Did you know there is such a thing as dog anxiety? Anxiety in dogs is actually a common problem, affecting dogs of all ages and breeds. It’s actually one of the most oft-reported behavioral issues by pet owners to veterinarians.
Dog anxiety can manifest itself in many ways, causing everything from unpleasant behaviors to a dog panic attack. But what can you do, if anything, to treat dog anxiety? Let’s break down everything you need to know about your anxious dog.
Why is Your Dog Anxious?
For some dogs, anxiety is caused by a traumatic event such as abuse or a natural disaster. For most, dog separation anxiety is how this disorder initially appears. Anxiety in dogs can show up overnight with little to no warning or it can develop over time as a series of behaviors that just get worse and worse.
It’s important to know that phobias and anxiety are different. Phobias are fears of external stimuli while anxiety is the fear of the unknown. Phobias can actually lead to anxiety over time.
What is your dog anxious about? The most common reasons pet owners say their dogs show symptoms include:
- Separation from loved ones or another animal
- Loud noises such as thunder
- Exposure to new or unfamiliar surroundings
- The presence of other unknown dogs
- Sudden changes in their immediate environment
The good news? Dogs’ anxiety treatment is usually more effective than that of humans, and with reinforcement, correction can last a lifetime. For your dog, anxious feelings don’t have to be a way of life.
Identifying a Dog Phobia
The Most Common Phobia: Dog Separation Anxiety
Most dog anxiety is a result of a fear of separation. This is particularly acute for dogs who were born into less-than-perfect conditions, or for animals who have changed homes multiple times. Some dog separation anxiety develops as a result of a major change, such as an owner’s death or someone in the household suddenly going away to college.
Other Reasons for Dog Anxiety
Aside from during or after a separation, signs of dog anxiety can present in a variety of situations. Noise is a common initiator, as are noise-makers like fireworks, garbage trucks, and thunderstorms. Some dogs dislike confinement and become anxious when restricted to a small space such as a carrier. Other dogs dislike travel, becoming anxious when moved to a new location.
The major signs of dog anxiety include:
- A dog suddenly hiding under furniture or in empty rooms
- Physical changes such as shaking, drooling, or panting heavily
- Excessive licking or chewing on the dog’s extremities
- Destruction of the house or items that are “off limits”
- Outward displays of aggression
- Soiling on the floor or inside the house when otherwise potty trained
- A dog panic attack that can last minutes or even hours
Remember, there’s a difference in dog anxiety and dog misbehavior. If a behavior happens every time a stimulus is present, begins when the dog even suspects something is amiss, or only happens in specific circumstances, you’re probably dealing with dog anxiety.
Dog Separation Anxiety Solutions
If you suspect your pet is suffering from real emotional upheaval, talk to your vet about dog anxiety treatment. There are a variety of different ways to treat dog anxiety, up to and including dog anxiety medication. Let’s take a look at some of the most effective.
By far the most-used dog anxiety treatment is the practice of desensitization. As a method, it gradually gets your dog used to the thing he’s most afraid of. The process of desensitization generally takes several months, and slower is always best. Never force your dog to face what makes him anxious; it’s best if he opens up to the stimulus over time.
Desensitizing your dog: If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, desensitization begins by exposing your dog to the sights and sounds he may usually hear before you leave, like keys jingling. Once the dog has adjusted to handle that sound without symptoms, move on to the next step of the process, such as putting on your jacket. Gradually add new stimulus over a period of weeks until your dog is comfortable with you leaving the house.
If your pet shows signs of dog anxiety at the introduction of some phobia-inducing stimulus (like thunder), calming them during such situations is key. The primary objective is to keep your dog safe, collected, and to gradually replace his negative associations with positive ones.
Calming your dog’s anxiety: Keeping your dog calm is a multi-step process. Contrary to instinct, you shouldn’t rush to your dog or overtly respond in the presence of a stimulus; this will only make your dog more worked-up. Introducing toys or treats (such as a Kong stuffed with peanut butter) is a good way to temporarily distract your dog while he calms down. A dog anxiety wrap (Thundershirt) has been reported by many pet owners to be highly effective at relaxing their pet.
There’s actually a large market for people searching for dog anxiety products. Pet supply specialists are utilizing the latest technologies as well as up-to-date veterinary research to come up with products specially designed to calm and control anxious dogs.
Dog anxiety products: One of the most talked-about dog anxiety products is the dog anxiety wrap, or Thundershirt. It’s designed to “hug” your dog calm during periods of anxious behavior. Calming collars that release pleasing scents are used by some dog owners. Others rely on calming massage brushes that release helpful oxytocin in their dog. If your dog has a favorite stuffed animal or toy, this may also be used to calm him during period of anxiousness.
Dog Anxiety Medication
There are several prescription medications your vet may consider to treat your dog’s anxiety should it become a larger issue. Like some humans, some dogs have a chemical imbalance that causes them severe emotional distress; medication may be able to help.
Dog Anxiety Medications: The kind of anxiety medication your dog needs depends on his emotional issues. Benzodiazepines are fast-acting and can be given as-needed. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors are a long-term solution that takes several weeks to become effective. Tricyclic antidepressants must be given every day but are longer-acting. Your veterinarian will know best which medication your dog will respond to. It is never recommended you try a dog anxiety medication over the counter without first consulting your vet including herbs, pheromones, or pharmaceuticals.
Preventing Dog Anxiety
Better than dealing with anxiety in dogs is preventing it in the first place. Dogs that are well-trained and more confident tend to have less anxiety than dogs that aren’t. You may not realize there are some things you can do to prevent dog anxiety altogether.
The best way to prevent anxiety in dogs is to desensitize them as much as possible when they are puppies. The earlier the desensitization process begins, the better the chance the dog will grow up to be well-adjusted. Exposing puppies to loud noises, other dogs, and plenty of external stimulus is a great way to prevent anxiety. If your puppy shows signs of separation anxiety, be sure to encourage overnight dog sitting and to hire dog caretakers other than yourself as early as possible to curb the habit.
Continuous obedience training has been shown to reduce anxiety in dogs. Wondering how to help dogs with anxiety? Teach them some behaviors they can feel confident at performing. A dog that knows how to “sit” or stay with confidence can be asked to perform those skills during stressful situations. Mastering the commands will help them take their minds off the stressor and feel accomplished instead.
Another great way to prevent your dog from exhibiting signs of anxiety is to implement a routine. Dogs love predictability so if possible, repeating the same exercises and motions day after day will help them feel calm. You dog will eventually learn to trust that they’ll be fed and you’ll come back, or that thunder will eventually subside. A regimented dog is a happy dog.
Which Breeds Show the Most Anxiety in Dogs?
You may not believe it, but some breeds are more prone to dog anxiety than others. This is due to a breed’s characteristics, from loyalty to guardianship. Which anxiety dog should you avoid if you’re just starting your search? These breeds are the most prone to separation anxiety:
Known for extreme loyalty, Shepherds can panic if they fear they’ve been separated from their owner.
The most popular family dog in the U.S., the Lab gets very attached to kids and adults alike.
Small dogs have a reputation for being anxious, and for good reason.
Originally bred as a hunting dog, this breed is used to being by its owner’s side at all times.
Many Spaniel breeds have developed temperament issues, including the beloved Cocker.
These little guys bond very closely with their owners and don’t like being left alone for hours.
Bichons are known lapdogs which make them an excellent companion but not so good at being alone.
Although these breeds show the most predisposal to anxiety, any dog can become anxious. Signs of dog anxiety can actually spread from one dog to another! It’s smart to keep your pet away from other dogs who might be experiencing anxiety. You never know when a dog’s anxiety may cause them to become destructive or even violent, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Can Dog Anxiety Hurt Your Pet?
Dog anxiety as a condition isn’t great for your dog’s overall health. It can lead to elevated heart rate, loss of appetite, and an overabundance of stress hormones being released into the bloodstream. Dogs with anxiety are far more likely to become lost, too, because they often run aimlessly to “escape” whatever’s causing their anxiety.
Anxiety dogs are also more vulnerable to hurting themselves or someone else as a result of their condition. Large dogs with anxiety have been known to break furniture or even glass when particularly agitated. Anxious small dogs often chew to release their anxiety, ingesting substances that are harmful.
If you’re working on getting your dog’s anxiety under control, be sure your dog is safely contained in the meantime. This means crating your dog during the day or dropping your dog off with a reputable pet sitter or doggy daycare to ensure they don’t become too anxious. If your dog has suddenly become so anxious he can’t be trusted to be alone, hospitalization may be required until a fix is in effect.
How to Help Your Anxious Dog
Your behavior could inadvertently be making your dog’s anxiety worse. No pet owner intends to foster dog anxiety, so know what you can do to help!
- Long, drawn out goodbyes when you leave your dog alone aren’t good for anyone. Dogs rely on our own body language to detect cause for concern; if we’re calm, they will be too.
- Are you giving your dog enough exercise? Studies have shown that regular physical exercise is the best thing you can give your dog to stave off anxiety. At least two walks per day as well as some quality playtime is recommended. This technique works on people, too!
- Some anxious dogs just want to be alone, and that’s okay. If your dog doesn’t seem to want hugs or comfort when they’re feeling afraid, don’t force them. They’ll come to you when they’re ready. Just create a quiet, neutral environment for them to feel safe.
Of course, the number one thing you can do for your dog if you suspect he suffers from anxiety is to talk to your vet. Signs of dog anxiety are common among pet owners and your vet likely has a few suggestions to make things easier on everyone.
Is your dog anxious? Share with other dog-lovers your best tips for dealing with anxiety dogs and the techniques and products you’ve used that have helped.
You don’t have to suffer alone! Dog anxiety is extremely common and talking about it can help.