Fearful of people or other dogs, hiding under tables, behind sofas, shying away when anyone gets to close, tucking his tail between his legs, whining, shaking, destructive behaviour…
All of these are classic signs of anxiety in your dog.
But they don’t necessarily mean that your dog suffers from anxiety.
We all get anxious from time to time. A situation or person we’re not familiar with, an unexpected noise, being alone in strange surroundings…
So if it’s a one-off or obvious reaction to a ‘different’ circumstance, your dog showing signs of anxiety can be understood and managed (more on treating anxiety in a mo).
On the other hand, if this behaviour is a common occurrence, or literally all the time, chances are your dog is suffering from anxiety and you’ll need to take prolonged steps to help treat it.
Symptoms of a dog displaying anxiety include:
- Tail tucking
- Weeing or pooping indoors
- Constant air sniffing and searching
- Manically attempting to escape
What causes anxiety in your dog?
Genetics: certain breeds are more prone to anxiety.
Experts suggest that it’s often the high energy and high intelligence breeds that are more susceptible – Poodle, Labrador Retriever, Vizsla, Cocker Spaniel, King Charles Spaniel, Border Collie, German Shepherd, Bichon Frise – to name just a few.
Although it’s important to note, that often the reason for their anxiety will be separation or not being stimulated enough, so often it’s easy to manage with a little time and effort.
Past trauma: for example, rescue dogs (although not limited to).
Signs of anxiety could be due to a previous owner, a circumstance, abuse, or from being in a shelter for an extended period of time.
Or anxiety since puppyhood could be due to a scare in their early development that has escalated into full-blown anxiety of multiple situations or events.
Loud noises: dogs don’t ‘get’ sudden loud noises as we do, although an unexpected loud explosion is likely to make us a little jumpy too.
But if there’s a thunderstorm outside, fireworks, continuous construction work nearby, or something else explicable to us but not him… it’s easy to understand why your dog may feel anxious.
Separation: one of the most common reasons for anxiety is when a dog is left alone for long stretches of time. Few dogs like being left alone, so it’s not all that surprising.
Aging: changes in your dog’s body that are associated with the nervous system – memory loss or loss of cognitive understanding – can lead to an elderly dog becoming anxious.
Medical issue: certain illnesses can lead to anxiety in a dog. Examples include auto-immune disorders, diabetes, hearing or eyesight loss.
If there’s no history of anxiety or events happening that could have created this anxiety, you should visit your vet. Tests can be carried out to rule out a medical reason.
Assuming he is medically sound, your vet may prescribe medication. It’s up to you if you want to go down this route, but just be sure to ask your vet about any potential risks and side effects before doing so.
How to calm a dog with anxiety
If you’d prefer to take a more natural approach to treating anxiety in your pooch, and you’ve ruled out a medical reason for its appearance after visiting your vet, here are a few approaches you can take.
This method is confronting the source of the anxiety head-on by introducing it to your dog in small doses or lower levels, and then rewarding your dog for his positive reaction.
As you continue with this method, up the length of time and/or add additional elements to help desensitise him to the source of his anxiety.
Depending on the severity of his anxiety, this process can take around eight weeks, so stick with it.
And remember, if you don’t have the time or energy to go down this road, you can always enlist the help of a trainer. A pro will have many methods to help an anxious dog.
2 Change environment
Create a safe space for him where he can feel at his most relaxed – his bed or a crate. Encourage him to spend time there while the source of his anxiety is happening.
If you know loud noises are the issue, try putting the TV on or playing music to mask the sounds.
And tire him out. Take him on big walks, play fetch A LOT to get him running around… the more knackered he is from all that activity, the more likely he’ll sleep when at home and be oblivious.
3 Pressure wraps
Pressure wraps are items that are tied around your dog’s torso and chest creating a steady, gentle pressure.
Whilst it’s not totally understood why this works, experts suggest it’s a combination of feeling comforted and secure. And ultimately, the pressure takes their mind off whatever else is going on.
Okay, so what about preventing the anxiety in the first place?
While it’s impossible to know if your dog will develop anxiety, and if he does, what the cause is, there are still some steps you can take early on to help prevent anxiety arising for the most common occurrences:
Ideally starting from a puppy, training is a great way to develop a healthy relationship with your pooch, but also to create trust. The more your dog trusts you, the less likely he’ll be to develop anxiety issues.
Plus, it has a secondary benefit. Well actually there are numerous benefits to training your pup, but another one when it comes to anxiety is that if you head off to training school, he’ll be around other dogs and humans which will instill a sense of acceptance to different situations and environments.
What you feed your dog has a huge impact on how he behaves and reacts to situations.
Ensuring a good balance of the six major nutrient groups – protein, fats/oils, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, and water – will give him the basis for a healthy body and mind.
And a healthy body and mind are a great way to minimise the risk of developing anxiety issues.
Be active (and by the way, this isn’t just beneficial for him, think of your waistline too!).
So get outdoors and make sure he gets plenty of exercise. Long walks. Playing fetch. Anything to wear him out to reduce restlessness at home.
And think of some canine enrichment ideas too (more on that in another article soon). Canine enrichment toys or activities have many benefits. But importantly for the purposes of this article, experts say that they can help dogs reduce their reaction to fear and stressors.
As I briefly touched on earlier, the more your dog is introduced to different people, animals, activities, locations, environments, etc. the more he’ll have the ability to adapt to, and be accepting of, new things and thereby lessening the possibility of developing anxiety.
5 Read his mannerisms
Get to know your dog. The more you pay attention to his behaviour, the more likely you’ll be able to recognise when something is amiss. Then when he starts to act anxious over a situation or experience, you’ll be able to nip it in the bud early on by whatever method seems appropriate to the cause.
Like us, dogs will always display some signs of anxiety in relation to a specific thing. It’s normal. But it should be easy to see when your dog is anxious as a one-off, or whether there’s an issue that needs to be addressed.
Using the preventative measures above may stop anxiety developing in the first place, particularly with pups.
But if it’s past that point, head to your vet. You must rule out any medical reason for his anxiety first.
And if nothing arises from that, do some detective work to figure out the cause so you are better equipped to manage it and provide him with a caring and relaxing life.