As My Imperfect Dog grows, sometimes I hear of it being used as a reference-point for people with anxious dogs. To that end, I thought I’d put together a list of my best resources. Because this is a resource list, I may come back to edit it over time.
1) A really great veterinary behaviorist. Or, at least, private lessons with a really awesome positive-only dog trainer. You can learn a lot from books and videos, but having a trained professional look at your dog can be very eye opening. I would start my search with the Animal Behavior Resources Institute. Here is the American College of Veterinary Behaviorist’s list of board certified members.
2) For online classes, I have loved Susan Garrett’s Five Minute Formula for a Brilliant Recall. The class is closed now, but it usually opens in February or March. Nothing she does is fearful-dog specific, but her “play=work=play” style has really worked wonders with Silas. Also, a lot of her focus is on building a great relationship with your dog. A big part of handling your dog’s anxiety is trust. Caveat: nothing Garrett does is good for dogs who are afraid of toys or motion. If, on the other hand, you have an active dog, Garrett’s games are great.
3) Books: Everything Patricia McConnell has ever written. Nicole Wilde’s Help for Your Fearful Dog is the most exhaustive treatment of dog fears I’ve seen. She covers general psychological concepts, steps to counterconditioning a wide array of specific fears, and both alternative and conventional therapies. Suzanne Clothier’s Bones Would Rain from the Sky has nothing to do with fear, but I love that lady. Lastly, Leslie McDevitt’s Control Unleashed. It is an epic disaster of a book, organizationally speaking, but the games are spot-on. A lot of them are hard to do outside of a classroom, but others will change your life. I have not read Debbie Jacobs’s book, but her blog and website have a lot of great information.
4) Puzzle toys. Anything from a frozen Kong to the most complicated Nina Ottosson contraption. Even just a cardboard box with some treats in the bottom can help your dog to use his/her brain. They also instill confidence and can help compensate for the fact that your dog may have a pretty limited amount of access to the world.
5) The Adaptil Collar. Man, I love that thing. The collar alone, with no other interventions, cuts Silas’s barking by at least 30% and completely eliminates his trembling in the car. Depending on your house and your dog’s habits, you may like the collar or the diffusers better. Or, honestly, it may not help your dog at all. We also get some improvement with the Thundershirt, although it isn’t really designed for dogs who are just generally anxious. [Edited to add: after a few months the Adaptil collar seemed to stop helping Silas, at which point we moved to a more traditional anxiety medication. I still highly recommend the collar, and our behaviorist felt like Silas’s reaction was somewhat atypical.]
6) A sense of humor. Sometimes you just have to laugh. Which is good, because it keeps you from getting frustrated that this is a slow, slow process.