Pets Struggle with Anxiety & Depression Too. Here’s How to Help Them

Dr. Caroline Leaf
4 min readJun 16, 2022

In a recent podcast (episode #391), I talked to speaker, author, mathematician, and dog trainer Grisha Stewart about dog training and empowerment, pets and mental health, why dogs struggle mentally, how we can help our pets and ourselves, and so much more!

As human beings, we need to understand our pets’ behavior and work on our communication with them. It is important to understand that animals like dogs think and choose as well, in their own unique ways.

The key thing to recognize is that behaviors are a puzzle, whether we are talking about humans or animals. They require problem solving and critical thinking. There are many variables and a lot is predictable, if we take the time to be aware of what is happening and be willing to explore the “why”.

There is a reason why a dog does what it does. As dog owners, it is our responsibility to explore this “why” behind our pet’s actions. Like us, the way dogs behave is based on not only their biology but also their experiences and learning.

This is why dog training should always start with curiosity. We need to become aware of what our pets are experiencing and going through, while avoiding letting preconceived notions like “dominance” impact how we understand and manage their behavior. This means understanding both the environment and the individual dog. How are they responding in this particular environment? And, if we change something, do they respond differently? How?

If your dog is showing signs of aggression, this is a sign that they do not feel safe. Dogs are not “naughty” if they are scared. The key is to understand that all dogs have different experiences from their time in the womb. As dog owners, we need to understand what makes that individual owner feel safe through the way we manage their space and time (their environment).

This means thinking about the boundaries we put in place with our pets in different situations. We do this by observing their behavior and responding to what they want or need based on positive reinforcement.

Yet it is also important to understand that we can become too reliant on positive reinforcement. Our goal as pet owners should not be to turn our animals into perfectly well-behaved robots. Our training should be needs-focused: we need to adapt our training in real time to our needs and to our pet’s needs so that we can live in community…

--

--

Dr. Caroline Leaf

Mental health expert. I have spent the last 30+ years researching ways to help people manage mental health issues in school, work, and life: drleaf.com