Dog Anxiety

Just like for humans, anxiety in dogs is an unpleasant experience. If your dog has anxiety, there are several things that you can do to better understand and support them. Knowing the different types of anxiety, such as dog and puppy separation anxiety, and recognising the different signs when your dog is anxious will help tremendously when it comes to managing anxiety-inducing situations.

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Understanding your dog: Insights from Dr. Elle Parker, Behaviour Veterinarian

Learn about anxiety in dogs and what you can do to help an anxious dog.

Types of Anxiety in Dogs

There are several types of anxiety in dogs, and many different manifestations. Regardless of which one is impacting your pet, there can be both subtle and clear signs of dog anxiety that you can use to identify the most likely cause.

Separation Anxiety

Dog separation anxiety is also known as separation related distress. This is a form of anxiety where the animal feels stressed or anxious when separated from their family or left alone. This can show itself in behaviours like destroying furniture, barking, howling, and in some cases, urinating or defecating around the house. If your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, it is important to ensure that they have an environment equipped to help manage this and keep them safe while you are at work or out of the house. It is important to consult your vet if you are concerned about your dog’s behaviour.

Rescue Anxiety

Some dogs who have been rescued from an animal welfare institution or shelter may have anxiety. People may think this is related to a fear of abandonment, but it is more complex than that. Their anxiety and associated behaviour problems may have been a factor contributing to their relinquishment. Additionally, the potential stress and trauma of being in the shelter may have caused or worsened anxiety. Some rescue dogs may have suffered abuse, neglect or trauma and may have subsequent emotional problems, behaviour issues and special needs. Rescue dogs may need some time to settle in and acclimatise to their new environment. It is important to do everything possible to help them feel calm and safe. Some rescue dogs may initially be somewhat withdrawn, timid and shut down which may suppress obvious signs of anxiety. Sometimes they can show activation of behaviour after a few days or a few weeks in their new home which is when their underlying anxiety may become more obvious. They may develop manifestations such as more overt reactivity towards people or other dogs, barking, destruction or hyper-activity.

Social Anxiety

Social anxiety in dogs is a fear of people and/or other dogs. While your dog may seem perfectly at ease around you and other familiar people, once someone unfamiliar enters their space they can become fearful and anxious, exhibiting behaviours that may otherwise be unusual for them. If your dog has social anxiety, you may notice avoidance behaviour such as moving away or hiding, defensive aggressive behaviours like barking or growling, or fearful behaviour like whining or cowering. They may also show signs of nervousness such as over-excitable behaviour, impulsivity and seeming excessively boisterous or “friendly” such as jumping, mouthing and licking. Adult dog and puppy social anxiety can take a toll on your pet, so it is important to provide them with care and support they need.

Illness Induced Anxiety

Some dog anxiety can be caused by health issues such as itchiness, pain or discomfort. Illness induced anxiety in dogs may manifest itself in ways like extreme behaviour changes, aggressive behaviours, or even fearful and nervous behaviours. It is important to consult your vet If you notice unusual signs so they can assess your dog.

Dog Anxiety Symptoms

There are usually clear signs to help you identify if your dog is experiencing anxiety. Behaviours that seem odd, out of context, irrational or excessive in frequency, intensity and/or duration are often red flags. Behaviours like excessive barking, excessive drooling, restlessness in dogs, hyper-activity, signs of depression in dogs, and reactive or aggressive behaviour in dogs are all potential indicators of an anxiety problem. Dog aggression and anti-social behaviour is almost always caused by underlying fear and anxiety.

Treating Dog Anxiety

If you are wondering how to treat dog anxiety, your vet should be your first point of contact. They will be able to advise you on the best course of action for treating different forms of dog anxiety, as well as provide you with resources and strategies on how to manage separation anxiety in dogs. By seeing a vet, you will also be able to rule out the possibility that there are any underlying health concerns that may be contributing to your dog’s condition. To treat anxiety, a proper assessment needs to be done and a diagnosis made. Your pet can then receive the appropriate treatment which may include a combination of medication, behaviour modification and management.

Behavioural Training

Once you have consulted your vet, there are options for behavioural training for dogs to help combat anxiety. With techniques like positive reinforcement training and relaxation, your dog will be able to explore and practice positive behaviours in a safe, relaxed, and secure environment. Positive dog training ensures that the behavioural training does not add to your dog’s anxiety and works at different speeds and levels depending on the needs of your pet. You may want to research some of these techniques for yourself but contacting a professional qualified Force Free Dog Trainer is highly recommended. To search for accredited trainers, click here.

Medical Treatment for Dogs

There are times when dog anxiety can be so severe that your vet may prescribe some dog anti-anxiety medicine. Anti-anxiety meds for dogs may be necessary to help reduce the abnormal activity of the fight-flight response and assist your pet’s brain and body to function more normally when they have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders interfere with a dog’s ability to think and learn normally because they are in a heightened emotional and stressed state. This means they may not be responsive or very minimally responsive to training or behaviour modification until they are more stable medically. The medication they need will depend on their individual diagnosis and problems. There are a variety of medications available that can support your dog with their anxiety.

Reassure your dog

To help calm your dog when they are feeling anxious, there is nothing wrong with offering physical reassurance, such as pats and soothing words. You can also offer treats or distraction with toys. Dogs need our assistance to navigate situations in which they are struggling and feeling anxious. When your dog feels that you are someone to be trusted, they can gain a great deal of comfort from engaging in interaction and affection. It is a misguided myth that we should ignore our dogs when they are anxious because we may “reinforce their fear”. In fact, we need to help them feel better and learn that everything is ok. To change their behaviour, we need to change their underlying emotional state.

Dog Exercise

Exercise is a crucial part of keeping any dog healthy and happy. For dogs with anxiety, mental exercises for dogs, sensory enrichment and physical dog training exercises can help tremendously when managing dog anxiety. Regularly walking your dog will help keep their bodies and minds healthy, while improving their social skills and familiarity with the environment around them. You can try loose leash walking to ease your dog into a walking routine, allowing them the opportunity to explore at their own pace, without external risks like running onto the road. Giving your dog or puppy exercise is a classic way of helping them maintain their health, as well as develop a variety of skills to enable them to manage and potentially overcome their anxiety. Some dogs that have anxiety will have special needs and restrictions which need to be considered when it comes to choosing activities which are beneficial to them. Some anxious dogs are overwhelmed out on walks, in new environments, or around other people and dogs, in which case doing fun and stimulating things at home can be the better option.



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