top of page

Ultimate Guide to Anxiety: Dog Training While Managing Your Own Anxieties

“Anxiety is a lot like a toddler. It never stops talking, tells you you’re wrong about everything, and wakes you up at 3 a.m.” - Anon.

Dog and woman sleeping in bed

In my roughly 20 years training dogs and working with canine behavior, I've noticed a pattern that is especially apparent with my clients who have dogs with anxiety based behaviors. The phone calls and emails always start out the same way:

"Hi, my name is _____ and my dog has been having some issues with leash training and anxiety around other dogs. I need to learn how to help him through this. I might be part of the problem; I have anxiety myself."

And that's where I my heart breaks for you. You are not part of the problem, you are trying to find a solution through an issue you are both facing. It can seem like an overwhelming obstacle, but it can be accomplished. So let's tackle your dog's anxiety (as well as yours) and discuss some training tactics that will benefit both of you.

A Note on Your Dog's Anxiety

Pretend you are sitting in a chair and leaning back on the back two legs of the chair. That moment where you realize that you've leaned too far and you're about to topple over? Imagine living perpetually in that moment.

That's anxiety. It's nonstop, and occupies a rather large area of your mind, same as your dog's. Anxiety doesn't have to make sense to anyone other than you or your dog. Anxiety isn't right or wrong, it merely exists.

And perhaps it's your dog's behaviors that gave you anxiety. Fear reactivity when your dog meets new people Reacting at other dogs during your walks. Separation anxiety. Those are all large issues to deal with, and those types of behaviors from your dog are enough to cause anybody to have some anxiety when dealing with these issues.

But let's start at the most important part: your mindset regarding these issues.

Your dog isn't giving you a hard time, your dog is having a hard time.

No matter how your dog is reacting, it's not about you. Lunging at other dogs while walking, barking non-stop while you're gone, or even marking in the house; your dog is not looking at you as the enemy, he's looking at the situation as the enemy. It's just that unfortunately, you are in the same situation. So let's get you out of that situation.


Piloting Method of Dog Training: Applying it to Anxiety

Brown dog on owners bed

During our weekly pack walks, I see every single cross-section of dog/human relationships. From the small puppies on their first leashed outing to the old dogs who's owners discovered the magic of Piloting their dogs later in their journey together. I can honestly say I love all these dynamic duos, and I look forward to seeing you at the Cleveland Pack Walks.

But one of you has been standing out. Not because you did anything spectacular (at least not outwardly). It's because how far you've come, and what a brave thing you did last week.

Let's call her Crystal, and her dog Moana.

Crystal called me a several months ago because her dog was very reactive on a leash, after having been attacked several times while out on walks. Moana now has severe dog reactivity, and her 80lbs of heft can easily drag her petite owner anywhere (and she did). From being dragged across the street, she was no longer able to step outside the door of her apartment without anxiety, the bond of trust had been broken between dog and owner. Moana loved Crystal (and was loved in return), but neither trusted each other.

Moana's anxiety wasn't caused by Crystal. But Crystal had no way to manage her own anxiety with Moana towards a positive outcome.

Crystal also confided in me that she had anxiety in general, but especially in this situation she found herself in with her dog. Again, not Crystal's fault, but that does factor into both her and her dog's responses while out on walks together.

So how did Crystal do a very brave thing at a pack walk, and what was it? Well, let's do some background prep first.

Piloting Your Dog: Control Yourself First

So you're about to do a Scary Thing with your dog. For some of us, the simple act of trying to walk by another dog with your dog reactive dog can be a very Scary Thing.

Remember, your dog is not the enemy. Your dog is your friend, and your friend is struggling. You both have the same enemy: frustration and anxiety about the current situation.

Let's break down the game plan, and then talk about the plays involved.

Pilot Method of Dog Training

Control yourself <--- You are here
Control the current situation

We are going to start at the beginning: control yourself. Yes, I know this might actually be the hard part for a lot of you with anxiety.

woman with dog sitting on leash

But take a look at yourself: are you standing up straight, or are you simpering and practically dragging yourself along? Are you being the strong, silent, foundational rock for your dog, or are you spewing forth non-stop streams of vocalized anxiety towards your dog?

You might be afraid. You might be anxious. And that's okay. Just make sure your body is lying about your current mental state.

  • Stand up as straight as you can

  • Stop talking (noise = energy)

  • Breathe

  • Walk like RuPaul down a runway (more on this later)

  • Not like Bambi on ice.

Take a moment to take a deep breath before you do the Scary Thing. But don't dwell on what you're about to do, no matter how terrifying it may be for you and your dog. Your heart may be pounding inside your chest, but you don't need to let anyone else know that, especially your dog.

For Crystal and Moana, the Scary Thing was at the end of the pack walk, having them walk directly through the center of where all the dogs and owners had stopped and waited for the pack walk to end. With her dog reactive dog.

And she strutted through like Abraham parting the Mediterranean Sea.

Or something like that.

Piloting Your Dog: Control the Current Situation

Now that we've got control of ourselves, and aren't adding unproductive energy to the situation, let's move on through our journey of conquering that Scary Thing with our dog.

Think of Step 1 (controlling ourselves) as putting your hands on the steering wheel and buckling your seat belt. Step 2 as planning the route we will be taking to safely and efficiently get to our destination.

Pilot Method of Dog Training

Control yourself
Control the current situation <--- You are here

Anxiety is fear of the unknown.

Think about the types of anxieties that we humans have: anxiety about an upcoming social event is due to fear of not knowing if you'll know anyone there. Financial anxiety is fear of not knowing if you'll make rent/mortgage payments on time.

Not all anxiety is negative. Anxiety about the upcoming birth of a grandchild waiting to hear if it's a boy or girl.

But we're going to focus on the unproductive anxieties that we may face with our dogs: fear reactivity, separation anxiety, social anxiety, etc.

In order to manage our fear of the unknown, we have to stop adding new stimuli/questions to the current situation. In other words, if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging!

Example: back to Crystal and Moana. Crystal worked hard on her body language when walking Moana, and started to reap the rewards of her hard work. But walking a dog-reactive dog through a sea of unknown dogs at a pack walk can be a truly daunting task. So rather than heading straight into it, Crystal took a moment to make sure that Moana didn't have any anxieties about the current situation before adding new stimuli.

Dog Training Tip: only a fool tests the depth of the water with both feet.

In other words, if she was struggling to keep her dog calm 50 feet from the rest of the dogs, moving 5 feet closer to those other dogs would not have helped the situation. Prior to moving forward, Crystal ensured that her pup was as calm as could be. She then proceeded to move forward.

Crystal a lot of control over the current situation with her dog. She started walking towards the other dogs.

Of course Moana started asking a few questions about the other dogs, and Crystal answered her dog's questions, but she was a little shaken that Moana had any questions at all. This resulted in Crystal to trying to walk as quickly as she could past the other dogs, picking up speed as she got closer and closer.

Slight mistake.

While she made it through the other dogs perfectly fine, the faster she walked towards the Scary Thing with her dog, the scarier it became. While I don't want you to linger going past anything that may be overwhelming to your dog, remember, even our pace moving past a Scary Thing can be an indicator of our anxiety.

I had Crystal do it again, at a more even, if not brisk pace, and more deliberately. By slowing down and keeping a steady pace, Moana understood that they were on a mission towards something beyond the Scary Thing, rather than moving as fast as they could to get out of a scary situation. They both handled the Scary Thing beautifully.

Like Rupaul down the runway.

Was Crystal's anxiety forever erased? Of course not. But in this situation, both she and her dog conquered a Scary Thing together.

Final Thoughts on Dog Training While Managing Anxiety

Be gentle with yourself. Give yourself some grace. A lot of my clients joke that I'm not really training their dogs so much as I'm training the humans, and they are correct. I'm trying to train you to see that you are flawed as a dog, and that's okay, because your dog sucks at being human. This why we are working towards an intra-dependent bond. By allowing yourself grace and accepting that there are times it's just not going to go right, you are actually setting yourself up for success the next time.

So on those days when your anxiety just won't let you get past step one of Piloting (controlling yourself), understand that simply recognizing that fact means you're succeeding. So maybe you saw another dog on your walk, and you couldn't get yourself together. Rather than Panic Piloting, and rushing through only to make a mess of everything, you decided to turn around and go home.

My dear, you Piloted through that situation perfectly.

Dog Training vs. Dog Life

Dog kissing owner

With the Piloting Method, dog training has never been simpler. This revolutionary approach to training focuses on clear communication, positive reinforcement, and building a strong bond between dog and owner. By embracing this method, you can simplify the training process and achieve remarkable results with your furry friend.

The Piloting Method takes into account the unique needs and behaviors of each dog, allowing for a customized approach. Whether you're dealing with a new puppy with housebreaking issues or a dog with frustrating behavior problems, the Piloting Method can help. By working closely with the experienced trainers at Darwin Dogs, you can identify the root causes of your dog's behavior and create a personalized training plan to address them.

One of the reasons the Piloting Method is so effective is its emphasis on consistency and structure. Dogs thrive on routine and predictability, and this method provides them with the stability they need to feel secure and confident. By establishing clear boundaries and consistent rules, you can simplify the training process and reduce anxiety and unwanted behaviors.

Simplifying dog training with the Piloting Method is not only effective but also enjoyable. Say goodbye to the frustration and overwhelming feelings that often come with training a dog. With the lifetime guidance and support of Darwin Dogs, you can simplify the training process and enjoy a happier, better-behaved dog. Embrace the Piloting Method today and experience the positive impact it can have on your relationship with your furry friend.

many dogs lying down together

Learn more about our Piloting method of dog and puppy training here.

Find out more about our private in home 30 Day Best Dog Ever and 30 Day Best Puppy Ever training packages here.

Have questions about our puppy training or dog training?

border collie dog staying

Kerry Stack

Darwin Dogs

Dog Training and Puppy Training

Located in Cleveland, Ohio

Recent Posts

See All

4 commenti

15 mar

Thank you for this! Love the way you paint a picture and give encouragement!

Mi piace
Risposta a

Thank you so much! I truly feel that one doesn't use a hammer to hatch eggs, but gentle warmth. The same goes for dogs (and humans!)

Mi piace

This post is gold! I believe I was there to witness the strut of Moana and Crystal, and it was powerful. So glad to have Kerry and the Darwin community to help us find our own swagger.

Mi piace
Risposta a

Thank you. And as an intra-dependent dog training community, we are so grateful for you as well! You and Bea add so much positives to our pack walks.

Mi piace
Post: Blog2_Post