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Anxiety in Dogs: How to Spot and Help It - Guide 2022

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SitStay Blog: Anxiety In Dogs: How To Spot And Help It

Owning a dog can be really rewarding, but also really scary! There is potential that you will have to deal with canine stresses and anxieties, which can be tricky to navigate. It is important to recognize if your dog has anxiety and what triggers their anxiety, in order to successfully address the anxiety.

There are several steps you can take to help and we've put together a guide for you to find out how.

How To Tell If Your Dog Is Stressed Or Anxious

There are plenty of signs that tell you if your dog might be suffering from anxiety.

Here are some things to look out for:

  • Ask the breeder or rescue facility/group that you got your dog from if they observed signs of anxiety. Dogs can develop anxiety as early as fourteen weeks of age, and experiences early in life can affect their anxiety. Dogs from puppy mills mya be at higher risk of anxiety, due to the conditions they were exposed to right after birth.
  • Constant panting and repetitive behaviors can be a sign of anxiety.
  • Similar to humans, dogs with anxiety may try to escape situations in which they feel uncomfortable. You may notice that your dog hides when you have a get-together or party.

Types of Anxiety, Symptoms, and Causes

Sad looking dog looking into the camera

Anxiety in dogs can be complex, but thankfully our friends over atPetMD have put together some medical causes and symptoms to see if and how your dog came to acquire this anxious personality.

Anxiety is the anticipation of future dangers from unknown or imagined origins that result in normal body reactions (physiologic reactions) associated with fear. The most common visible behaviors are elimination, destruction, and excessive vocalization (i.e., barking, crying). Separation anxiety is the most common specific anxiety in companion dogs. When alone, the animal exhibits anxiety or excessive distress behaviors.

Most fears, phobias, and anxieties develop at the onset of social maturity, from 12 to 36 months of age. A profound form of fear and withdrawal of unknown cause occurs at 8 to 10 months of age. Old-age-onset separation anxiety of unknown cause may be a variant of a decline in thinking, learning, and memory in elderly dogs.


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Symptoms:

  • Mild fears: signs may include trembling, tail tucked, withdrawal, hiding, reduced activity, and passive escape behaviors
  • Panic: signs may include active escape behavior, and increased out-of-context, potentially injurious motor activity
  • Classic signs of sympathetic autonomic nervous system activity, including diarrhea
  • Anxieties: lesions secondary to anxious behavior (such as licking and biting at the self)

Causes:

  • Any illness or painful physical condition increases anxiety and contributes to the development of fears, phobias, and anxieties
  • Aging changes associated with nervous system changes; infectious disease (primarily viral infections in the central nervous system), and toxic conditions, such as lead poisoning, may lead to behavioral problems, including fears, phobias, and anxieties
  • Fear from a terrible experience; the dog may have been forced into an unfamiliar and frightening experience
  • Dogs that are deprived of social and environmental exposure until 14 weeks of age may become habitually fearful
  • Phobias and panic may have a history of inability to escape or get away from the stimulus causing the phobia and panic, such as being locked in a crate
  • Separation anxiety: a history of abandonment, multiple owners, rehoming, or prior neglect is common; exacerbating the condition may be that the dog has been often abandoned or rehomed because of separation anxiety

Dealing with Separation Dog Anxiety 

Sad Beagle on a blue floor with a treat sitting in front of them

Anxiety in dogs can be fairly common and the most prevalent type is separation anxiety. There are a few ways to deal with this, however, it is encouraged that you also tweak these to fit your dog.

Every dog is different, but most dogs respond well to low-stress arrivals and departures. Making a big deal out of your comings and goings can reinforce your dog's anxiety, while laid-back arrivals and departures can reduce anxiety.

  • Don’t make it a point to show your dog that you are leaving, whether it be a trip to the store or a full eight hour day of work.
  • Don’t give them hugs and kisses to reassure them before you leave.
  • Don’t jingle your keys as you’re preparing to leave the home.
  • Feed or give your dog a treart before you leave, to create a positive association with you leaving.
  • Walk out of the door casually. If you want, try putting your stuff in the car, re-entering the home for a couple of minutes and then actually leave. Actions like this will create habits in the dog to reduce their stress of you leaving the home.
  • Create a safe place for your dog to go, whether it be a special corner with a dog bed or an open crate.
  • Play music for your dog while you are away for long periods of time, or have sort of white noise.
  • If you can afford it, have someone stop by when you are away for a full workday, such as a doggy walker, doggy daycares are also great options, just be sure to do your research and make sure that your dog actually enjoys going.
  • When you come home, you can acknowledge your dog but don't make it a huge spectacle.

How To Calm An Anxious Dog

First and foremost, the best thing you can do is consult your veterinarian. Your dog may or may not need medication or the assistance of a veterinary behaviorist, but the safest thing you can do is take him/her to the vet and see.

If there is a need for medication, it can take a couple of weeks for the medicine to take effect. Ultimately, it is up to you to modify behaviors to get them to relax and not react to environmental situations.

Attempt to spot the signs of an oncoming anxiety attack so you may prevent it from happening. If your dog knows how to sit and stay, you can use these commands to reinforce positive reactions to their perceived "negative" environments.

Set up safe places for your dog to go to. This should only be used for when your dog is feeling anxious NEVER used for punishment. Crates can be effective for anxiety in dogs but only if used in a positive, comfy place (not intended as a punishment). Dog beds in corners, special blankets placed on sofas that your dog can jump on, are all great options.

7 Natural Remedies for Anxious Dogs

Anxious looking older black dog looking in the distance

If you prefer to stray away from medical solutions for your dog, there are ways to get past that.

1. Exercise

Just as exercise is a great stress reliever for humans, it is wonderful for dogs. Exercise helps with a couple of issues when managing a dog dealing with anxiety. First, it stimulates the production of serotonin, a chemical that we humans also experience that makes you feel good when your body is being exercised. Second, it gets rid of pent-up energy that can contribute to anxiety.

2. Distraction

If your dog is nervous because of situations like fireworks, thunderstorms, or even being in a crowd, then distraction may be your best option. By working your dog's brain you will help him focus on you and things he knows, rather than on the unknown around him that's frightening him. While it isn't the time to begin new training, it is a great time to practice tricks your dog knows and can earn rewards for. Try rewarding your dog with treats for simple commands like sit, stand, lie down, shake, sit up, roll over and other tricks he enjoys

3. Weighted Dog Blanket

Weighted blankets work through what is known as Deep Touch Pressure or DTP which is a form of therapy that mimics chemicals released in your brain when given a hug or being held by a loved one. Weighted blankets when on a dog simulate this feeling and they have been known to calm anxious dogs.


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4. Massage

Dog massages can benefit all of these cases through DTP or deep touch pressure which releases chemicals in the brain that are related to getting a warm hug. Through starting slowly and easily dog massages for anxiety and other related mental problems can greatly improve the dog's lifestyle making them at ease in their day to day activities.

5. Dog Appeasing Pheromone(DAP)

Scents can also help calm a dog's anxiety, and DAP is a popular option. It is a synthetic chemical, based on a hormone produced by lactating female dogs that keeps puppies calm and increase their bond with her. This can be one of the several tools to calm an anxious dog. It comes as a plug-in diffuser with vials that last about 30 days, and humans aren't able to smell it.

6. Dog-Calming Music

Humans aren't the only species that can be calmed by soothing music, it can also help anxiety in dogs. Many owners leave a television or radio on when they leave the house to help a dog feel comforted, but there is also specialized music that can help particularly anxious dogs. Through a Dog's Ear is a selection of music specifically aimed at calming nervous dogs. The website states, "The overarching psychoacoustic theory informing Through a Dog’s Ear is summed up in just two words — simple sound. This term refers to the process of minimizing intricate auditory information found in most music.

7. CBD Oil For Dogs

CBD for dogs with anxiety works its way through the body through the endocannabinoid system. This is a process that will attract the CBD compound and distribute it through the nervous system giving relief and aid to parts of the body that require it. This is also the process that allows the CBD compound to enter the brain releasing serotonin which is a way to calm your body down, meaning it helps reduce anxiety in dogs.

It can be scary dealing with anxious behaviors in your dog and not knowing what is going on or how you can fix it. Anxiety in dogs is a common problem, is very serious and should be handled appropriately. We hope these tips helped you better understand your dog's anxiety and that you seek the right actions to help him/her. If you have any additional tips please feel free to comment below or shout us out on social media! Have a pawesome day!


Meet The Author 

Grant Withers

Canine Specialist & Writer

Grant is an award-winning writer for SitStay with a passion for pets and especially dogs! Grant loves writing about furry little goofballs and aims to educate pet parents about anything and everything regarding their dogs.

Medically Reviewed By

Dr. Catherine Barnette DVM

Veterinarian

Catherine is a veterinarian and freelance writer based in Florida. After 14 years as a small animal general practitioner, Dr. Barnette now focuses on creating educational content for veterinary teams and their clients. She shares her home with her husband, daughter, one dog, two cats, and a rescued white dove.



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