You were attracted to the gentle playfulness of the bichon frise. As he merrily bounces about, you can't imagine your cottony, fluffy little dog being anything but playful and cheery. However, bichon frise can exhibit anxiety in reaction to stress. Know the signs and how to deal with the problem.
If you notice your bichon frise barking more than usual, you may have a case of anxiety on your hands. Every bichon is an individual, though, and may display anxiety differently. In addition to excessive barking, other signs of anxiety may include hiding, shaking, licking, pacing, whining and panting. Your bichon frise may even display destructive habits as signs of anxiety, such as chewing on furniture or other inappropriate items, or eliminating in unusual and unacceptable places, like in the house and on furniture.
Causes of Anxiety
Because your bichon frise is an outgoing, friendly and loving dog, it's possible that he may suffer separation anxiety if the two of you are parted, like if you go on a business trip or vacation. It is a more serious problem than many bichon parents realize, and should be treated as such and as quickly as possible to alleviate mental stress for the dog. Separation isn't the only cause of anxiety, however. Other causes can include loud noises, like fireworks, thunder or the lawn mower, causing your bichon to become anxious during a storm or when he sees the gardener arrive. Even making a move to a new home can cause your bichon frise to become anxious. Author Liz Palika warns that, not being overly dominant, your bichon frise needs you to be a pet parent who is confident and willing to be the leader of the "pack". If your bichon isn't sure who is in charge, he may suffer anxiety.
The best way to treat your bichon frise's anxiety is to reduce the level of fear and nervousness he experiences by helping him deal positively and constructively with stressful situations. Vet Info suggests finding a place in your home where your bichon feels safe. Crate training is a solution aimed specifically at dealing with anxiety, regardless of the cause. Teaching your bichon that his crate is a refuge at any time will give him a place to retreat to when anxiety sets in. Exposing your bichon gradually to the situations that bring on his anxiety will help, too. For instance if your bichon frise is affected by loud noises, play the radio at a level low enough that he can hear it, but not so loud that he shows signs of anxiety. While the radio is playing, reward him with loving reassurance and even a few treats. Progressively increase the volume each time you do this to help him become accustomed gradually to louder and louder noise. In severe cases of anxiety prescription medications can be given to even out your bichon's mood, much like Prozac works for a human. In "The Bichon Frise Handbook," Richard G. Beauchamp recommends speaking to your vet about the possibility of using Comicalm or other antidepressant for dogs if non-medication efforts aren't helping reduce anxiety for your bichon frise.
Bringing Up Bichon
You can head off anxiety before your bichon frise puppy even has the chance to become fearful or anxious. Liz Palika advises obedience training to establish you as the one in charge as well as socializing your bichon. Richard Beauchamp recommends creating situations in which your puppy always is being introduced to new sights, sounds and people. This will give your bichon frise confidence and teach him not to fear new situations. Training in a puppy class situation is an effective solution as it provides benefits of training as well as exposing your bichon frise to new surroundings, different dogs, and interesting people and smells. Additionally, you should encourage your bichon's independence. Teach him to sit or lie on a mat in an area that is separated from the central activity of the house. Encourage him to sleep there and give him toys that he can't carry to another part of the house -- ones that are secured to a post for instance. If your bichon frise is trained properly, exposed to new situations and has been encouraged to play independently as well as interact with his family, he'll be less likely to become an anxious dog.
Elle Di Jensen has been a writer and editor since 1990. She began working in the fitness industry in 1987, and her experience includes editing and publishing a workout manual. She has an extended family of pets, including special needs animals. Jensen attended Idaho and Boise State Universities. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications.