It’s normal for a healthy pup to be a little bit anxious when presented with an unfamiliar situation. However, if your pooch repeatedly shows a severe anxiety response to something harmless, then they may be struggling with anxiety.
Anxiety in dogs is a more common problem than many of us realize – a 2020 study found that more than 70% of dogs display some form of anxiety. It can be difficult to diagnose too – sometimes the symptoms are subtle and can be easily confused with other possible causes.
That’s why it’s important to become familiar with the early warning signs of anxiety, so you can take measures to calm your pooch down before they feel worse. Read on to find out everything you need to know about anxiety in dogs.
What Causes Anxiety in Dogs?
There are multiple reasons why your pup might feel anxious. Like with humans, the development of anxiety can be the result of a variety of different factors. You may be able to think of a likely cause, but in other cases, anxiety can seemingly arise from nowhere.
One of the most common causes of anxiety is a lack of proper socialization as a puppy. Without this crucial period of training, your pooch may develop anxiety towards unfamiliar situations that will carry over into adulthood.
Another possible cause could be down to genetics. Studies have shown that certain breeds have a predisposition to developing anxiety. Age also seems to be a contributing factor, as older dogs tend to have a higher chance of experiencing anxiety from loud noises.
Signs of Anxiety in Dogs
While every dog is different and deals with anxiety in their own way, there are usually some tell-tale signs present within a nervous pupper.
Anxiety symptoms in dogs are most commonly triggered by storms, loud noises, being away from their owners, and meeting strangers or other dogs. It can be a good idea to keep a close eye on your dog during these situations to see if they are becoming stressed out.
Below are some of the most common behaviors seen in anxious dogs – take a look to see if you recognize any of them in your own pooch.
- Howling and Barking – Usually associated with separation anxiety, but this can occur with other types of anxiety as well.
- Shivering and Whining – One of the easier tells is frequent whining. They may also tremble and place more weight on their back legs, cowering.
- Panting and Pacing – Your dog may be panting and pacing from room to room without a discernable reason. They may seek out family members or continue to pace about.
- Hiding – A dog may react to stress by withdrawing from the situation entirely. They might hide behind you, or find a quiet out-of-the-way area to hole up in.
- Urinating and Defecating in the Home – An anxious pupper may pee and poop within the home, even if they’re fully housebroken.
- Escape Attempts – Some pups may try to escape from the situation. In extreme cases, they may try to break through doors or windows.
- Destructive Behavior – As a coping mechanism, dogs may chew furniture or dig holes in the yard.
- Refusal of Food – A dog that has been dealing with untreated chronic anxiety for a prolonged time may begin to refuse food. They may also experience changes in their normal bodily function, such as diarrhea.
- Aggression – An anxious dog may snap or even bite if they are in a fearful situation. This is more likely when the cause of anxiety is a stranger or another dog.
Types of Anxiety and How to Treat It
There are many different causes of anxiety, but the good news is that the condition is treatable in most cases. If it’s just some mild nervousness, you may be able to help your dog overcome it entirely – however, in severe cases, the best you can do is help manage your pup’s anxiety.
What you may need to do to help your pup can differ depending on the type of anxiety – below are some of the most common causes of anxiety in dogs and how you can help them overcome it.
Remember, if you need extra help or your dog seems to be experiencing a particularly severe case of anxiety, work with your vet or a licensed canine behaviorist for the best results.
Severe Storm Anxiety in Dogs
A storm can be very frightening to a dog, who may not understand what is happening. They may react to the rumbling of thunder, the flashes of lightning, or even the change in barometric pressure as a storm approaches.
One of the best things you can do is create a calm and comfy den for your pooch in the quietest area of the house. You should do this well in advance of the storm actually hitting your home – especially if your pooch starts to become uncomfortable from the change in pressure.
You should try to fill this den with your dog’s favorite toys, blankets, and items with your own scent on them. Be sure to keep any curtains and blinds drawn to help block out any flashes of lightning. It can also be good to put a TV or a radio on at a comfortable volume within the room, as this can act as white noise and distract your pooch from the thunder outside.
It’s also good practice to keep any windows and doors firmly locked during the storm, especially if your pup has severe storm anxiety. This can help prevent any escape attempts that may place them in a dangerous situation.
If your pup is calmer with you by their side, try to stay with them through the worst of the storm. Before you both know it, the storm will pass and your pup will start to feel a lot brighter!
Another common cause of anxiety within dogs is caused by loud noises. The offending sound could be from a wide range of things – common causes can be fireworks, construction work, and nearby parties.
A dog’s hearing is four times more sensitive than our own – so it’s no surprise that these sounds can startle them, especially as your dog may see them as signs of a threat. As we cannot control when loud noises occur, it’s best that we try to teach our pups to not be afraid of these sounds.
To do this, we will need to expose them gently to the sound that causes them anxiety, within a safe and controlled environment. Say that your dog is scared of fireworks, as many unfortunately are. What you could do is use an audio recording of fireworks and play it at a low volume to your pooch, within a calm and otherwise quiet environment.
If your pup responds calmly, give them a special, high-value treat (we have healthy, organic treats that are proven to be absolutely delicious – give them a try here!). From here, you can raise the volume slightly, and see how they react.
In the event that they do show distress at any point, stop the recording and try again another time at a lower volume. Over multiple sessions, you should be able to show your pup that the sound isn’t scary at all. In fact, it leads to good things!
Of course, this only works when you have plenty of time to prepare. If these sounds are stressing your pup out right now, you can use the den method outlined above. Create a nice and peaceful space, and use white noise to distract your pooch from the noise.
Separation Anxiety in Dogs
If you come back from work to a home filled with destroyed furniture and pee stains, you likely have a dog that is suffering from separation anxiety. Perhaps you’ve received a complaint from a neighbor that your dog is howling incessantly while you’re away – this is another tell-tale sign.
As many of us can’t always be at home with our pup, separation anxiety can present a big problem. Luckily, it can be solved with some effort!
To start, it’s good to remove all the negative associations that your doggo has connected with you leaving. Many dogs learn to react anxiously when they see their owners perform common actions leading up to a trip outside – such as grabbing keys or putting on a coat. This can lead to your pup becoming anxious before you’ve even left the home.
To solve this, you can perform these actions without actually leaving. For example, you could pick up your keys and then sit down to watch TV. Put on your coat and cook dinner. Over time, your pooch will no longer associate these actions with you leaving.
To fix the anxiety that occurs while you’re not there, you can train your pup to be more comfortable with having you out of their sight. Tell your dog to stay in an area where they cannot see you, such as the other side of an ajar door. Reward calm behavior with high-value treats! In further sessions, increase the distance between you.
Over time, you should notice less anxiety from your pup when you leave the home. It’s also a great idea to ensure your pooch has plenty of stuff to do while you’re gone – puzzle toys and hiding treats for them to find can be a good way of achieving this.
Meeting Strangers and Other Dogs
A dog who is anxious around strangers and other dogs can make daily life a lot more difficult. Your dog may cower behind you upon spotting another dog across the road, or you may fear having guests over because your pooch may bark or act defensively.
Helping your doggo overcome this can be difficult, but it’s possible to help lower your dog’s anxiety over time with repeated training. Walks can be a great way of achieving this, as it exposes your pup to new humans and dogs naturally.
To begin with, you can walk your pup in a quieter area. If your dog spots another pupper, praise them for as long as they remain calm. High-value treats are also useful here! If they show anxiety it’s important that you don’t baby them, as it may actually reinforce the negative behavior. Instead, ignore any nervous behaviors and continue the walk.
As your pup becomes more confident, you may try introducing them one-to-one with another dog or human in a safe environment. It’s helpful if the other dog isn’t boisterous and high-energy – try to find someone with a friendly and docile pup to work with. Humans should also give the pup as much space as it needs to be comfortable.
By slowly raising the bar with your pooch and introducing them to more dogs and humans, you should see their anxiety levels decrease. It’s important to note that if your dog is showing aggressive behaviors at any point, it’s recommended to seek the help of a professional canine behaviorist rather than try to deal with the problem yourself.
How to Treat Anxiety in Dogs: Time, Patience, and Good Training!
While we’d all like to solve anything that is bothering our poor pups instantly, it’s usually not such a quick fix. It can take many sessions of training to help your pup get over their fears, but it’s key to be patient with them. Match their pace and they’ll soon get there!
Remember, our organic treats are a great fit for the training process, offering a delicious reward that your pup simply won’t be able to resist. Our meals are also perfect for the anxious pup who may be experiencing a sensitive stomach due to stress – we’d recommend the Tail Waggin’ Turkey and Lip Lickin’ Lamb meals, as both are easy on the stomach. Check us out now and see how we can help!