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Learning About Anxiety from Your Dog

By Peter Goldenthal, Ph.D., ABPP


You can learn a lot about how to manage anxiety from a dog. I'll be writing about human anxiety and how to manage it in another post. This one is about dogs and their anxieties. Any dog older than ten or twelve weeks adopted from a shelter is very likely to arrive with his or her share of anxieties. The most common are fears of being enclosed (from being confined in a crate) and fears of being abandoned (sometimes called separation anxiety). There is a lot that you, as the new person in this dog's life, can do to help reduce these fears.


By the time I adopted Sasha, she had been in two shelters. The first euthanized dogs who had not been adopted within a set time period. The second shelter, a "no-kill" shelter, rescued her from that shelter and took care of her until I came along. So in the first nine or ten months of her life, she had been abandoned by her first human family, kept in a cage in a shelter in the city, then moved and kept in an (admittedly large) cage in a second shelter in the country. To say that she was anxious about being caged would have been an understatement. To say that she was anxious about being abandoned would have been an even greater understatement. 


I was determined to help Sasha recover from the traumatic start of her life and determined to help her be less panicked about being left alone. The techniques I used to help Sasha were simple: I kept her with me almost constantly for the first months of our life together; I whispered reassuring things in her ear. The goal, and the net effect, was to show Sasha that what had happened before was not going to happen again, not while I was around. I was in effect saying, "I know that some scary things happened to you during puppyhood and that people were not reliable, but the past need not determine the present or the future." Sasha gradually learned that she could trust me in ways that she could not trust her earlier attachment objects.

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What is Your Child So Worried About? (and what can you do about it)

High School students are anxious about college. Middle School students are anxious about the approach of high school. Both groups are anxious about relationships. Everybody knows that. But what do first and second graders have to be anxious about?

Quite a lot, as it turns out. When you talk seriously with children between five  Read More 

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Children and Families #5: Mindfulness Meditation for Children

Helping Your Child be Mindful and Calm

In the past 10 or 20 years, meditation, once associated only with Eastern religious practice, has morphed into “mindfulness meditation,” but it is still the same practice, and it still has the same goals. The practice involves focus, slowing heartbeat and breathing, and observing both internal and external experience.  Read More 
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Children and Families #1: The Mind of a Child


Marianne, a petite 4-year-old, came to see me after her mother had received a spate of notes home from her preschool teacher complaining about aggressive behavior. Since very few girls have problems with aggression, especially at this age, I was intrigued to see what sort of little terror would appear in my office. I was skeptical as well, since I had met her mother and father, and neither was remotely aggressive or intimidating.

After Marianne had been in my office for five minutes, my skepticism about her teacher's ``diagnosis'' was confirmed. This was not an aggressive child. To the contrary, my growing understanding of her was that she was actually quite sensitive, very concerned about how adults and other children related to her and quite prone to having her feelings hurt if she experienced anything that seemed like rejection.

I learned that some children in her preschool class occasionally made comments that she took as indicating that they disliked her. What looked like aggression was in truth the effort of a hurt 4-year-old to defend herself against a perceived affront. I phoned the teacher and shared my understanding  Read More 
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Children and Families #3 School Avoidance

The first day of school is a huge milestone for every child in every family.
Nervousness about a new experience is much more normal than it is otherwise. Here are some things that you can do to help your student prepare for the first day of school or the first day in a new  Read More 
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Children and Families #5: Fears and Phobias

Children’s Fears

Peter Goldenthal

Brian Johnson was a few days short of his eleventh birthday when his parents first brought him to my office. A bright, funny, and engaging child, Brian had a lot going for him: friends, a remarkable verbal gift, loving parents. He also had something that interfered with his enjoying  Read More 
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