How to Help Anxious Doodles

Alex Peacock

Written By:


pink blanket covering white dog's face with his nose sticking out of blanket

How to Help Anxious Doodles 

How do I know if my Doodle is anxious?

As a professional trainer specializing in anxiety I work with a wide variety of dogs. Of all the breeds I’ve worked with, doodles very frequently crop up with anxiety issues. However, many doodles are also prone to intense fixation and overexcitement, which can at times look very similar and even intertwine with anxiety. So how do you know if your doodle is actually anxious?

There are a few telltale signs that I typically look for when diagnosing anxiety. The first is of course if the dog is trying to run away, hide, or otherwise leave to get away from the trigger (like a new person or a strange noise). This is typically a dead giveaway of at least some level of anxiety.

If your dog is more the type to bark or approach the trigger, then I would be looking at body language (skittish, tail low or tucked, etc. indicates anxiety) as well as whether or not your dog is approaching with curiosity (wanting to sniff, greet, receive affection, etc. which indicates a lack of anxiety)

If you have concluded that your dog is indeed struggling with anxiety, here are a few things that you can do to help them.

Deep breath, shoulders back

Perhaps the most important part of working with anxious dogs is to make sure that your own energy and mindset, as well as your body language, are on point. The more nervous, frustrated, or excited you are, the less you will be able to calm your dog.

Practice taking a deep breath, bringing your head up and your shoulders back, and taking a moment to compose your own emotions before addressing your dog. This allows you to become a problem solver as well as be a source of comfort and stability for your dog. Though it takes a lot of practice, it has a major effect on your dog and will work wonders on your own stress level during training as well!

white fluffy dog looking up and barking with owner holding him on leash both standing in snow

Practice impulse control (For anxious barkers)

Anxious barking is the way I see anxiety most commonly manifested in doodles. One simple way that you can begin to help them curb their anxiety is to work on what is called impulse control. Impulse control is exactly what it sounds like- helping your dog learn to make a decision other than what their first instinct tells them to do. Here’s my favorite exercise to start learning how this works.

You need a treat or toy, ideally something your dog wants but isn’t necessarily obsessed with. This is the object you will be telling them not to approach, aka the impulse you will be asking them to control. It’s best to first try this in a hallway or the corner of a room, somewhere where the dog can’t go around behind you. Get ready to set the object down at the dog's level- you can put it on the floor or a raised surface like a chair.

As you begin to very slowly lower the object, watch your dog extremely closely. As soon as they focus on the object, make a sound of disagreement (can be anything so long as you are relaxed and confident, “No”, “Uh- uh”, “Tsch” are all common sounds). If you time it right, the sound will stop your dog from moving forward. If not, stand up straight again and walk towards your dog, backing them away from the area where you’re placing the object. (you want at least 4-5 feet of space).

Repeat this process until you can successfully set the treat/toy down without your dog going for it. Remember, you want to catch them in the decision point (when they’re staring intently at the object), not in the action point (when they begin moving towards the object.)

The exercise is fully completed once the dog either totally relaxes (laying or sitting down, relaxed and not focused on the object) or when the dog walks away to go do something else. This total process typically takes anywhere from 2-10 minutes. Once finished, I recommend quietly removing the object and putting it away.

Congratulations! Your dog just successfully controlled an impulse. As you practice with more and more difficult items you and your dog will get better and better at regulating his or her impulses. This will make it easier to bring them down out of an anxious/fixated state (aka and anxious barking state), and this exercise can even be applied to many anxiety situations.

Encouraging curiosity (For dogs that run/hide)

This is one of my favorite steps in helping anxious dogs! An interesting tidbit to help you understand why this is so important- When someone voluntarily exposes themselves to a fear trigger, their fear begins to gradually go away. Makes sense, right? Except there's an interesting twist. What is actually happening in the brain is that the person isn’t becoming less afraid- they’re becoming more brave. Dogs work in the same way.

This, to me, is a game changer. This means that as we encourage our anxious dogs to explore and be curious, we can help them gain confidence and bravery. Not only will they learn not to be afraid of the trigger we practiced, but they will be more likely to choose curiosity and be brave in the face of other triggers.

There’s a few great ways to encourage curiosity. The first, mentioned above, is your own mindset. If your dog can sense that you are calm, confident, and curious about the world around you, they can borrow some of your confidence and do the same!

If your dog is afraid of new or certain people, one simple thing you can do is ask the person not to look at, talk to, or try to pet your dog until they are more comfortable. When a dog is nervous about a person and approaches them with curiosity, but then suddenly that person turns to them and reaches towards their face, this can easily break what little trust your dog had with that person and future people. Advocate for your dog and help people understand that his or her needs may be different from what they are used to.

If your dog refuses to approach the thing they’re afraid of altogether, there’s a few things you can do. One is to scatter a few treats near the trigger. If your dog is a little braver, have the person hold the treat loosely in their hand. As the dog approaches them and sniffs they treat, they can allow the dog to have it.

dog trainer giving puppy doodle dog a treat

Another approach is to walk your dog near the trigger, starting at a distance and slowly moving closer as your dog gains confidence. Feel free to reward moments of bravery with affection, a treat, or a toy.

Challenge, don’t overwhelm

Finally, it is essential that you put your dog in situations that will challenge his or her fears, but ultimately allow success. If your dog is completely overwhelmed by a situation, remove the trigger or the dog and try again at another time with less stimulus (or further from the stimulus).

Remember that anxiety is a process, and that no two dogs or situations are the same. Be patient with your doodle and constantly work to better understand them and their needs. Remember that if you use proper technique and stay consistent you will see continual progress!

By Alex Peacock
Dog Anxiety Trainer

Alex's Dog Training Logo

How to Groom a Doodle at HOme

What to learn how to GROOM your doodle at home? Find out here!