in a den-like space such as a crate. For a crate to offer your dog security, it needs to be enclosed like an airplane-style crate. It mirrors a natural den which in the wild would be a hole in the ground. If you have a wire crate, place a board on top, then cover it with a blanket. Ensure the boards are secured to avoid unsettling movement or noise.
If you have a puppy, start training them to enjoy time in a crate from the moment you bring them home. Crate training is one of the most efficient ways to manage and prevent anxiety in dogs. Adding a soft blanket, treats and toys make the crate a wonderful place and makes your dog more willing to crate. If you aren’t available, have a dog walker take your dog out for exercise at about midday.
Reward calm behavior
It is easy to accidentally reward poor behavior when trying to calm your anxious greyhound. This inadvertently reinforces them instead. When your anxious greyhound is barking, whining, or acting stressed, do not give him attention or affection. It isn’t advisable to let your greyhound out of the crate either when they are making noise or excited. Wait until he is settled and calm before you let them out. Reward your hound for behaving calmly to reinforce it.
Keep them busy when you are absent.
An anxious dog may adopt destructive behavior as a means to cope with your absence. Such destructive behavior may be displayed as chewing floor frames, ripping objects, and digging. To manage destructive behavior, provide your dog with something useful to do when you aren’t around.
You could use chew toys like the Kong stuffed toy or treat-dispensing toys. You could then stuff them with your dog’s favorite treats, which will keep them occupied on how to get them out. Once your dog learns how to get the treats out, you can make it harder by freezing them so that they take even longer to get the treats out.
Using alternative therapies
Alternative therapies are non-invasive techniques used to benefit an anxious dog. They are remedies that can be used alone or combined with a more effective technique. Some of these therapies include:
- Homeopathic remedies – Homeopathy was introduced and became popular over 200 years ago. It is based on the similarity principle and uses flowers and plants as its remedies. Rescue Remedy Pet is a pet version of the Rescue Remedy developed for humans. It comprises five unique Bach flower remedies that contain a stress reliever. It is safe to use on your dog. You simply add two to four drops of the remedy to your dog’s drinking water. Rescue Remedy Pet also comes in a spray that you can spray on your pet’s toys and bedding.
- Supplements – Some dog treats contain supplements that help manage anxiety. They contain thiamin, melatonin, L-Theanine, chamomile, or L-tryptophan. Some contain ginger to help deal with sensitive stomachs. These dog treats are recommended to help manage anxiety.
- Adaptil Home Diffuser – Adaptil is an aromatherapy remedy that utilizes pheromones to calm your dog’s fears. The diffuser is easy to use and can be plugged into the room where your dog spends most of its time. It is odorless, therefore, it won’t irritate your dog. There is an Adaptil lightweight collar for puppies that can be worn when they are six months old to manage separation anxiety.
- ThunderCloud – This product combines aromatherapy and music therapy to calm your anxious dog. It plays a variety of calming loops, such as relaxing waves lapping or a babbling brook while releasing the aroma of essential oils. It is effective for dogs who suffer from separation anxiety, noise sensitivity and have sleeping problems.
- CBD Oil – CBD has been tried and proven to manage anxiety in dogs. CBD is a compound found in hemp and cannabis that can treat a variety of health conditions. It is important to ensure your CBD products are pure and appropriate for your dog by first consulting your vet. Our piece on Cannabis for dogs offers in-depth research on the subject.
Most adoption centers use medication to manage their greyhounds. A drug known as Amitriptyline is often used to treat anxiety. They even prescribe it for owners with dogs who suffer from strong anxiety bouts. Amitriptyline is widely used because your greyhound can be slowly weaned off the medication, and it is affordable. There is a wide variety of sedatives such as diazepam, acepromazine, and antidepressants such as clomipramine and trazodone. A dog appeasing pheromone DAP is also very helpful when handling a dog suffering from anxiety and nervousness. You are advised not to use the above medication without a veterinarian’s advice and prescription.
Many dogs tend to experience anxiety at some point in their lives. Understanding anxiety as an owner will help you better handle your dog during these anxiety-inducing situations. If you suspect your dog has anxiety problems and the above tips do not manage the bouts of anxiety, consult your veterinarian for a diagnosis. You may also seek a consultation with a clinical behaviorist who can help you develop practical treatment plans that suit your dog.